Friday, March 30, 2007

Waterfall, Market Research, and Requirements

Over at the Product Management View, Joel St-Denis recently wrote:

My personal opinion is that the Waterfall approach to development is better aligned with the responsibilities of solid product management, as it provides more reasonable periods of time to properly research your market and better define your requirements.
While I agree that dedicating sufficient time to market research and requirements definition is important, I do not agree with Joel that a waterfall approach to product development is advantageous. In fact, I believe that a waterfall approach hinders valuable market research and requirements definition.

Waterfall approaches assume a phase-by-phase sequence to product development. Your product manager researches the market and defines the requirements, and the development team analyzes the requirements and domain, designs the product, implements it, and tests it. By definition, once the team finishes a phase, it moves on to the next phase and does not revisit previous phases.

Agile approaches, by contrast, assume an iterative approach. The team performs the same activities as in waterfall but iterates on them (revisits each phase repeatedly and incrementally produces a demonstratable version of the product). The assumption is that, after some initial research, the best way to learn about the needs of the market and the challenges in meeting them is to put something in front of the customer.

Go here for more details on the difference between waterfall and agile approaches to product development.

I suspect Joel is unaware of the primary rationale for an agile approach. The main reason to use an agile approach is precisely so the product manager has an opportunity to "test" the market and thereby better understand its needs. To the extent the product manager dedicates less time researching the market up front (BUFR), she spends more time getting valuable feedback after each iteration of development.

Market research is notoriously unreliable when it focuses on abstractions or hypotheticals. A truly innovative product is by definition a hypothetical before it is developed. If they are dormant, even the market problems that the product solves may be too abstract to research reliably and comprehensively.

The way to make market research reliable is to make it more concrete and more real. Your product manager should research the market before product development begins. After a point, however, the best research tool at her disposal is a demonstration of a working product. A demonstration makes the research concrete and real.

By arming her with concrete and real product demonstrations after each iteration, an agile approach to product development enables your product manager to conduct reliable, comprehensive market research.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mobile Internet Adoption

If your team is considering developing mobile Internet application (e.g. a web application that's accessible via a browser on a mobile phone), keep in mind that a small percentage of people currently use the mobile Internet:
A study by Media-Screen has found that only 5% of people with broadband connections in the United States, approximately five million people, use the mobile Internet, despite 60% of them having a mobile internet device.

The report also found that mobile internet remains unpopular due to cost and connectivity issues including coverage.
Use of the mobile Internet seems bound to increase, however.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Laura Ries' iPhone Prediction

Laura Ries is now on the record. She predicts that the iPhone will eventually flop after an initial surge:

I don't disagree with the prediction that initially Apple will sell quite a few iPhones. Steve Job's brilliant job with the PR and the media's love of convergence will make an iPhone a must have for some early adopters and elites.

But shortly after the launch the initial hype will wear off and Steve will move on to the next project at Apple. Then the iPhone will end up in the convergence scrap heap along with the ROKR, N-Gage, WebTv and many others.

Initially convergence products, like line extensions get attention and generate early sales. But long term they usually fail and always undermine the brand.
I've set an appointment on my calendar for July 2008 to assess Ries' prediction. Anyone want to go on record with a contrary prediction?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Web Widgets Article

MarketingProfs.com has just published my new article, "How Web Widgets Help with Viral Marketing". Don't hesitate to post your questions or comments here. And please feel free to send it to your friends and colleagues who might find it interesting.

Oh, and thanks to Brandon for proofreading the article and suggesting edits.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Barack Obama as a "Product"

Positioning a product against a competitor is much like positioning a political candidate against a competitor.

Barack Obama, though he still trails Hillary Clinton in most polls, is the current "darling" of the Democratic field of presidential candidates. Clinton's "positives" may be high, but so are her "negatives" (most people have formed an opinion about her one way or the other).

According to polls, Obama's "positives" far outweigh his "negatives". His biggest strength is that he is a fresh face.

A good marketer - and a good campaign strategist - knows that the best way to defeat a competitor is to find the weakness within his strength and attack at that point.

If being a fresh face is Obama's biggest strength, then it's also a weakness. Maybe he doesn't have the foreign policy experience needed to confront the threat of terrorism. Maybe he doesn't have the executive experience to lead a nation. Whoever runs against Obama should find a focused issue, or something specific in his past, that exemplifies Obama's lack of experience and the liabilities of it.

Obama, on the other hand, should embrace his weakness. He could, for example, acknowledge his inexperience with foreign policy but find a way of spinning it as a strength. Perhaps the world has become so disenchanted with the United States and its leaders that a fresh face with a new approach is just what the United States needs. Whatever; Obama can't deny his lack of experience, so he should find specific ways of showing how it is a strength.

It will be interesting to see which Democratic candidate's campaign strategists understand and apply the principles of product positioning.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Measurement by Authority

When your product manager is documenting the nonfunctional requirements for a product, one of the biggest challenges is identifying metrics, the means of measuring a constraint.

For example, imagine one of the requirements that marcom wants for the product is consistency with brand colors. I.e. the appearance or user interface of the product should contain colors that the brand logo contains. Consistency with brand colors helps strengthen prospective buyers' association of the colors with their perception of the product.

How would you measure such a thing? Consistency is a somewhat subjective attribute of a product. Gause and Weinberg, in Exploring Requirements (page 184), describe a way of measuring subjective attributes:
Another way of resolving measurability conflicts is simply to define measurement by authority. "What person or group can be given the authority to say 'yes' or 'no' about the satisfaction of this constraint?" Sometimes there is an official agency: "If the federal bank examiners will accept the auditability of this system, then we will be satisfied that the auditability constraint has been met." Other times there is an official process: "If the standards committee conducts a technical review and certifies this system, then the standards constraint will be met."
If your product manager hasn't yet read Exploring Requirements, it's not too late.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Survey Tips from Brian Henderson

Brian Henderson offers us twelve tips on crafting market surveys:
  1. Define the survey's purpose
  2. Keep it short and sweet
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Save demographic questions for last
  5. Keep it specific
  6. Make it consistent
  7. Follow logic
  8. Do a test
  9. Avoid weekends
  10. Send reminders
  11. Entice
  12. Share
Overall, sound advice. I don't completely agree with Henderson about open-ended questions, however:
If you are conducting surveys of large audiences, don't ask open-ended questions that will give you a wide range of answers. That will make it difficult to analyze the results. Questions should be either yes/no or multiple choice.
At Cauvin, Inc., we developed and use our own survey analysis tool that makes it easy to analyze the responses to open-ended questions and correlate them with the answers respondents give to other questions in the survey.

Another tip you need to apply carefully is offering enticements to respondents:

Give your customers a good reason to answer your survey. Offer them a discount or give them a gift certificate. You're asking them to do you a favor, so show your appreciation. Make sure the incentive is somewhat relevant to the customer's interests. You wouldn't give away an extreme-sports vacation to someone who would rather watch them on TV.
The enticement will appeal to certain types of respondents more than others, thereby biasing results. You may think you have a thorough enough understanding of the potential respondents to know that the enticement won't cause significant bias. But then why bother even conducting a survey?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Functional Specifications Jeopardize Usability?

What if your team spent two months meticulously documenting each and every use case for your product? Specifying each and every interaction users will have with the product to achieve their functional goals?

What if, in addition, your team spent two months meticulously documenting what the user interface will be. Wire frames, screen shots, click-action-response tables, etc.?

Would you end up with a usable product?

Not necessarily. The old adage is that you don't improve what you don't measure. You can specify how a user will use a product all you want, but if you don't define what "usability" means - if you don't measure it- you may not end up with a usable product.

Invest some time defining the usability metrics. How long should it take for newcomer to learn how to use the product? How long should it take for an experienced user to achieve her functional goals? How many user gestures should it take?

Invest some time testing usability. Have your testing team put together a suite of tests that verify the usability of the system against the metrics you defined. Include the key end-to-end usage scenarios that deliver value to the user.

Okay, maybe functional specifications don't themselves jeopardize usability. But spending all your team's time on the functionality of the system without defining usability metrics and testing your product against them is not likely to lead to a usable product.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pragmatic Marketing Network

In conjunction with the Austin Product Management & Marketing Forum, Pragmatic Marketing is sponsoring a networking event April 10th. The event will include a discussion of the proper placement of product management within an organization.

The specifics:

WHAT: Product Management Networking
WHEN: Tuesday, April 10th, 6:00 - 8:00 PM
WHERE: Hilton Garden Inn @ 5th and I-35, Austin, Texas

RSVP via evite. More information here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wedge Features

In political campaigns, some strategists use "wedge issues" to differentiate their candidate from others in the field. The elder George Bush used flag burning to put his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, on the defensive. He found an emotional issue that:

  1. Was focused. Bush could have chosen the general issue of crime, patriotism, or social policy. Instead he chose a narrow issue that was symbolic of larger issues.
  2. Highlighted the weakness within his competitor's strength. One of Dukakis's strengths was his libertarian positions on social issues. The weakness within this strength was the acceptance of actions that would offend the sensibilities of most voters.
You can employ a similar strategy when marketing your products. Identify a wedge feature. The feature should ideally be focused, solve a problem that prospective customers face, and highlight a weakness within your biggest competitor's strength.

Wedge features are a manifestation of symbolic focus.

A survey of the customers in the target market for your product should show a strong preference for the feature. In short, it should drive a wedge between your product and competitors' offerings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Decision-Making Strategies

Jeff Lash recently linked to a page from Marie McIntyre on decision-making strategies.

McIntyre argues that the decision-making strategy you use should depend on factors such as:
  1. Availability of information.
  2. Superiority of one decision.
  3. Acceptance of the decision by others.
  4. Amount of time to decide.
Jeff already covered them in his entry, but the different strategies are:
  1. Make the decision by yourself.
  2. Get information from others, then decide by yourself.
  3. Before deciding, consult with others one-on-one to get their views.
  4. Before deciding, have a group discussion to explore options.
  5. Ask the group to reach a consensus independently.
Notwithstanding the point that the best strategy depends on the circumstances, I have found the third strategy to be under-utilitized and underrated. One-on-one consultation is a powerful facilitation technique. Group discussions can be helpful, but the likelihood of miscommunication is exponentially greater than for a series of one-on-one discussions, often rendering one-on-one discussions more efficient.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bob Sutton on Assholes and Other Topics

Check out Bob Sutton's blog. Sutton writes about workplace productivity and personnel issues. He is famous for the "No Asshole Rule", which has three facets:
  1. Don't hire assholes.
  2. Don't tolerate asshole behavior in the workplace.
  3. Keep one asshole around just to set an example of how not to be.
Sutton even has a metric for assholes, the Total Cost of Assholes (TCA).

And with the help of a self-exam, you can find out whether you are a Certified Asshole. Take the Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE) now.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Conferences and Skewed Perceptions

The SXSW 2007 conference attendees have amassed in Austin. The first part of the conference is the "interactive" part, dedicated to film and technology media.

The usage of text messaging services such as Dodgeball, Twitter, and my own baby, Dadnab, has ballooned. The top 10 users of Dodgeball in Austin is traditionally dominated by friends of mine. Only one friend of mine remains in the top 10.

Reading the news stories stories about the conference, you might think these services are taking over the world. But they aren't.

Conference attendees are not your typical consumers. They aren't even typical consumers of the products and technologies that are the topics of the conference. There are at least three types of attendees that are atypical consumers:
  1. Vendors
  2. Fanatical users
  3. Reporters
When you attend conferences or consume media coverage of them, keep in mind that they likely aren't representative of your target market.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Laura Ries on Brand Mortality

Laura Ries' latest blog entry squarely addresses the issue of what to do about brands and product categories that are dying. The thrust of her advice is to avoid the natural inclination to try to preserve a dying brand by modifying it.

A strong brand stands for something in the mind of the consumer. Years of consistent, focused marketing and a remarkable product or company are the typical recipe for a strong brand. But sometimes the entire product category becomes obsolete, and the once-strong brand dies with it.

The natural inclination is to try to preserve the brand symbols (name, logo, etc.) since so much time, effort, and money went into making them powerful and well known. So why not transition into new or evolved products and attach the same brand to them?

Changing your brand is like trying to change the meaning of a word. If a word is relatively new and not well known, then it's not much of an uphill battle to assign a new meaning to it. But good luck trying to change what an old word with an established definition means to people. You're much better off inventing a new word.

Ries gives numerous examples of ill-conceived attempts to preserve or modify brands.

When your brand is dying, resist the temptation to modify it. Spin off a completely new brand (and not an extension of your current brand). It will take time and money to build it, but at least your new brand won't be doomed to failure.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Partnering Guidelines

Steve Johnson wrote a short entry on business partnerships. In the entry, he mentioned two common sense guidelines for whether partnerships make sense:
  1. Both partners should benefit from the partnership.
  2. The customer should get a better solution from the combined offering than can be achieved independently.
He adds that the partnership should extend each partner's reach in technology, promotion, or sales channel.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Apple Unveils New Product-Unveiling Product

"At a highly anticipated media event Tuesday at San Francisco's Moscone Center, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs introduced a new Apple product he said would 'revolutionize' the process of unveiling new products throughout the world."

More here.

UPDATE: Oh, and don't forget the Apple Rumor Generator.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Michael Jackson and Peter Checkland

Michael Jackson (not the singer) is perhaps best known for his work with "problem frames". Peter Checkland is known for the Soft Systems Methodology, a problem-analysis and problem-solving approach.

If anyone has any pointers to articles or books by these authors that they find particularly insightful and relevant to product management, please cite them in the comment section of this entry.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pac-Manhattan

The creator of the Dodgeball text messaging service is now involved in an ... er ... interesting project, Pac-Manhattan:

A player dressed as Pac-man will run around the Washington square park area of Manhattan while attempting to collect all of the virtual "dots" that run the length of the streets. Four players dressed as the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde will attempt to catch Pac-man before all of the dots are collected.

Using cell-phone contact, Wi-Fi internet connections, and custom software designed by the Pac-Manhattan team, Pac-man and the ghosts will be tracked from a central location and their progress will be broadcast over the internet for viewers from around the world.

Those Dodgeball guys know how to have fun.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pocket PC Version of the iPhone

Tech forums are abuzz today with news of a Pocket PC version of the iPhone. Pocket PC phones run Microsofts Pocket PC edition of the Windows Mobile operating system. Since Pocket PC is a programming platform, developers can create custom applications that do virtually anything.

Tzywen created an application that, for most practical purposes, turned his Pocket PC phone into an iPhone. Check it out; he even includes a video clip demo.