Recently a team discussion around the usefulness and usability of some internal systems sparked some debate about what was actually needed. What was clear was that there were different perspectives and different needs that required some understanding in order to affect positive change within the systems. So, presented with this problem, we decided it was time to walk the walk and apply our approach to ourselves.
What has been most interesting about this is just how tricky it can be to conduct such a project within your own organization, particularly a small business. In your own environment you can be tempted to let your own experience cloud things and colleagues can think you know a lot more than you do about them, their role and what it’s like for them on a daily basis. Familiarity in some cases also meant that sessions were difficult to keep on track and needed to be refocused to ensure all key concepts were covered.
While we ran the process much as we would for our clients, we had to synthesize the information over a few levels rather than producing Personas. The depth of information gained during the interviews was appropriate for creating Personas, but for an internal piece of work in a small business, it felt both strange and potentially risky to follow this path. The key was to create tools that were abstracted enough where people could still identify with the attributes, concerns and needs without anyone feeling singled out or others jumping to a conclusion about who an output might be referring to.
As most of our clients are larger organisations with many staff, executing our process on ourselves has given us an appreciation for some key considerations when creating empathy tools for smaller businesses. It has also reinforced the value of such exercises for any sized organization in identifying opportunities for optimizing systems that enable people in their roles and the potential to reshape culture and improve service delivery models.
The question of where is best to interview people in order to gather the right information to create quality Personas can be contentious. On the one hand it’s much cheaper to bring people to you and possibly less time consuming, but on the other hand we believe this denies researchers (and ultimately our clients) access to valuable information that can only be gathered by experiencing each participants personal context.
As an example, a colleague and I recently found ourselves sitting in a small lounge, in a small ex-state house, in a small town, surrounded by 3 generations of a blended family. This unique experience embedded a deep sense of the person and their situation in relation to the subject matter of discussion. Interviewing the same person away from that environment would’ve yielded a totally different outcome that would’ve missed a vital link with their partner and a genuine sense of family dynamics in a crowded home.
You could ask questions to obtain similar information at the surface level, but when you only have an hour with someone you have limited time to build such contextual knowledge. You can’t possibly cover the same depth of context as you gain by just being in amongst it. By opening your senses to all that is going on around you take all of this in while focusing the conversation where it needs to go. Later when synthesising the knowledge gained in order to create Personas, you often find the things you’ve absorbed through the experience play an important role in creating Personas that feel real.
Having said all that, this approach does require high personal and organisational commitment that some perhaps aren’t willing to invest. Engaging in people’s lives can be mentally and emotionally taxing, travel is time consuming, and costly, but the level of connection made with people and subsequently the realness able to be embedded in Personas takes these empathy tools to a whole different level and that, makes it all worthwhile.More
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