Do-it-yourself intranet personas

When considering what topic I could present about at this week’s Ark Intranet Yousability forum intranet personas were not far from my mind. It’s something that comes up for a lot of intranet managers.

Deciding whether or not to do personas, how to demonstrate value to leaders and whether to do them in-house or hire a consultant. Having developed ours in-house earlier this year I thought I could share our approach for the benefit of other intranet managers.

To persona or not to persona

We made the decision to include personas in our intranet project as one of our key objectives centered on user experience. I knew from research and talking to intranet professionals that personas were a great way of doing this. In making that decision it was up to me to sell the benefits to our project leadership team. They understood that it was a way for us to make the user experience a focus but in order to rationalise the time spent it was important to talk about where we could specifically use them, such as:

  • Establishing, refining and rationlising requirements
  • Planning and prioritising content needs
  • Prioritising (and possibly de-scoping) features
  • Briefing contractors
  • Informing testing plans
  • Telling the project story

Do it yourself (DIY) or consultant

For our project the decision to develop our personas in-house was fundamentally a cost saving measure. We weighed up the probable cost of engaging a vendor to complete the personas, versus the time that it would take me to do them and it was more cost effective for the project to use my time. There are certainly efficiencies to be gained when doing the persona work in-house as you have the advantage of already understanding the organisation and perhaps short-cutting some of the analysis. The flip-side to that is the potential for preconceived ideas creating bias. When making the decision for your project consider:

  • What is the budget for personas?
  • Is there someone in your project team who can do the work?
  • Will that resource have the time to spend building them?
  • Could it assist with buy-in if the personas are developed by an impartial third-party?

There is no right or wrong, it’s about weighing up the pros and cons based on your organisations particular situation.


I have distilled my approach to our personas into four phases; Research, Interview, Analyse and Report.


This is the part where existing knowledge about your organisation really pays off. In preparing for our personas I looked at all of our existing research which included data from focus groups and several prior surveys as well as data from Human Resources about our staff. I also engaged the members of our intranet governance group by doing a workshop focused on ‘What  might our personas look like?’. That workshop gave me a set of about 8 personas that I could test against the data from persona interviews.

I also did a lot of research on the internet and with other intranet folk to get ideas for my approach and make sure I was on the right path.


During my research I came across a number of different articles about what number of people to interview which ranged from 12 – 30. I settled on 15 and that number enabled me to comfortably cover the demography of our organisation.

To select participants I made use of a group of users which I had already established as volunteers for project activities, and used my contacts around the business to find appropriate candidates. I started with my list of target demographics and then invited people from the group that met the criteria. My selected interviewees were a representative spread that considered:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Tenure
  • Job Level
  • Business group
  • Possible persona matches

In structuring the interview questions I looked to the internet for ideas and found a number of resources that I used to pick questions that I thought would be useful for us and our stage of the project. I wanted to make sure that we were going to get information about what the pain-points were for our users, and also what the top tasks were that they performed. It was important to include a combination of qualitative and quantitative questions and I included a number of demographic questions (some of which can be pre-filled) and then a lot of open contextual questions which would allow me to probe further into interesting aspects.

One of the best pieces of advise for persona interviews or any sort of contextual inquiry is to complete it in the workspace of the interviewee. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard and read this and it paid off when I was doing the interviews. Being in the interviewees space means you can see their desk (if they have one) the sticky-notes and contact lists they have laying around. You can see files and instructional guides that they use to shortcut work and you can also see how they view and access the intranet, as well as their favourites and bookmarks. All of this information will give you clues as to what is important to them, and also where the intranet is not provided a service that it could.

I put aside 1 hour for each interview and they ranged from 30 minutes to 1 hour in duration.


I asked an experienced consultant how long they would spend on the analysis for a persona. They said that they would allow 1 hour for each hour of interview time, so this is what I budgeted for myself.

Using the many pages of notes and an excel spreadsheet I began reading all of my notes in detail and picking out themes, issues and quotes. I was about half way through that process when I realised that because I already understood the group quite well I was able to begin filling out my personas, and then went back to the research to pick out those helpful quotes and ensure I had covered all topics.


Based on my research I knew that 6-8 personas was the ballpark to aim for. We ended up having 5, which was a deliberate simplification based on the stage of our project. It’s not about meeting a quota, but about making sure you have the right number of personas to represent your organisation, and bigger organisation does not mean you need more personas necessarily.

Because I was doing our personas in-house I was very conscious that they look presentable. Even though most people in the organisation would not need to use them I wanted the quality of the output to reflect the time invested and importance of the work. I didn’t go with a professional designer for the layout, I just used our own PowerPoint template (it’s a rather nice design) but gave it the professional edge by having a designer select a nice set of stock photos for us.

The strong advice I was given was to avoid using staff photos for personas. The rationale is that the personas should not represent specific people, and when you present the persona with a known employee often people get tied-up the individual. Using photos which are licensed under creative commons is a cost-effective option but after spending some time trying to find good ones the investment to get stock photos from a designer was a cost we were happy to pay. I have heard of others using cartoon characters, which I think is a cute idea, if it works with your organisations culture.

In addition to photos your personas need names. I received a couple of gold pieces of advice from Catherine Grenfell:

  • Use alliteration for names, makes them memorable (i.e Natalie the New Starter)
  • Choose names appropriate for their demographic using the popular names search on the Births, Deaths and Marriages website (or your country’s equivalent)

The other thing to consider in your report is what level of detail you need. Again it’s about what you need and who the audience is. For me I wanted to keep it high level so it was easy understand and focused on the really chunky elements. I don’t think detailed personas are wrong at all, in fact they can give a lot of value especially if your project is early stages and has a big story to tell. You can mitigate the detail by having an overview or condensed version.

The result

The five personas we ended up with are:

  • Natalie the New starter: a newbie who knows nothing of our organisation and needs help getting started
  • Karen the Knowledge worker: an experienced employee who deals in information and rely on relationships
  • Austin the Operator: who works off-site and not so much at a desk
  • Peter the People Manager: a time-poor team leader who needs reliable information fast
  • Anita the Author: authoring is only a small part of what she does, so she needs the right support

The key sections I chose for our personas (in addition to name and photo) were:

  • About me: Context on the persona that helps explain their needs
  • Quote: A quick quote that summarises the persona
  • Demographics: Adds to the context by filling out the personas identity
  • Frequent tasks: May not be intranet related, but gives a snapshot into priorities
  • What I need from the intranet: The compelling sentence/s on how the intranet can make life better for them
  • Interactions: Key for understanding who they work with and where they spend time

I have made the personas available if you would like to look at the detail of each one (which I can share with permission from Corporate Affairs). This is the exact format which I use to share and distribute for our project purposes:


If you don’t have the luxury of a project budget to pay external consultants to create your personas you can do it yourself. It’s important to understand the trade-offs and also to be clear about how you will use them to create value in your project.

The condensed version which I presented at the Ark Yousability forum is available on Prezi.

[gigya src=”” allowfullscreen=”true” allowscriptaccess=”always” width=”550″ height=”400″ bgcolor=”#ffffff” flashvars=”prezi_id=3ontcvlmy1e4&lock_to_path=0&color=ffffff&autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0″ ]
For more on personas, here are some resources I recommend:

Do you have any persona experiences or resources to contribute? I’d love to hear from you, please share in the comments below.

5 Responses

  1. Pingback: Intranet Lounge

Share your thoughts

%d bloggers like this: