Friday, June 30, 2006

Product Requirements Analysis: Skills and Talents

The Requirements Defined message board has a discussion about the skills and talents a product manager should have to gather and document product requirements. The discussion touches on a number of important issues, such as:
  1. To what extent requirements analysis is trainable.
  2. How important it is to have prior experience gathering requirements.
  3. Whether prior domain or industry knowledge is needed for effective requirements analysis.
  4. The role of facilitation in requirements elicitation.
Requirements gathering abilities are among the most difficult to find. Simply assigning the product requirements to subject matter experts in your company is usually a mistake.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Innovation and Prototyping

Jefferey Phillips recently wrote about the relationship between innovation and rapid prototyping:
People can't react to ideas that are not modeled or simulated for them - it's simply too hard to get everyone to "think" the same way. Place a prototype or simulation in front of them, however, and the reactions are worth their weight in gold. The speed to prototype is important because it helps highlight the "gap" between idea generation and the resulting next steps. A long gap indicates that your firm does not have the processes and systems necessary to bridge the gap, and will probably be beaten to the market fairly frequently. A short gap can actually increase cycle times but improve the product, as a rapid prototype receives a lot more commentary and feedback into the system.
Interestingly, he maintains that taking a long time to put a prototype in front of a customer indicates your product will probably fail in the marketplace - not just because it won't realize the benefits of feedback, but because it reflects an organization not conducive to successful product development.

Via Cote.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Worthy and Worthless WOM

John Moore of the Brand Autopsy blog reprints Spike Jones' assessments of various word of mouth (WOM) ideas. Here they are, printed yet again:
  1. If you train your sales force in the ways of evangelism, they become better recruiters. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, but not exactly a “go home and implement” tool.
  2. Make it easy for people to find you and tell people about you. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  3. Create a market advisory council. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  4. Use interesting stories to bring your WOM topics to life. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – your identity should already do that.
  5. Encourage your brand champions to tell two friends about you, not just one.SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – Give them something to talk about
  6. Do something unexpected and generous for your customers — send a free product (include an extra for them to pass along to a friend) just for being a valued customer.SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, but you don’t have to bribe your customers, just surprise and delight
  7. Identify influentials using online social networking sites. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, depending on your views of “influentials”
  8. Reach the influencers that don’t raise their hand. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS
  9. Create experiences around your products and services. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  10. Be an evangelist for your evangelists (Send them framed versions of case studies you’ve done with them, blog about them, show them off in your newsletters.) SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  11. Use a memorable collectible as a dinner table centerpiece with the winner’s sticker on the bottom of their chair. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – this is just a sad gimmick, not a WOM tool
  12. Give your audience business card holders packed with ‘tell-someone’ referral cards.SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – another bad giveaway gimmick
  13. It’s not just marketing: embed WOM into your sales culture. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, but not take home actionable.
  14. Use humor or “did you know” language to help consumers feel like they have something funny or unique to add to the conversation. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS
  15. Ask your customers to talk about you. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – this is WOM creationism!
  16. Hide it. Discovery is a trigger for WOM, so make your tool or marketing message hard to find and you’ll create something people will want to talk about and share. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  17. Leverage provocative content to make everyday product talk-worthy. SPIKE SAYS: Borderline WORTHY
  18. Ensure you get the best ideas by engaging your WOM agency early in a paid consulting role. SPIKE SAYS:WORTHLESS as a WOM tool, but great advice nonetheless!
  19. Make friends with some bloggers (they don’t even have to be famous). SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY – but I would add, “and don’t ask them for favors.“
  20. Give your evangelists something to talk about. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  21. Give out your marketing collateral in something noticeable that gets people talking. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – another gimmick
  22. Create a story and let consumers share their best stories of interactions with your product or service. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  23. Create a VIP customer pool and use it. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  24. Make it easy for people to easily spread the word about you (Create a button for their blog or web site, a card or CD they can pass along to a friend, or build a ‘tell a friend’ option.) SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  25. Release exclusive content (”insider information”) and let your avid customers react and interact with it. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  26. Create clever 30-second virals and post to your home page. SPIKE SAYS: Borderline WORTHY – in this day and age of viral saturation, it’s gonna have to be either really great or really relevant to be effective.
  27. Take a cue from gossip rags such as InFocus or US Weekly and use surveys to add interesting facts to your WOM stories. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – this is just a tiny add-on.
  28. Let your customers create — provide ways to make it easy for consumers to customize and show off their creativity. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  29. Use ‘free or low-charge’ release services to announce new products and services like Soflow, 24-7 PR, PR Leap, PR Free. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS – this is cheep PR, not WOM.
  30. Let your evangelists know you’re listening. (Comment on their blogs, invite them to webinars or to your office for a VIP Tour and to meet the product or service teams, schedule meet-ups in cities and invite your customers to attend). SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  31. Measure results, not actions.SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY – a lot of WOMM is touchy-feely, which is important, but we’re also here to drive sales.
  32. Put the right tools in the hands of your most influential consumers to help them tell your story.SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  33. Bring your most loyal customers on the inside by involving them in your product development or marketing initiatives. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  34. Poll your sales force for good closing stories, then edit and distribute to use as testimonials. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS as far as WOM goes, but a good idea.
  35. Create a customer community of your most loyal customers. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  36. If you’re going to give something away for free, focus on quality merchandise that influencers value and seed it in the places they naturally frequent. SPIKE SAYS: Barely WORTHY
  37. Set the table for WOM to occur by giving your customers tools to initiate it. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  38. Join in the conversation (and start one if needed). SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  39. Tap into people’s sociability to propel WOM. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, but how?
  40. Identify “portable conversations” to give your advocates something to talk about. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHLESS
  41. Use the Buddy System and partner with your evangelists to work together on bigger projects. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY, but I think this same idea is listed above?!?
  42. Partner with evangelists and create opportunities for them to sing your praises. SPIKE SAYS: WORTHY
  43. Print referral cards which customers can give to their friends. SPIKE SAYS: Borderline WORTHLESS
Many of these ideas are relevant only to your PR and marcom people, but product managers sometimes need to incorporate them in the product's requirements.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Resuscitating Your Brand

Laura Ries writes about resuscitating your brand after a PR disaster. The four steps she recommends:
  1. Get out of the spotlight and give the public a break.
  2. Embrace the controversy, apologize in front of the media and end the bitterness.
  3. Start slow.
  4. Keep your brand focused.
She uses the Dixie Chicks as her example, but presumably the same steps apply generally to other brands.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Parity Products

Unless you have a way of producing or delivering them more cheaply than anyone else, you generally want to avoid selling parity products. A parity product is one that is no different from other products in its category. When you can't differentiate your product's benefits from the competition, you must resort either to superior marketing or to having the lowest price. (And superior marketing is difficult when you have no benefits to tout.)

A parity product resembles a commodity, which, according to Webster's, is a "mass-produced unspecialized product". Parity products are not necessarily mass produced, however.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Benefits, Not Features

I think this slide from a Mike Cohn presentation says a lot about what the focus of a product manager should be.

The presentation has lots of other good info related to requirements, use cases, and user stories. Check it out.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Apple Commercials

Is the "Mac guy" in the recent Apple advertisements really annoying, or what? The idea behind the ads is that you're supposed to view the Mac guy as trendy and cool, and view the PC guy as a geek.

Yes, the PC guy is a geek. Maybe it's just because I, too, am a geek, but I find him immensely more likeable than the Mac guy.

Maybe that's why this review calls the Mac guy a "smug little twit".

Friday, June 23, 2006

Target and Nike Logos

Interesting info on logos and whether they should be "blank slates" or more descriptive of the product or company. Consider two of the most respected logos in the U.S.

About Target's logo:
Yet all around us are demonstrations of how effective a blank slate can be. It's just hard to learn from them. I'd like to think, for instance, that I'd see the potential of a red dot in a red circle if I was designing a logo for a company named Target. But in truth I'd probably say, "What, that's all?" and not let it into the initial presentation. How, after all, could you guarantee that the client would invest 40 years in transforming that blank slate into a vivid three-dimensional picture?
The execs at Nike initially didn't like the "swoosh" logo:
It doesn’t do anything,” Johnson complained. “It’s just a decoration. Adidas’ stripes support the arch. Puma’s stripe supports the ball of the foot. Tiger’s does both. This doesn’t do either.”
Beware the marketing consultant who tries to justify her logo recommendation in terms of how it relates to your product or company. It's a pretty sure sign that she doesn't understand branding.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dan Russell on User Interface Bias

Dan Russell recently wrote about the tendency of developers to design user interfaces that are intuitive to them but not to users. He then counsels:
As interface designers we often achieve our greatest successes when the interface disappears, and getting to that point is what makes us professionals at this game – our willingness to go beyond our personal intuitions and see what really works for our target audience. Great user interfaces are ultimately about creating something that’s ego-less, something that works well for people who are not you and not just the same as you.
One of the reasons it's important to keep user interface designs out of product requirements specifications is that you lose the ability to judge whether the interfaces are actually usable. The metrics you use to judge usability - not the designs - are the requirements.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Vote at MarketingSherpa

The MarketingSherpa Blog Awards nominations are complete, and voting has begun. Cauvin is in the crowded "blogs on general (multiple topic) marketing" category. Thanks to whoever nominated this blog.

Now I encourage you to vote.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Informal Definition of Scalability

Scalability is a nonfunctional requirement that almost every product should possess. But specifically which metrics should you use to define it? A simple (and informal) definition of scalability is:

"More and more of it while still satisfying the other requirements."
You then must ask, "More of what?" And, "How much more?"

The Wikipedia entry for "scalability" mentions three forms:
  • load
  • geographic
  • administrative

Answer these questions in measurable terms, and you've defined the scalability requirements for your product.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Profiles and Personas

One way to document your understanding of customers is to compose profiles or personas. A profile describes the situation, problems, and general personality traits of one type of user or buyer in the market for your product. A persona differs from a profile in its level of specificity.

Personas are a bit like what some people speculated Deep Throat was in Woodward and Bernstein's account of Watergate, All the President's Men: a composite of various sources. (We now know that Deep Throat was a single person, Mark Felt). According to the composite character theory, Woodward and Bernstein concocted the character Deep Throat to represent a combination of many sources that gave Woodward guidance and information in their investigation of Watergate.

Personas are similar in that they represent all of the people in a market segment as a single person. That single person has very specific characteristics that many of the people in the segment do not have, but that nonetheless serve as representative examples of the types of situations and problems they face.

Thus profiles more comprehensively and accurately describe the range of people in a market segment, but a set of personas provides a more concrete picture of the types of people in the segment.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Children Book

What do you call an instruction manual for users?

  • user's guide
  • users guide
  • user guide
  • users' guide
According to the The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, "users guide" is one correct style:

Although an apostrophe is not incorrect in terms like the following, increasingly it is omitted when the sense of the term is descriptive rather than possessive - that is, when for is meant rather than of.

teachers college
boys clubs
Merchants Bank
officers club
travelers checks
users manual

The name of the publication is a little ironic ("Writer's Guide" rather than "Writers Guide").

The implications of their reasoning are also interesting. What is a book for children? A children book?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Women's Magazines

The next time you're sitting in a waiting room, check out the covers of the women's magazines. See what percentage of them have some form of the word "sex" on them? You'll be hard-pressed to find an issue of Cosmopolitan or Glamour that doesn't have "sex" on the cover.

Nothing new; sex sells. But I have a prediction about what you'll find inside the magazines in a few years. At this point, the articles can be racy or graphic, but not raunchy. A women's magazine will eventually distinguish itself by being raunchy. Mark my words.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Copycat Naming

The garbage collection companies that serve my downtown neighborhood are named:
  • Texas Disposal Systems
  • Central Texas Refuse
  • Waste Management Inc.
(The reason I know so much about garbage collection is that the City of Austin recently forced my building to use Waste Management Inc. and pay almost 800% more in monthly fees.)

These company names are all way too descriptive, and they pay the price. Imagine Central Texas Refuse had something that distinguished their service from the others. How would a building manager remember which company was which? "You know, the one that picks up recycling at no extra charge. Texas Disposal Systems, maybe? Oh heck, I can't remember which one."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MarketingSherpa Blog Awards Nomination

This blog isn't very well known and doesn't get a lot of traffic, but you can do your part to help it get some recognition if you think it deserves it. Each year, MarketingSherpa recognizes favorite marketing blogs. You can nominate the Cauvin blog here:

Here's the info you'll need to enter:

"General Marketing" is probably the most applicable category

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Why Testable Requirements?

As I've mentioned before, all requirements should be testable in principle (but not necessarily directly testable in practice). Why is it important they be testable in principle?

First, requirements that are testable in principle are precise and unambigous. Testability in principle is a conceptual property of a requirement. You don't have to consult with your testers to determine whether a requirement is testable in principal. Instead, you analyze the meaning of the requirement to determine whether the question "does the product satisfy requirement x" has a yes or no answer, even if it may not be cost effective or practical to definitively determine the answer before product release.

Second, requirements that are testable in principle are, at the very least, indirectly testable in practice. Even if it can't directly implement or perform the test the requirement prescribes, your testing team can always devise simulations or other, related tests that give you a high degree of confidence the product meets the requirements.

Monday, June 12, 2006


A recent news story reports on what is quickly becoming more than just a fantasy solution:
Brunner and two colleagues from the state-financed Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York were demonstrating a "brain computer interface (BCI)," an astounding technology which digitalizes brain signals emitted as electrical impulses -- picked up by the electrodes -- to convey intent.
If your product's user interface requirements don't allow for this (or this) sort of psychokinesis, you've ventured too far into design.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Roger's Theory of Food and Drugs

When a controversy arises about a new drug or a new food additive, we often hear the phrase, "There' s no evidence that it causes any problems." Well, maybe there is no direct evidence these new drugs or food additives cause problems, but there is common sense evidence of significant risk.

Throughout evolution, humans have been consuming certain kinds of substances. Through natural selection, humans have grown accustomed to these substances. This process has tended to weed out any of the substances with negative effects.

Even substances that humans have been consuming for only a few generations - not enough time for evolution to have had a significant effect - have stood the test of time. A few generations is enough time to begin to assess the long-term health effects of the substances.

In contrast to "old" substances, evolution has not acclimated humans to new drugs and food additives. Nor has it been possible, in most cases, to assess the long-term impact of these substances. It is certainly conceivable that any particular new drug and food additive is not harmful, but there is definitely a significant risk.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Intro to Kano Analysis

Bloggers in the same "circle" as I have recently paid a fair amount of attention to Kano analysis. I wrote in a previous entry that true Kano analysis differs a bit from popular portrayals. What follows is an introduction to Kano analysis. I intend this introduction merely to explain what it is and what people do with it.

You use Kano analysis to help you decide what to put in your product. It helps you determine the relative importance of features or requirements.

With Kano analysis, you categorize possible attributes of your product as:
  • attractive - satisfies users when present but does not dissatisfy users when not present
  • one-dimensional - satisfies users when present and dissatisfies them when not present
  • must-be - taken for granted, but dissatisfies users when not present
  • indifferent - results in neither user satisfaction nor user dissatisfaction
  • reverse - dissatisfies users when present and satisfies them when not present
Informed Kano analysis requires researching your market. One way of obtaining quantitative data is to conduct a survey. Kano recommended using pairs of questions such as:

If the product has feature x, how would you feel?
1. I like it that way.
2. It must be that way.
3. I am neutral.
4. I can live with it that way.
5. I dislike it that way.

If the product does not have feature x, how would you feel?
1. I like it that way.
2. It must be that way.
3. I am neutral.
4. I can live with it that way.
5. I dislike it that way.
From the answers to the questionnaire, you use a somewhat complex algorithm for evaluating the importance of each feature.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Out-of-Context User Delights

Kathy Sierra writes about "out-of-context user delights" on the Creating Passionate Users blog. The idea is to enhance the user's experience with your product by surprising them with something out of context. She gives numerous examples; here is just one of them:

Context: Company that creates Business Presentations
Delightful Out-of-Context Surprise: Their website includes a main menu choice for "Staff Tattoos"
Not only does the "out-of-context user delight" increase the user's satisfaction, it also makes them more likely to help you market via word of mouth (to an extent greater than you might ordinarily expect from a satisfied user).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Kano Analysis: Misunderstood?

Having heard a lot about it recently, I started to write an entry with my opinion of the merits of Kano analysis, used sometimes to prioritize product requirements. After digging a bit into its origins, I realized that there's a lot more to it than popular portrayals of it suggest. An interesting (but technical and somewhat long) paper on it is here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Free Conference Calls

A colleague of mine turned me onto services that enable you to do free conference calls. One such service is To set up a free conference call with the service, you simply:
  • Choose one of the standard telephone numbers listed on the site.
  • Share a unique numeric access code with the participants so they can join the call.
To join a conference call, you and the other participants simply:

  • Dial the telephone number.
  • At the prompt, enter the numeric access code, followed by the pound (#) sign.
We did it today, and it seemed to work flawlessly. You don't have to register for an account or provide any private information to them (although I suppose they can get your telephone number through caller ID).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Good Advice at the Time?

Check out one of the things the Forty Media blog says about naming your company:
Traditional naming wisdom long held that your company name should describe what you do, so that people would quickly understand your business. While good advice at the time, this principle now hurts more than it helps.

These days, there’s plenty of context to help customers figure out what you do. You don’t need to name your new software firm, say, “Texas Software Group,” because people will be finding you by searching Google for “software companies in texas,” or by looking you up in the local phone book under the appropriate heading. They’ll often know what you do before you ever talk to them.

Instead of trying to overburden the name by making it do everything at once, take advantage of other ways to explain your business (your business card, your website, your elevator speech, etc.), and liberate the company name to be used to engage and fascinate potential customers.
I'm not sure I agree with the "good advice at the time" bit. If your strategy was simply to give up on branding and to rely, for example, on someone driving by your restaurant on the side of the highway and deciding to go there based solely on seeing the sign, then yes, a descriptive name might have helped. Otherwise, research shows that name that are not descriptive are superior, as the rest of the passage advocates.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Great Marketing Ruffles Feathers

Execs, here's what we marketers face:
Great marketing pleases everyone on the team, sooner or later. But at the beginning, great marketing pleases almost no one. At the beginning, great marketing is counter-intuitive, non-obvious, challenging and apparently risky. Of course your friends, shareholders, stakeholders and bosses won't like it. But they're not doing the marketing, you are.
Whether we're naming, positioning, or pricing your product, marketing is not common sense.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Purposeful Innovation

Twenty years ago, Peter Drucker wrote in Innovation and Entrepeneurship that innovation can be purposeful and methodical:
Systematic innovation therefore consists in the purposeful and organized search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation.
Innovation is not just about creativity, but about analyzing opportunities. Product managers are the people whose responsibility it is to research the market for these opportunities. They therefore lay the groundwork for innovation.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Marketing a Birthday Celebration

Yesterday, I put together an evite for a birthday party for a friend. We are celebrating his birthday at DK Sushi. Instead of just urging people to accept the invitation, I described what the experience at DK Sushi is like and then instructed anyone who would be offended to decline the invitation. By telling a certain segment of people not to come, it enhanced the credibility and appeal of the event for those who had any doubts about the intensity of the experience.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Husband and Wife

I've written that a product manager need not have industry or domain experience to be qualified. Today, a colleague challenged me with a very good, related question: how can a product management consultant come into a company for a few months and understand the market for their products better than executives in the company do after years of successful operations?

The analogy I like to draw is to psychology. (After all, product management is like therapy.) Imagine a couple that has been married for ten years. Who can gain greater and deeper insight into the wife's psychological problems? The husband who has known her for more than ten years, or a good psychologist after a few months of intensive sessions with her?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Two Brands are Better than One

In a February entry, I mentioned that you should brand opposing products differently instead of using brand extension. I gave the example of a successful high-end Italian restaurant, Filomarino, that wants to spin off "Filomarino Express", a fast-food version of the same kind of restaurant:

That name might give the fast-food restaurant an immediate boost, but it will also cause the Filomarino brand to lose its focus. Diners who associated the Filomarino name with sophistication or quality will be forced to re-evaluate what "Filomarino" means to them. The high-end restaurant will likely suffer as a result.

Fortunately, you can create a new brand for the fast-food restaurant, even if it is has the same owner and executive chef. You will have to start the branding effort from scratch, but your potential rewards are much greater. Two focused brand names for separate products tend to be much more powerful than a single brand name name with no focus.
Now we have Laura Ries writing about Budweiser:

The enemy of Budweiser is Bud Light, and the best strategy for Bud is to say: "Hey guys, be a man, don’t drink that wimpy watered-down girly stuff. You need to be downing the king of beers."

But because of Bud Light they can’t say that. All Budweiser had to do was give Bud Light its own brand name. There is nothing wrong with competing against yourself. Think Toyota and Lexus.
And Weber grills:

Keep Weber as a “charcoal” brand, period. And launch the gas grills with a new brand name. Maybe even a new name for the portable gas grills.
I don't mean to suggest that I've somehow influenced Laura Ries. Quite the opposite - my views on branding, reinforced by real-life experiences, are based largely on what she and her father have written in books I've read.