Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing