When building an application, it is often difficult to make prudent design decisions amidst wildly conflicting demands. Some clients want the software to do everything for everybody, so that it does nothing well; others want their idiosyncratic views to crowd out others' requirements. As an IT manager, it's sometimes difficult to find the happy medium between "everything and the kitchen sink" and a narrow set of features for a single user type. The use of personas can be a pragmatic solution to this very real problem.
The concept of personas - the use of archetypical users to help clarify design decisions - has been around for a long time. Alan Cooper claims on his Web site (http://www.cooper.com/content/insights/newsletters/2003_08/Origin_of_Personas.asp) that he invented concept in 1998; others have pointed out that Geoffrey Moore discussed "target-customer characterization" in his groundbreaking book, Crossing the Chasm, seven years earlier. It doesn't really matter who came up with the idea; what does matter is that it clearly helps the design process.
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