Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jeff Lash on Qualitative Research

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Lash when he visited Austin a couple of weeks ago. Jeff authors the How to Be a Good Product Manager blog. Not to put words in his mouth, but I think Jeff and I share an affinity for the more strategic aspects of product management.

I was happy but not surprised to read Jeff's recent entry on qualitative and quantitative research. It looks like he and I agree on the importance of qualitative research and the complementarity of both types of research.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Are Expensive Wines Better?

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have confirmed the notion that the price tag on a wine affects people's perception of it. In fact, they genuinely experience more pleasure drinking wines they believe are more expensive:
The part of the brain that reacts to a pleasant experience responded more strongly to pricey wines than cheap ones — even when tasters were given the same vintage in disguise.
A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked $10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also marked $45.The testers' brains showed more pleasure at the higher price than the lower one, even for the same wine . . . .
If someone else on the executive team urges you to lower the price on your product, be careful.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Limitations of "The system shall . . . ."

Is your product manager composing documents with hundreds of sentences beginning with "The system shall . . . ." or "The product shall . . . ."? If so, she should consider a different approach.

Back in 2004, Mike Cohn wrote an interesting article on requirements and agile development. Here is an interesting excerpt from the article:
[C]onsider the following requirements:

3.4) The product shall have a gasoline-powered engine.
3.5) The product shall have four wheels.
3.5.1) The product shall have a rubber tire mounted to each wheel.
3.6) The product shall have a steering wheel.
3.7) The product shall have a steel body.

By this point, I suppose images of an automobile are floating around your head. Of course, an automobile satisfies all of the requirements listed above. The one in your head may be a bright red convertible, while I might envision a blue pickup. Presumably the differences between your convertible and my pickup are covered in additional requirements statements.

But suppose that instead of writing an IEEE 830–style requirements specification, the customer told us her goals for the product:

* The product makes it easy and fast for me to mow my lawn.
* I am comfortable while using the product.

By looking at goals, we get a completely different view of the product: the customer really wants a riding lawnmower, not an automobile. These goals are not user stories, but where IEEE 830 documents are a list of requirements, stories describe a user’s goals. By focusing on the user’s goals for the new product, rather than a list of attributes of the new product, we can design a better solution to the user’s needs.
It's revealing that a product satisfying the first alleged "requirements" specification (the series of "The product shall . . . ." statements) likely would fail miserably at addressing the user's real needs. The real requirements are to mow the user's lawn, and for it to be fast, easy, and comfortable for the user.

Via Jonathan Babcock.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Positioning the Democratic Presidential Candidates

I watched the New Hampshire debates last night. What struck me on the Democratic side was the extent to which the candidates stuck to their positioning. Three of the candidates have clearly staked out their territory in the mind of the voter.

What do the Democratic candidates stand for in the mind of the voter?

Barack Obama stands for "hope" in the mind of the voter. Last night, he repeatedly used words like "empowerment", "getting beyond cynicism", and "bringing people together". The notion that he is an agent of change is an undercurrent of this theme. He wants voters to think he can change the divisive nature of decision-making in Washington into a more inclusive one. His being a fresh face strengthens this message. Voters perceive the usual faces as partisan squabblers that can't accomplish great things.

John Edwards embodies a "fight the power" mentality. He is the populist of the group, and he spoke of battling special interests, lobbyists, multi-national corporations, and "forces of the status quo". The story of his blue-collar father and grandparents working in the mills, and his fighting insurance companies as a trial lawyer, supports this theme.

Hillary Clinton has projected "strength" as a candidate. Her more muscular stances on foreign policy, her statesmanship and experience, and her claims to be a doer and not just a sayer all contribute to this theme. She did not consistently stay true to her positioning in the debate. There were moments in which she responded forcefully to Obama and Edwards with a "let's get back to the real world" message, but she also tried to claim to be an agent of change. This claim distracts from, and may actually undermine, her "strength" theme.

What single idea does Bill Richardson stand for in the mind of the voter? It was difficult to tell from last night's debate, and I suspect his poor standing among the remaining candidates has a lot to do with his failure to position himself clearly.