Are Personas Obsolete in the App or Web world?

As people learn advanced product management, they try to solve more complex product problems. Now a common problem that is cropping up in the SaaS or app world is the identification or creation of personas. But given the massive amount of usage data, and the quality of real time analytics and artificial intelligence today, are they really necessary?


Personas are a commonly used tool by product managers and product designers, to denote a fictional user of a software or a set of features. Rather than making assumptions about feature usage, you identify a set of users with similar needs, who will use the software in a particular way. Based on this set, you create a fictional persona, which is then used to validate any new feature idea.
If you attend any product presentation or work with UX designers they will identify personas for their work.

There are many videos on YouTube, such as this one, that also talk about personas, how to create them, the value they add and so on.

Personas: Good or Bad

So there are both sides to the story.
On one hand, there is a detailed blog post on the Adobe blog. It talks about how they use personas for design and why they are important. Given the prominence of Adobe in the design world, this is a strong perspective.
On the other hand, this post on UX Collective, talks in detail about why personas have limitations, and where they stop adding value (Why is the 'college' of a persona important? What happens to users who attended thousands of other colleges?).
And the Neilsen Norman group (world famous in UX domain) also has an article titled "Why Personas Fail" that talks about the challenges in using personas. As you gain more experience in using personas, you will definitely encounter such challenges.

The Bottom Line

There are both pros and cons to using personas. However, the tools to track usage and user engagement have improved to such an extent, that you can see in real time what an actual human using is doing, filtering out data about bots and other automated tools. This is particularly true for B2C tools for apps and websites. And if you have the resources, you can invest in an analytics team that can offer detailed insights into every significant interaction or engagement of any user. In fact, for a product manager, I would recommend that they get certified on Google Analytics, rather than on any UX tool used to create personas.
As a product manager, you can still use personas to suggest new features and engagement (use cases), however the validation of features already released is better understood by using data and tools, rather than referring back to the standard personas.

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