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Personas to Products: Writing Persona-Driven Epics and User Stories

Personas encompass the needs, motives, values, expectations, and goals of a user and help us develop user-centered products and solutions. This is particularly important when integrating knowledge management throughout our business; an approach where we are constantly involving business users at every point of KM strategy, design, implementation, and operations. In my colleague’s blog, How to Build a User-Centric Product: A Quick Guide to UX Design, she says that, “user experience matters because users matter. A product could be built from the latest and greatest technology and best practices, but what good is it if no one is actually using it?”

As product creators, we should make decisions based on feedback from people who consistently interact with the product, rather than our own priorities and preferences. You may have spent time painstakingly developing multiple end-user personas for both inside or outside your organization. Now that the personas have been developed, it is important to make sure that you consistently weave them throughout your development process to create a great solution for your end user.

Deriving Epics from Personas

Once you have created your product-specific personas, it is now time to take their goals and drill them down into epics. At EK we define an epic as:

Epic (noun): an extra-large or high-level user story; that can be broken down into smaller user stories, based on the needs and requests of your end users.

Example Epic

Let’s use the following example to demonstrate how a user persona can guide the story writing process:

University-Wide Initiative: Improve the findability of information and experts that students need in order to enhance their learning experience at EK University

User Persona:

Sample user persona for a user who wants to be an expert in KM and is motivated by technology.

Jane’s persona represents one of many students on EK University’s campus that have the same or similar problem. Based on Jane’s goals and frustrations, a digital tool that increases her social engagement and peer collaboration may be created in order to ensure her success because it connects her to other students on the same learning path.

A sample epic may be:

As an active student, I would like a responsive and robust mobile app, so I can engage and collaborate with the other students learning about KM in my class, in real time.

In her persona, Jane is clearly motivated by technology. Her motivation is incorporated into the epic as an app that can be viewed and easily used on her phone. Notice that the epic is high-level yet captures Jane’s goal of being successful in engaging and collaborating with her fellow peers around increasing shared knowledge, quickly and efficiently. Creating a persona-driven epic allows us to center ourselves around the user experience, one where the overarching focus is framed around the user and their needs.

Writing User Stories with Personas

Having developed an epic based on Jane’s persona, you can now break the epic into smaller user stories. Remember that the user stories should be written as problem statements in the perspective of the person who has an issue or challenge; in this case, Jane. So, if you don’t know who the users are and what problem you want to solve then it’s impossible to write the right stories and you end up with a wish list rather than a description of the relevant product functionality. At EK, we describe user stories as:

User Story (noun): a short, simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new capability.

Example User Stories

Going back to our epic of “develop a mobile app for active students,” we can now break it down to include the following hypothetical user stories:

Sample user stories may be:

As a student…

  • I would like to have a tool where I can chat with the peers in my class, in real time, so that I can collaborate on projects and share knowledge
  • I would like a space where all relevant course materials are stored for easy access, so that I can quickly get all my documents
  • I would like to see my course grades, so that I can quickly check my progress.
  • I would like to quickly send and receive emails to and from my peers and from the app, so that I can quickly engage with them about a class.

In her persona, Jane is frustrated by not being able to access class documents easily  and is driven by her goals and motivations surrounding creating positive peer relationships and having goals to maintain at least a 3.5 GPA. Here, using a persona to derive user stories was effective because the user stories were written in a way that identifies the direct user (Jane) and explains what she needs and why she will need it. Using a defined persona allowed us to create a holistic user story centered around Jane and her peers, rather than just a product.

In Conclusion

In order to design an exceptional product, one that is directly related to your end users, you have to understand and utilize your user personas throughout the sprint process. While completing these may seem a bit time-consuming, completing both will serve as the basis for product success and can potentially save you from any major re-designs in the future. One way to keep your epics and user stories centered around your personas, is by keeping hard copies posted on the wall. This way, you will always have a visual reminder of who you are building your product for. If you’re interested in developing personas or successfully applying personas to your product, contact Enterprise Knowledge at info@enterprise-knowledge.com.

Anita Sagar Anita Sagar Anita Sagar is a scrum master and agile coach. She helps organizations increase their agility through collaboration and coaching. As a former teacher, she enjoys working at the intersection of agile and education and growing teams to deliver strategic business solutions. More from Anita Sagar »