The challenge

VMware, Inc. had a core product offering that was built on top of the open source technology Salt. However, our top complaint from customers was that Salt was difficult to learn and use, especially compared to our open source competitor Ansible.

As the technical writer for Salt, I could see that this was a major problem. I knew that customers were less likely to adopt and consume our product because of its difficult onboarding process. It meant customers were less likely to renew their licenses for our product or see the value that Salt could bring to their organization.

To find a solution, I decided it was important to first gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the problem our customers were experiencing when learning and using Salt.


  • Interview a variety of Salt users with a wide range of experience levels and use cases for Salt
  • Create a map of the different types of Salt users (personas), including their needs and pain points
  • Identify documentation improvements to meet their needs

The action I took

I initiated a major research project to study user pain points when learning and using Salt. I pitched the idea to the Salt Docs working group, a small group of community volunteers who spent a few hours every week improving our open source documentation.

As we planned the research together as a team, we felt that doing qualitative research would be best to give us the kind of insights we wanted and help us discover the main themes and trends in our user base. We worked on an in-depth research plan and then shared it with UX designers from VMware for feedback.

Once we had the green light from project stakeholders to proceed, we put out a call for volunteers to our Salt community and were able to interview 10 different Salt users who each came from very different backgrounds. We specifically targeted users who had a variety of experience levels with Salt, from beginner to advanced. We also made sure we talked to people working in both Development and Operations or both (DevOps). And we made sure to target system administrators working in both Linux environments and Windows environments.

In each 45-minute interview, we asked a lot of in-depth questions about how they used Salt, how they first learned how to use Salt, and some of their pain points with Salt in general or the Salt docs specifically. We then collated our research and analyzed it for common themes and pain points.


well-validated user personas came out of this research

The results

The results of this user research now form the foundation for major improvements to the Salt documentation. It taught our team a lot about the biggest challenges and friction points that were experienced by users. We also learned a lot about how we could improve the documentation to reduce these friction points.

We used this research to create a set of 5 user personas. A persona is a fictional character which represents certain traits and qualities of real users. In UX, personas are an important tool for understanding and empathizing with your target audience. Thanks to our research project, we feel that these personas are highly accurate and represent the full breadth and depth of our user’s experiences.

Going forward, we want to use these personas to help us build user journeys and workflows for navigating through our documentation and learning about Salt based on that persona’s use case and needs. We will create learning paths through the documentation to match those needs and design a docs landing page to help launch those users on their learning journeys.

Lastly, we shared these insights with our product and UX teams to hopefully inform key product decisions moving forward. Our research will improve customer satisfaction and increase product adoption and consumption.