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Feedback Phases and Personas

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A few weeks ago, I released my first solo app on the App Store, Parking. It’s a small project, but I still sought the help of a few friends before launch for testing and feedback.

Getting valuable feedback is a delicate and very important thing. A little bit of planning ahead of time can go a long way—I don’t recommend sending a beta out to a dozen friends with no thought other than, “Let’s see what they think of it!”

I structure a few phases of feedback, each with defined goals that help work my way toward the final product. For each phase, I try to provide testers enough guidance on what type of feedback I’m seeking, while trying to avoid restricting their free flow of thoughts.

A big focus of mine is introducing new testers at each point—continually having fresh eyes on the product helps immensely. It exposes things that users who are familiar with the product will glance over as part of the rough edges inherent to beta stages.

Beyond the benefit of fresh eyes, I try to map the personas and areas of focus of my testers to the goals of each phase. For the testing and feedback process of Parking, I identified five personality types (with five corresponding phases).

The domain experts

These people are masters of the domain in which you’re working—whether that means the platform or environment, or the audience or market you’re targeting. It’s a good idea to have these people helping out from early on (they’re the first group I bring in), because they can validate the core pieces of your work before it’s too late in the process to make major revisions.

The idea people

This group is a fantastic follow-up to the domain experts. It’s made up of people who understand what you’re building, and are great at brainstorming everything from an entirely new feature to a smaller, but useful addition. Don’t bring this group in too late either, or else their great ideas won’t see the light of day.

The meticulous

These people don’t miss a thing. They evaluate every last detail, every little decision, and will give you a wall of feedback. It’s critical to bring this group in after the core of your product is built and polished with the help of domain experts and idea people, or else this group’s detail-focused evaluations won’t be useful.

It’s especially important to be respectful of this group’s time—they’re going to put a lot of effort into poring over your work and providing feedback, so make sure you can put that feedback into action quickly.

The breakers

These people can break anything. I’m sure you know a few people like this, if you aren’t one yourself. After polishing the details with the help of the meticulous, have this group help break as much as possible, and then make sure those breakages are fixed, or handled gracefully. This group is the most frustrating by far (in a good way, I promise), but the stability of your product will thank them, and so will you.

The slightly different

This is a group of people that will use your product slightly differently than you imagined, or use technology as a whole in a way unfamiliar to you (whether that means different contexts, locations, devices, or something else). It’s a tough group to put together, but it’s vitally important to expand the way you think about what you build. A different way of using technology brings a different perspective. This group will often see that you’re incredibly close to something they would find very useful—something you’re missing out on altogether—and that can open your product up to an entirely new segment of the market. This is the last group I bring in, once core features are implemented, polish is applied, and bugs are fixed.

Those are the five personas I’ve identified and structured feedback around, though some people may cross over between groups, and that’s great! I often find a strong correlation between the meticulous and the breakers, for instance.

As always, be pragmatic. Feedback phases matched to personas has improved my process, but your product may call for something different. Find what works for you, but be thoughtful about constructing an environment for feedback that works to make your product better.

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