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The limitations of testing personas: should we even use them?

Should we use testing personas?

We have previously discussed the importance of using Personas testing to test software more efficiently. In general terms, Personas are profiles of fictitious users created to represent the different types of users that may use the product.

Testers put themselves in the role of the end user (or the various users), using the software as he would use it, in order to find bugs, navigability errors, etc. The concept was proposed in the late 90’s by Alan Cooper and has been gaining more and more attention.

However, the use of testing personas is not consensual practice. While some professionals use people faithfully, others have long abandoned the idea, convinced that it is a waste of time. This duality leads us to question: should we use testing personas?

The first and greatest limitation of the personas is that it is difficult or impossible to verify if the personas that we construct are precise. On the other hand, we often try to build complete and perfect personas, and we forget that real users, by their human nature, have limitations and it is important to take these limitations into account.

Secondly, even if several personas are created, there is no good way of assessing whether the group of people adequately represents the target audience, at the risk of representing only a part of potential customers. Using inaccurate information to develop the persona, such as outdated information or assumptions can also contribute to people's failure.

Another difficulty is that, however detailed the persona description, the tendency will always be to see it as abstract, and it is difficult to empathize with it as a real user of the software.

An effective testing persona:

  • Represents an important group of users of your software;

  • Expresses the main needs and expectations of users; 

  • Gives you a clear idea of ​​how users are likely to use the program;

  • Helps in the discovery of new functionalities.

Finally, the challenge for software developers is to assess whether personas are really effective for their testing. If you do not find benefits in this approach, you should consider its usefulness and not just use it because many say it should be used.

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