My goal as a product manager at Mozilla is to represent the needs of web developers well and make sure that Mozilla is doing what we can to help them.

I came to the realization last night that when I talk with others about what “developers” need, the picture of that “developer” that appears in different people’s minds can be quite different from my own. In fact, while I may imagine someone sitting at a keyboard getting frustrated at trying to make something work, someone else may be thinking of a company that “wants” to get an app into Mozilla’s Marketplace.

In my view, when you’re figuring out what you need to build, imagining a company is almost always not what you want. Companies don’t do anything. People do. People have a variety of reasons for doing the things they do, and understanding what those people are trying to accomplish is key to building good products.

This is what I like about personas [1]. Personas describe realistic people, allowing you to empathize with them and ensuring that you’d never mistake a person for a company. They can help give clarity to which things are important to build and also help catch gaps. Imagine a coworker coming up to you and saying “Can you believe I just met someone who was trying to make our product [do something outlandish]?”. It’s possible that the person in question is an outlier that you can safely ignore. But, it’s also possible that there are other, similar people out there and adding a new persona to the mix may open up a whole new market.

All of that said, it’s perfectly reasonable in many contexts to talk about a company as a “developer”. “Mozilla is the developer of the popular Firefox web browser”, for example. There are certainly times in product development where talking about a developer as the entity that controls an app in the Marketplace is perfectly reasonable. But, when you get down to planning features, I think it pays to think about individual people.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. In this use, “persona” is a generic industry term, not to be confused with Mozilla Persona, the awesome identity system for the web.