user research – How have personas worked for you? This is NOT another persona debate

TL;DR:

My team is trying to decide whether or not to formally pursue personas for the first time. They want me to find real-world examples of how personas are used by others. I have done a lot of research on personas but don’t have the answers I want yet. Please help me by answering any or all of the following questions.

  1. What type of software do you work on? (e.g., mobile app for creating grocery lists, internal enterprise level merchandising app, e-commerce website for a general population, etc.)
  2. What process have you followed for creating personas? (e.g., following Pruitt & Adlin’s persona lifecycle religiously, assumptive/proto-personas, filling out online persona templates, etc.)
  3. At what stage of development have you found personas to be most (or least) effective? (e.g., early research stages of creating a brand-new product, high-fidelity design stage of tweaking an existing product, validation stage of completely revamping an existing product, etc.)
  4. What are the main lessons learned in your attempts of using personas? (e.g., 6+ personas is too many, personas based on assumptions are/are not effective, personas do not work well during the validation stage, etc.)
  5. What has been the biggest challenge of using personas? (e.g., gathering enough data, buy-in from stakeholders, knowing how to use them once they’re created, etc.)
  6. What are the biggest benefits of using personas? (e.g., building empathy, helpful in understanding the research, useful in spurring conversation, etc.)
  7. What are the main ways in which you use personas? (e.g., for writing scenarios, in conversations to keep everyone on the same page, to use different POVs when reviewing a design, etc.)
  8. What is the main reason your use of personas succeeded or failed? (e.g., background research, stakeholder buy-in, amount of time/money spent creating them, etc.)
  9. If you created your personas based on research, what type of research was it? (demographic data from surveys, qualitative data from interviews, various sources of research conducted in the past, etc.)
  10. If you created your personas based on research, how did you access participants for this research? (e.g., internal experts, survey posted on twitter, finding customers via sales reps, etc.)

Additional Info If You’re Interested:

I am a UX researcher at an engineering company working on B2B software. My team works on software which will very slowly replace existing software which has been in place for decades. This new software, once established, will also be in place for many, many years and will not be able to change very much once adopted by many customers (as this could have safety critical consequences as well as interrupt standards/regulations companies will create around how our software works). Our UX team is small and centralized, and we are working on maturing our UX research methods & processes. I have been tasked with determining if we should spend the time and resources creating personas are not.

A lot of my understanding of personas comes from various academic writings on personas which, in my experience, tends to not always translate very well to actual application of a method in the real world. The main things my team wants to understand are:

  • How are personas being used in other companies?
  • How have others had to tweak the described methodologies to fit their
    own situations?

I am hoping to look at others’ experiences to draw parallels to how personas may/may not work in our own situation. Hopefully this will allow me to identify the potential risks & possible mitigations which I can then present to the team to inform our decision.

Please note that I understand the only way to really understand if personas will work for us is for us to try it. That said, my team does not want to move forward with trying this method out without first doing substantial research (which I don’t think is a bad approach since our team is stretched thin).

The main limitations our team faces in terms of UX are:

  • Very little, if any, access to end-users. Lots of access to internal
    domain experts and internal support staff who do work directly with
    end-users, however.
  • User types vary drastically across customer companies
  • Zero possibility of contextual inquiries
  • Very complex domain & software which is difficult to understand
    without contextual inquiries, an engineering background, years spent at this company working with our software.

Prior to creating this post I have done lots of research, I just don’t feel I have all the answers I want. For background, I learned about personas in various classes in my schooling. More recently I have spent a lot of time reading academic articles and books, reading blog posts, watching YouTube videos, and perusing persona related posts on various forums. In the forums I have come across a lot of posts like, “how do I create a persona?” and “are personas actually useful?”

Unfortunately I haven’t found as much information as I’d like on, “here is an objective example of how I personally have used personas and how it has/has not worked for me,” or, “here is how I have had to tweak the traditional persona technique to work for me.” I am hoping to get some help from you all to answer some specific questions. I’m not asking anyone to post one of their personas or anything because, you know, NDAs and such. If you can answer any or all of these questions that would be incredibly useful for me. Thanks!