Making of a Web App: Describe Users in Writing

This is the third entry in the Making of a Web App series. Key points are:

  • Write profiles of users’ roles, responsibilities, and needs
  • Two profiles is good, three is borderline and four profiles indicates the scope for release 1.0 is too large.
  • User profiles are important tools for design and scope decisions.

This series shares a process that designers, developers, and managers can use to design applications that delight users. Or, if you are a web-application user, this series can help you gain a better understanding of the workings of a software project.

Whether builder or user, I think you’ll find this series useful. If so, let me know by leaving comments below. If not, well, please also let me know by leaving complaints below. If you want to easily follow along, you can subscribe by email here.

Know Your Users

In the previous article I shared that this series’ subject app is a sales team collaboration system. This is a broad stroke description of the app’s domain. Now we need to ensure a good understanding of the users’ roles, responsibilities, and needs. We’ll do that by writing up short profiles describing fictitious people.

Keeping with the theme of simplicity, designers should have one or two user profiles in the first release of an application. If you end up with three it starts getting complex. If you have four or more you are doing too much for too many in the first take. Remember that future releases can always add features supporting additional user types.

For the sales team software, we have two user profiles. The first is a sales person, the second is a sales manager.

”The Sales Person”

Mary has daily chances to help turn inquiries into opportunities, and opportunities into sales. She is great at talking with people about the company’s products and services. She does a good job and is trusted and respected by her manager and others on the team.

Still, she would like to better share best practices and methods with others on the team. Also, Mary would like to understand what her manager and others on the team expect of her in the sales person role.

Finally, note that Mary may not even think of herself as a sales person. She may be a customer service rep, an assistant to the company owner, or an office manager. In this case, the title is not as important as the job – to collaborate with others and increase sales.

”The Sales Manager”

John wants to grow his business by building relationships between people and his company or firm. He wants to ensure that the staff is delivering a consistent message to customers and prospective customers. He has a favorite sales process and wants to easily track progress toward goals and milestones along that process. He needs to identify what sales processes are working, and which are not. He makes decisions about marketing and referral efforts and needs to know what sources are bringing the greatest opportunities. John feels that referrals and opportunities from existing customers is the best way to grow his business.

Again, John may not think of himself as a sales manager. He may be mentally stuck in this situation. John might call himself a business owner, independent insurance agent, real estate agent, founder of a creative agency, head of recruitment for an organization, or marketing manager. With any of these titles though, he wants to grow the business.

John’s business does not have a dedicated IT staff. He is comfortable with computers, yet would rather not spend time installing, maintaining, and upgrading local networks, databases, applications or other software.

Profiles are a Foundation

Creating short profiles like these for your intended users is important. This exercise ensures that all members of the project team have the same vision. The profiles also provide a basis for making scope and design decisions.

Now that we are armed with this information, determining the scope of the application will be the next step.