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Agile 2016: Persona Based Teams - The Ultimate Focus

| by Angela Wick Follow 4 Followers on Aug 23, 2016. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Persona Based Teams - The Ultimate Focus

At the recent Agile 2016 conference Andy Hircock, Mike Lowery, and Rob Vandenburg of Mxi gave a talk titled Persona Based Teams in which they discussed how they transitioned to persona-based teams, instead of skill-based teams to guide their agile transformation.

A few years ago they found themselves hitting the proverbial wall. They were organized by skill-based teams, they were using waterfall, and they were good at it. Even with that success they encountered challenges as operations expanded to every continent, thousands of users and over 50 user types.  

They made a dramatic change to their organizational structure. Before their agile journey, their teams were organized first by skill set, then product, then persona. They inverted the organization to build teams by persona first, then product, then skill. They created cross-functional teams who worked together to solve problems for a specific group of users that may touch multiple systems. 

The organization's unintended result as explained by the presenters, was that the persona focus provided a profound sense of purpose to the team members, which increased engagement, leading to better results. They explained that this was all by chance- maybe it can be done it by design!

The presenters summarized the before and after highlights:

  • Developers had little interaction with the users and they frequently missed the mark on value to the user. Now, every team member lives the life of the user.
  • Those that supported the system were different than those that built it. Now they have the same team build and support a persona.
  • There was too much information to keep straight for the team to understand details of the system, process, and users. Now they have isolated the needed knowledge base to focus on the persona rather than the whole system.

They described several aspects of their approach:

  • When they embarked on the Persona definition journey they found 86 personas! Instead of keeping track of 86 of them, they categorized them by user role, then expanded on persona. Three people were on board to help keep 86 personas up-to-date.
  • Next, they added journeys to the personas, understanding what the typical day and goals are of each persona when using each product. It’s about what each persona needs rather than what the system does.
  • They built teams, called squads, centered around solving and building for a small set of personas with the mission of “improving our personas lives as much as possible day to day and release by release." They have 8-12 squads, and each squad has a few personas and a Product Owner that owns that persona set.
  • The Product Owner's job is to know what their persona’s life is like, do their job, observe problems and how they manifest. They regularly visited sites to observe and help the personas do their job. They felt their pain, and had a deep understanding of empathy for the user. Then, the Product Owner comes back and teaches the team what the personas are all about, to achieve the squad’s mission.
  • This team structure of deeply understanding their personas called for every team member to visit these sites. When the Product Owner would come back from a site visit, the entire team would quickly understand, empathize and envision the context and environment the personas live in.
  • In this model they also had a Chief Product Owner who has several teams focused on their own personas. And, another group (product management) connects the dots between teams and any dependencies where multiple personas use the same features.

 

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