Personas for business software – a gimmick or sustainable added value?

“Personas are just start-up knick-knacks, and for business software just a gimmick!” I’m sure many product developers have heard this before. I certainly have. But what is the truth behind the criticism that personas offer relevant added value for consumer products and are just creative add-ons for business software?

What are personas anyway?

Personas are fictitious people who represent typical representatives of a specific target group. They give product developers, customers and stakeholders an idea of who uses the product. In addition to a photo and name, personas typically include information on age, profession, free-time activities, family status and curriculum vitae, as well as typical needs and fears.

Personas in the context of business software

However, how do I deal with this as a product developer when my target group is primarily not people with individual needs and ideas, but with concrete professional challenges? For example, whether digital asset manager Diana Asmussen likes to play computers in her free time or go on vacation with her dogs is of no interest to product development. Diana steps into the spotlight with her professional needs as a digital asset manager and her requirements for an IoT system. When designing business software, employees should be addressed who want to complete their tasks efficiently and act in their roles and company processes.

CONTACT’s Personas

We at CONTACT therefore decided to create personas based on their roles and associated tasks within a fictitious company. We obtained input from our internal subject matter experts and customer interviews. Each persona has a task description and information on how to use CONTACT Elements.

Exemplary representation of the personas and team memberships of a fictitious customer

To be more specific, this means…

The holistic view of user needs provides valuable added value for product development – from knowledge building to quality assurance.

Personas make users more tangible and help new and long-standing product developers to get to know our target groups better.

By answering questions like: Who works with the 3D Cockpit? What does a user do in variant management? Or with whom does a CAE engineer interact? they know exactly for whom they are developing and can serve requirements in a more targeted manner. As sample users in concepts, demos and review systems, including all the rights they would have in a real environment, personas also ensure that work during development and quality assurance is user-centric.

But personas also have a high added value outside of product development. In presentations and in consulting, we use them to vividly depict scenarios, to build up understanding, and for identification.

So my answer to the initial question of whether personas are a gimmick or offer sustainable added value is clear: Personas are a central element in developing the best possible software for the user. They clarify needs, help to prioritize requirements, and promote a sustainable build-up of knowledge about the target groups company-wide.

What is Quantum Computing good for?

When it comes to quantum computing (QC), after the quite real breakthroughs in hardware and some spectacular announcements under titles like “Quantum Supremacy“, the usual hype cycle has developed with a phase of vague and exaggerated expectations. I would like to briefly outline here why the enormous effort is being made in this area and what realistic expectations lie behind it.

To understand the fundamental differences between QC and Classical Computing (CC), we first need to take a step back and ask on what basis both computing paradigms operate. For the CC, the basis is the universal Turing machine expressed in the ubiquitous von Neumann architecture. This may sound a bit outlandish, but in principle it is easy to understand: An universal Turing machine abstracts the fact of programming any algorithm into a classical computer (universal) that is somehow (classically) algorithmically expressible (Turing machine).

The vast majority of “algorithms” that are implemented in practice are simple sequences of actions that react to external events such as mouse clicks on a web page, transactions in a web store or messages from other computers in the network. A very very small, but important, number of programs do what is generally associated with the word algorithm, which is to perform arithmetic operations to solve a mathematical problem. The Turing machine is the adapted thought model for programming these problems and leads to programming languages having the constructs we are used to: loops, branches, elementary arithmetic operations etc.

What is the computing paradigm for a quantum computer?

A quantum computer is built up of quantum states that can be entangled with each other and evolved via quantum gates. This is also a bit off the wall, but simply means that a quantum computer is set to have an initial (quantum) state that evolves in time and is measured at the end. The paradigm for a quantum computer is therefore the Schrödinger equation, the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics. Even without understanding the details, it should be clear that everyday problems are difficult to squeeze into the formalism of quantum mechanics and this effort probably does not bring any profit: Quantum mechanics is just not the adjusted model of thought for the most (“everyday”) problems and it is also not more efficient in solving them.

So what can you do with it?

The answer is very simple: QC is essentially a method for quantum computing. Now this sounds redundant, but it means that a quantum computer is a universal machine to calculate quantum systems. This vision, formulated by Richard Feynman way back in 1981, is still followed by the logic of research today. Thus, it is not surprising that publications on the subject dealing with applications are located either in quantum chemistry or in the basic research of physics [5][6].

Why does this matter?

Because the classical computer is very inefficient in calculating or simulating quantum systems. This inefficiency is basically due to the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics and will not be solved by classical algorithms, no matter how good they are. In addition to basic research issues, QC is likely to become important in the hardware of classical computers, where miniaturization is pushing the limits of designing transistors on chips using classical theories of electricity. 

Besides, there are a lot of interesting connections to number theory and other various problems, which so far can be classified as interesting curiosities. Based on current knowledge, the connection to number theory alone could have a significant impact, because for historical reasons almost all practical asymmetric encryption schemes rely on algorithms that essentially assume (there is no proof) that prime number factorization cannot be solved efficiently with classical algorithms. Quantum computers can do this in principle but are far away from being able to do so in terms of hardware.

Lasting communication instead of talk and forget

Today I had a task to complete that I had long postponed due to other pressing matters. The team urged me to finally finish my part so that we could complete the implementation of a function in the software. The logic to be clarified was rather demanding and I struggled to get back into it. My to-do card on the task board was vague and my recollection of the initial meeting had already faded. So I started researching and found an email that refreshed my memory.

Overabundant communication channels lead to information loss

Oh, good old email. What a surprise, since I have much more modern communication tools at hand. Our team is spread all over Germany and we have been accustomed to working remotely, even before the corona pandemic. This works just fine for us, with the help of agile rituals such as the daily standup meeting and communication via video conferencing and chat. Successful communication is essential for the success of the project, as is well known.

It is also convenient that notes and documents can directly be shared within the online meeting. The catch is, however, that the chat often ends up containing decisions and technical information. Hence, the information I was looking for could just as well have been found there. Apart from email and chat, a surprising number of companies also have a third potential location for finding information: network drives, where project documents are stored in a more or less structured manner.

Communication in context means finding instead of searching

Have fun searching! Luckily, we at CONTACT have it much easier. We use our own software for project management, which provides us with excellent tools to do things better. In addition to the project management functionality, these include document management and a communication functionality called Activity Stream.

Posts in the Acitivity Stream – and this is the key point – can always be assigned to an object. For example, to a project, a task, or an open item. Or, in the case of our customers, to product data such as a CAD model, a bill of materials, or simulation data. This links project and product data to the relevant communication activities. For one thing, this allows us to search and find information in one single tool. In addition, because the object serves as an anchor point for the associated communication, all context-relevant information is automatically displayed when the object is called up.

Enrich objects with information en passant

Back to my case: To clean up the mess, I attached a document with my solution to the completed task. Along with it, I added the email that helped me do it. I also created and linked a new task for implementation by my colleagues, then wrote a summarizing Activity Stream post and shared it with them.

Now, I have brought together what belongs together. Even if a team member unfamiliar with the project history takes over the implementation, all information is immediately at hand. He or she can ask a question via the Activity Stream, without having to explain the context in an email or chat first. If I had used the Activity Stream to communicate within the task’s context from the beginning, all relevant information would have been assembled there. And I would have saved myself the trouble of researching and combining it.

Changing habits pays off

So, what do we learn from this? Firstly: A project management system with document management and context-related communication à la Activity Stream improves collaboration enormously. Secondly: It takes some discipline not to fall back to other tools at the first opportunity – as I did. But it saves a lot of work later on.

Time and time again, I see customers hesitating to switch from email to this type of contextual communication. My simple advice: Have the courage! Provide your employees with an appropriate tool and advocate for it. It may be unfamiliar at first, and it takes some time to gain widespread acceptance. But it is worth it. For the entire organization as well as the individual employee!