Personas don’t review specs… People do

I've spent a lot of time bloviating on the Mort vs. Elvis thing. I got confused once, and thought I was an Elvis. Not really understanding what an Elvis is, I accidentally identified with the Elvis persona and championed the Elvis cause. I feel dirty. I'm not an Elvis.

Scott Bellware [MVP] : Mort or Elvis? A Question for a Bygone Era.

I read Scott’s rant.  If I didn’t work here I’d probably be standing right behind him saying “Yeah – Microsoft is bogged down in embarrassing ideologies! You tell-em Scott!.” I’m surprised that Scoble gave it so much boost.


The problem is that I do work here and I’m happy to report that if that’s the only thing you read about how we build our developer software then you’re missing 99.9% of what goes on here.  


Yes, real research dollars was spent to develop the developer personas. Yes, a printout of the simplified personality types was put into all of our mailboxes.  Yes, if taken at face value they don’t represent the breadth of work and challenges taken on by Microsoft platform developers every day.  However…


The personas don’t determine what bugs we fix.  They don’t get to review specs before we build the product like real customers do. They don’t get to talk with thousands of us softies on a daily basis. They don’t participate in the multitude of usability studies that we conduct that DO include real developers. Persona’s don’tget to ask thousands of questions per week that get answers from hundreds of folks that build your developer products.  The personas don’t get to go to conferences or site visits where you all get to tell us directly what direction you want the product to go in.  They don’t watch our channel9 videos.  And, finally, the persona’s don’t get to blog and tell us what they really think about the products… and have us listen & respond.  


If we ever were only using personas to build products (in reality we never were) that time has clearly passed… and it has been gone for at least 3-5 years.  In the months to come you’ll get to see the first Orcas CTP. With that CTP you’ll also get to read the specs reviewed by real customers that went into the product.  By then I hope you’ll agree with me when I tell you “now you’ve heard the rest of the story”… or at least another .1% of it. 

Comments (10)
  1. My own experience, and that of many people in my professional circle, suggests that dev div listens to ideas that reflect pre-existing pre-conceptions about what customers should be given in the way of tools.

    I appreciate what you’ve said here, Josh, but the practical experience of many in the community suggests that your reaction might not amount to much more than the necessary documentation in support of on-going plausible deniability as a reaction to criticism to Microsoft’s recent efforts in developer tools product.

    Were the personas influential in choosing the developers who were included in the usability studies?  Were the personas influential in shaping Microsoft marketing folks’ understanding of customers and thus influential in setting expectations and product directions that then led the executive to shape the roadmap?  Have the personas been inappropriately institutionalized into the Microsoft psyche such that they have an inordinate influence that folks inside Redmond no longer recognize?

    I often interact with many folks in the field who feel that Redmond doesn’t have much of a clue as to what customers in general want.  I think you’ve got a pretty good handle on the needs of customers that you choose to recognize and choose to serve to the detriment of the rest of the community.

    From outside of Microsoft, Redmond indeed appears to be bogged down in embarrassing ideologies.  Practical experience with VS 2005 since beta 2 suggests that you are listening to a select group of inexperienced customers who are helping you understand how to capture the remaining balance of the legacy COM developers who are struggling to make it to .NET to the detriment of experienced users who have clear understandings of what they want in terms of developer tools.

    During the Whidbey wave there was constant displeased grumbling in the developer community in reaction to the lack of agility developer and inadequacy of the product.  Perhaps you’re not privy to the media in which these were communicated?  Perhaps defending on-going dev div staffers’ creature comforts against actually getting out into the customer community in-situ is befuddling both Microsoft staff’s perception of customer needs as well as the product.

    With VS 2005, dev div told us what we need.  During Orcas, it would be great if we could reverse the flow of requirements, and it would be great if you were to include not just the customers in usability studies who were convenient to existing product marketing plans.

    I’m an experienced VS user, a C# MVP, and a recognized practitioner and teaching of agile engineering practices.  Feel free to call on me when you’re looking for people to include in usability studies.

  2. MSDNArchive says:

    Scott: I don’t see how pointing out real expamples of Devdiv/customer interactions is plausible deniability.

    Re Choosing Usability study Participants… I’ll have one of the Ux guys answer that one soon.

    "listening to a select group " – How is an open feedback center, forums, and blogs a "select group"?

    "we could reverse the flow of requirements"  – If you aren’t allready reviewing specs for Orcas as an MVP let me know. Send mail to if you’d like to garuntee you are on the list.

  3. MSDNArchive says:

    I honestly thing your reacting to the state of the world from 4-5 years ago.  And yes, there was planning for VS 2005 done at that time. So, I would expect some of the issues to have only now surfaced since it took 3 years to build the thing.  But I don’t believe we’ve been exclusionary in our search for feedback during or that time over the last couple of years.

  4. jledgard,

    I am involved in the spec review process for Orcas.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it shakes out.

    Feedback center, forums, and blogs don’t replace real interaction with real customers on real projects in-situ.  I think you’ve reached the practical limits of what you can do from the comfort of a closed office.

  5. MSDNArchive says:

    Ok, so your looking for more real world user interactions.  We do have a pretty large program called "Real users everyday" that’s run by our usability team.  We talk with them on a regular basis, they also fill out questionaires, we get screen recordings of some work, and we also get all the implicate command data from the customer feedback program that tells us what actions and how often they are performing them in the IDE.  

    I’m going to see if I can get some members of our UX team to blog about this, since I focus on more of the breadth customer interactions.  Its good to know that you think my job here is done. 🙂

  6. tobint says:

    Well said, Josh. Great response.

  7. > I would expect some of the issues to have only now

    > surfaced since it took 3 years to build the thing

    I find it compelling that agile engineering practitioners are a group who seem to be most consistently let down by the Visual Studio 2005 user experience, while this group also seems to practice disciplines day-to-day which keep their own products flexible enough to address their customers’ evolving requirements over micro increments and smaller releases.

    The customer feedback center isn’t really sufficient when customer feedback during beta cycles is addressed with stuff like, “We’ll get to that in the next major release.”

    How relevant is early feedback when Microsoft product teams are still bent to the will of antiquated, artificially-extended release cycles that aren’t equipped to address early feedback with early response?

    Again, I dream of a Visual Studio built under the aegis of Test-Driven Development practice.  I dream of good plug-in architectures driven by the exigencies of test-first programming and dependency injection, and I dream about release cycles that are optimized for customers rather than over-blown internal advertising agencies.

  8. MSDNArchive says:

    Getting Agile – Big team.  VS is not a 20 person group.  Its going to take time for VS to get there, but I see progress happening every day.

    Feedback Center Responses – Please, if you see replies that are not appropriate from MS folks… forward them on, blog about them… force us to do better, but don’t suggest we didn’t take a TON of the feedback into the VS 2005 release.  We did.  

  9. Norman Diamond says:

    > "listening to a select group " – How is an open feedback

    > center, forums, and blogs a "select group"?

    The open feedback centre is open.  The portion that gets the listening seems to be a select group.

    Sure personas don’t review bug reports, people do, and people mark bug reports "resolved wontfix" for known bugs.  I put my "ACE" cube on top of the computer I use at work, and a couple of colleagues asked me about it.  Today I saw a couple more "resolved wontfix" answers.  Now I wonder where to put the "ACE" cube.

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