Thursday, November 16, 2006

Explication

Explication is the process of analyzing the usage of a word or phrase and formulating a logically consistent definition that clarifies its meaning. Product managers explicate the terminology of customers to settle on the most effective way of wording product requirements and communicating with customers.

Conventional wisdom dictates a product manager should communicate in the "language of the customer". Unfortunately, there is no such single language. Different customers use words in different ways and use different words to describe the same thing. A product manager must therefore navigate this terminological landscape and determine the best words to employ in requirements and customer communications. The product manager should explicate the various alternative terms and, after deciding on an operational meaning for each alternative, select the ones that she judges customers will most readily understand.

For example, imagine your company provides Internet data centers to customers. It focuses on customers looking for high availability in their web sites. A frequently-used word among customers is "server". Yet different customers mean different things when they use the word:
  • Customer A means "the program(s) that process incoming requests and reply with content".
  • Customer B means "the computer(s) that process incoming requests and reply with content".
  • Customer C means "the conceptual aggregate of load-balanced computers and programs processing incoming requests and replying with content."
In your product requirements, how should you define "server"? In the brochures you hand out at trade shows, how should you define "server"?

Explicating the term yields the answer. However, you can only explicate a term in relationship to other terms. In my next entry, I will describe a powerful explication tool that some product managers use to model these relationships.

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