Persona Alignment

Last Sunday, I moved to Austin, TX to start working on a new team at IBM, previously called Whitewater, now the Agile and Talent Transformation and Operations organization (this is a whole different blog post; stay tuned). Since joining, I’ve been working with our design lead to help refine the personas and goals for our part of the organization for the year. While working on personas, and after re-reading Indi Young’s Describing Personas again, as I tend to do whenever I start in to persona work, it dawned on me: after stripping out things that may bring cause unconscious bias, I saw a pattern emerge.

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D if you will) kind of on-and-off since being introduced to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons at a nerdy camp in high school. In fact, Snugug comes from the first character I made to play with my friends in high school (a half orc, half ogre barbarian that was strong enough to rip enemies in half with his bare hands, but was dumb enough to have been convinced a horse was a dog). One of the core mechanics of fleshing out a character in D&D is character alignment. Characters exist on a grid, marking their lawful to chaotic alignment, and good to evil alignment.

  • Lawful - honorable, trustworthy, obedient to authority, reliable
  • Neutral - average respect for authority, but no compulsion one way or the other to follow the rules or rebel. Honest, but can be tempted
  • Chaotic - freedom, adaptability, and flexibility.
  • Good - altruistic, respectful of life, willing to sacrifice themselves for others
  • Neutral - committed to others by personal relationships only; won’t hurt the innocent, but won’t make sacrifices either
  • Evil - willing to harm, oppress, or kill others

With these, a grid can be built, and characters can be placed!

Lawful Neutral Chaotic
Good Lawful Good Good Neutral Chaotic Good
Neutral Lawful Neutral True Neutral Chaotic Neutral
Evil Lawful Evil Evil Neutral Chaotic Evil

Robin Hood would be an example of Chaotic Good. He’s altruistic, willing to sacrifice himself for others, but does so well outside of the the law. General Leia Organa would be lawful good, Han Solo would be Chaotic Neutral, and Darth Vader would be Lawful Evil.

Having this in the back of my head, the pattern I saw emerge was that the personas we were talking about all wound up having a combination of characteristics that could be mapped like D&D alignment! Our particular users are all at some point in their journey to become Agile practitioners, and all wind up having different thoughts on if that’s a good idea or not. We wound up with the following Persona Alignment Chart to describe our personas:

  • Hero - excited about adoption, understands the value of Agile to drive better outcomes, wants to help bring their team along
  • Townsfolk - willing to work in Agile, but not convinced of its value
  • Anti-Hero - believes that Agile may not be the best way to work, may try and work to convince team that other ways of working are more beneficial
  • Green - new to Agile skills and terminology, has little to no experience working on an Agile team
  • Local - familiar with some Agile skills and terminology, has some experience working on an Agile team
  • Veteran - very familiar with Agile skills and terminology, usually opinionated about specific Agile methodologies, has lots of experience working on Agile teams
Hero Townsfolk Anti-Hero
Green Green Hero Green Townsfolk Green Anti-Hero
Local Local Hero Local Townsfolk Local Anti-Hero
Veteran Veteran Hero Veteran Townsfolk Veteran Anti-Hero

From this alignment chart, our personas emerge. Someone who is new to Agile but is really excited about adopting it for their team would be a Green Hero, maybe someone in leadership who’s just returned from a conference. Someone whose team made the transition to Agile from Waterfall and found it difficult to adapt and their work suffer may be a Local Anti-Hero who wants to go back to Waterfall. Someone who has a long career on Agile teams and just kinda views it as the way their teams work and nothing more may be a Veteran Townsfolk. For our work, we thought that focusing our goals for this year on the Green Townsfolk (who we think are likely many of our users), the Local Anti-Hero (as we’re likely going to come up against resistance in a giant change initiative), and the Veteran Hero (our ideal user so we know the goal to hit) is likely the way to go.

While I don’t think building personas this way will work for all use cases, for us I think it’s going to work pretty well. The next step, of course, is rolling up character sheets for our personas, and our team (cause at this point I feel we might as well play a campaign).