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Why Personas are Important in Software Development
Nov 30, 2023

Why Personas are Important in Software Development

As a software developer, you may think you have a solid grasp of your target audience and their requirements. However, assumptions can prove to be a costly gamble. Without careful consideration, you risk investing significant time and resources into developing a product that fails to resonate with anyone. Merely approaching the mark isn’t good enough; being close implies trailing behind competitors who did get it just right.  

Incorporate features your users don’t desire, and your software becomes redundant. Neglect the critical elements they need; the outcome remains unchanged: a failed product. Regardless of how good your team is or your budget, your true competitive edge lies in your ability to deliver exactly what your users need. This is where user personas come into the picture in the software development process. 

What is a Persona in Software Development 

What is a Persona in Software Development

Developer personas are semi-fictitious representations of real-life product users or buyers — in this case, software developers and other technology professionals. They enable a deeper understanding of your target audience’s experiences, behaviors, goals, geographical locations, and the systems they are using. These insights collectively shape a comprehensive picture of the user base before initiating the mobile app development process. 

According to the law firm Miller & Williams, Ltd., 

“The idea is that the personalization of a role via the persona psychologically creates a long-lasting impression on the development team comprising business analysts, managers, designers, testers, and so on.”       

Persona Profile

When your customer base is diverse and expands into different segments, it becomes crucial to develop multiple personas.  

In the design thinking process, the creation of personas typically begins in the second phase— the Define phase. Here, designers synthesize insights gathered during the initial Empathize phase. Using personas is one method among several that help designers in transitioning to the third phase, the Ideation phase. These personas serve as valuable guides in ideation sessions like Brainstorm, Worst Possible Idea, and SCAMPER. 

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6 Benefits of Personas in the Development Process 

User personas are a crucial part of the software development process for the following reasons: 

1. User-Centric Design  

Personas represent fictional characters that embody the characteristics of real users. By creating personas, developers gain a deep understanding of the target audience’s needs, behaviors, and preferences.  

This user-centric approach guides the design process, ensuring that software is tailored to meet the specific requirements of its intended users.  

2. Enhanced User Experience  

Developing software with user personas in mind leads to a more intuitive and user-friendly experience. Personas help identify pain points, preferences, and usage patterns, allowing developers to design interfaces and features that resonate with users, ultimately enhancing the overall user experience. 

3. Informed Decision-Making  

Personas provide a foundation for informed decision-making throughout the development process. From feature prioritization to UI/UX design choices, having a clear understanding of user personas enables developers and project managers to make decisions that align with user expectations and business goals.   

4. Efficient Development Processes 

Personas streamline the development process by offering a shared understanding of the end-users. This shared vision helps development teams work more efficiently, reducing the risk of miscommunication and ensuring everyone is aligned with the project’s user-focused objectives.   

5. Mitigate Development Risks 

Agile personas are a powerful tool for teams to mitigate potential risks and challenges throughout development. By understanding user needs, the team can avoid investing time in building unnecessary features that might not function as intended.   

In the long run, this approach helps minimize the risk of project delays or failure, which could significantly impact the company. 

6. Support Continuous Improvement 

Personas also play an important role in the continuous improvement of the product. Keeping these personas up-to-date and validated allows the development team to use them as a benchmark for evaluating the product’s success in meeting user needs.  

This feedback loop allows the team to prioritize new additions or make further adjustments based on customer feedback, implementing subtle yet impactful changes to the product. This ensures software remains aligned with the changing expectations of its users. 

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How to Create User Personas  

Acknowledging that the approach to developing user personas varies based on your budget is crucial. For example, when Adobe launches a new product, it invests substantially in market research, focus groups, customer interviews, and more. This is a comprehensive UX strategy for user personas and product design.  

On the other hand, a bootstrapped startup lacks such luxuries, but they can and should create personas using the information available to them, refining them as they gather more insights. It is necessary to start with a basic understanding of their target audience while building their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Subsequently, through actual customer surveys and interviews, they can iteratively enhance both their personas and products.  

The process of creating a user persona involves the fundamental steps below:  

1. Conduct Research  

Kick off a dedicated user research sprint where the team collects data through surveys, interviews, and analytics tools. Leverage tools like Google Forms or in-app analytics for comprehensive insights. In an Agile environment, allocate a two-week sprint to gather user feedback for a project management tool. Conduct interviews with potential users and collect data on their workflow preferences.  

2. Analyze the Data for Audience Segmentation  

Analyze the gathered data to categorize users into demographic segments such as roles, industries, and geographical locations. This step lays the foundation for creating personas tailored to the software’s audience. For an Agile project management tool, segment users into categories like Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Developers, each with unique needs and priorities.  

3. Define the Persona’s Goals  

Similar to your real-life customers, your personas should have distinct goals. Your product should allow them to meet these goals, so ensure they align with your overall objectives.   

Establishing clear goals for your personas enables a focused understanding of your audience’s needs, helping develop strategies and messaging tailored to meet those needs efficiently.  

4. Understand the Pain Points  

An essential next phase involves filling out your personas’ documentation with elements like values, motivations, and pain points. This means understanding what frustrates your target audience, what motivates them, and the specific challenges they face. This enables you to enhance the developer experience by addressing their concerns and aligning your product more effectively with their values and motivations.  

Use tools like heatmaps, session recordings, and user journey maps to identify patterns and pain points in the user experience.  

5. Create (and Share) the Personas  

Building good personas takes time and effort, so don’t shelve them once they’re done. Integrate the personas into the feedback loop. Regularly review and update personas based on user feedback, ensuring the team stays aligned with user needs.  

During sprint reviews, discuss how well the features aligned with the persona’s expectations and use this feedback to iterate on personas and the software product.   

It is important to note that personas aren’t just for developers and UI/UX designers. Make sure to align everyone from Customer Success to Accounting to Compliance, ensuring they know who they’re trying to serve.   

By adopting these steps, teams can seamlessly integrate persona creation into their workflows, ensuring that user needs are prioritized and addressed throughout the development process.  

Wrapping Up  

Personas are a key component in the software development process, helping the development team build user-centered products that not only meet user needs but also deliver an exceptional user experience.   

However, just like no product is ever truly complete, no user persona remains static — it transforms into an ongoing learning opportunity. Gathering feedback during this change expands your understanding of the customer journey, allowing for the development of more accurate personas and superior customer journey maps.  

Over the lifespan of your business, the market will undergo changes, competitors will emerge, and your user base may undergo significant transformations. Continuously studying and developing your user personas becomes a strategic tool for creating products that effectively serve their needs, thereby gaining more return on investment (ROI) in the coming months. 

Remember, as Steve Jobs said, You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.  

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Do you have an idea for a software application or product you want to bring to life? TechBlocks has designed, developed, and commercialized several apps and web-based software products, and we can help you get started, too.

About the Author

Kevin Gordon

Born in Technology, Raised in Marketing – This is the one-liner Kevin uses to describe his 20+ year career. Kevin is our Director of Marketing and joined the team in 2021, coming from technology start-up, SkipTheDishes.

Starting out in technology, Kevin has a unique blend of technical and marketing experience, with experience as a computer hardware technician, web designer, programmer, Windows & Linux systems administrator, and product development manager, which has allowed Kevin to lead a team of high-performing developers and systems administrators to build integrated omnichannel marketing & sales technology platforms used in retail stores across Canada and the USA.

In addition to his technology background, Kevin has 12+ years of progressive data-driven marketing experience in B2B and B2C industries, including legal, retail, agency, financial technology and more, with over eight years of direct leadership experience in marketing roles.

Kevin has education in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University, Business Administration and Project Management from Red River College and additional formal training in Change Management and Business Analysis.

Kevin Gordon