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Jun
01

Persona(s) non grata: does database development need personas?

persona non gra·ta   adj. Fully unacceptable or unwelcome, especially to a foreign government: The diplomat was persona non grata.

So you may not have come across the idea of personas in software development so here is a little information and my thoughts (viewpoint) on them and beyond. Personas enable you to look at a few of the “types” of customer you target and what they would want from your software and then make decisions by virtually “consulting them” (greatly over simplifying here).
 
For example, pick a Tom, Dick and Harriet as your customers, maybe give them an image (below), give them different lifestyles, roles and user definitions with your product and look at the product through their eyes.
 
(L to R  Tom, Dick and Harriet)
 
So you have a long list of feature requests to add different widgets to your software, run them by the personas and score them through their eyes, decide which features will be more important and ultimately impact the bottom line..so far so good.
 
In the past from my experience at different companies doing software development, personas were not used. [Maybe this is me being an older fuddyduddy. ] Someone had a good idea for a product at the right time, they built a prototype for which a market was created (either internally or externally) and went out and sold it. The software development was impacted by the real personas the salesperson would interact with to find out what features they wanted to make the software work for them in their companies. True human interactions instead of human virtual persona interactions. Yes, you can get conflicting ideas or suggestions from real customers (people), virtual personas do not criticize you and tell you what they do not like in your software which is key to take a product from an also ran to a winner.
 
Having spoken to a few folks I am seeing personas spread virus like through the cheminformatics software world and the results are costly (employing consultants to create personas and sell the idea to you) and not good (months of discussion and development and not much to show for it).
My question related to this blog and based on my past posts is, do we need personas in database development? Has anyone shown that personas really work in our domain? Would they have helped ensure that the quality of the molecules in the NCGC database? I think the answer is No (reviewers would have helped here, BTW did anyone reading this blog act as a reviewer on this paper, please let me know if you had access to the database in review).
 
Do personas represent a fad, a fashion that will pass by? Would be keen to hear any thoughts here.
Me, I would go with boots on the ground, talking to real people in the real world making decisions that customers are vested in and will buy.  My 3 yr old daughter happily talks to the 3 “personas” above regularly but they cannot talk back and tell her about the software development projects they have been involved in! Oh if only they could talk.

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  1. Egon Willighagen says:

    I think I understand the idea of personas, in that their role in making the whole development model more objective. I have not seen it in cheminformatics, but my impression comes more from the Open Source side of cheminformatics.

    I also see a significant role in business modeling. The role of the active academic user may be less interesting than the lurking, paying corporate role. But I would not know what role definitions are being used.

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