January 29, 2022

The Battle of Personas

In my experience thus far, one of the hardest parts of being the sole founder of an idea is that there is no one else to mitigate the multitude of personas vying for attention.

👀 Spoiler Alert: I don't have a solution yet, but I'm hoping sharing my progress will help someone else dealing with a similar situation.

🖼️ Background

One form of this conversation took shape a few years ago in the terms of what I'll call the "Maker vs Manager Dilemma." It's outlined here more in Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule by Paul Graham.

The short version of it is that there are two personas:

  • Maker: For apps, most would associate with the programmer / engineer
  • Manager: For apps, most would probably associate this with a project manager

And the problem is that as individuals, we often have to navigate between these two personas when we have meetings, and other responsibilities. And they both often have different priorities / skills required in order for them to be successful in their respective ways.

👥 My Personas

In my experience though, that framework doens't quite represent the conflict I deal with, so I wanted to share what voices often are competing for my attention when I sit down to work. At its core, I'll

  • 🤵‍♀️ Business Owner: This persona is primarily concerned with: - Financial viability of the idea - Branding and marketing - Organizational culture and values - And the list goes on...
  • 🧑‍🏫 Project Manager: This persona is primarily concerned with: - "Deadlines" (cause let's face it, these are basically self-imposed and the only one to really enforce it is yourself) - Trying to figure out what should order things should be shipped - Shipping something rather than waiting for things to be perfect - And the list goes on...
  • 🧑‍🎨 Product Designer: This persona is primarily concerned with: - How to make the product better - New features to add - Design patterns to implement - Visual design changes - And the list goes on...
  • 👩‍💻 Engineer: This persona is primarily concerned with: - How to make things work - How to maintain good architecture - How to design good data schema and APIs - How to keep things performant - How to keep the code clean - And the list goes on...

😫 The Pain

As you might imagine, the problem with having these four personas duking it out in your head constantly is that it feels like the priority is constantly shifting. Or well, at least it feels like that a lot of the time.

Like you know how as a developer, you have to navigate between the priorities of making the thing work vs making the code look clean? And it's easy to fall into a rabbit hole especially when you think the one thing you want to abstract shouldn't take more than "a few minutes"? Multiply that by like 10. 😅

💡 My Solution (For Now)

I don't have an answer. Nor have I solved this yet. But what I do suspect is that the root of the personas constantly battling it out for supremacy is because each persona does not feel fully heard. And this might sound a bit odd, but another way of putting it is that:

  1. Your personas each have valid concerns and reasons for wanting to prioritize what they want.
  2. One of the reason the personas keep interrupting one another is because there isn't a safe place where all the concerns and ideas will go. In other words, your brain is afraid that you'll forget about it.
  3. You're not allocating enough time for the personas to fully share what their concerns are.

So, in order to combat the fact that you don't have a team to help you manage these conversations yet, this means that it's important to:

  • Invest in building proper infrastructure for a trusted source of truth: You need somewhere that you can reliably go to in order to add new ideas, find old ideas, and sort through existing ones. My current solution is to use Obsidian since I have full control of the data and its designed to manage linked thinking well (which is very effective for dealing with shifting priorities and concerns and seeing where the relationships are). The primary downside is that there's a limitation from a UI perspective and you're mostly responsible for stitching everything together yourself, but for me, it's a small price to pay since performance and data ownership is key for me.
  • Dedicate proper time for each persona: This is similar to the ideas proposed by Paul Graham I mentioned earlier in terms of "maker and manager schedules." But for me, this means spending dedicated time (even if only 30 min a week) for the personas to start shaping the roadmap in a collaborative fashion. That way, whenever I'm ready to sit down and do some coding, my brain is far less noisier and more importantly, if something new comes up mid-way through coding, I know where I can put the other persona's concerns without much worry.

This is very much a work in progress, and I'll let you know how things go as time goes on. Till next time!