You just got out of the meeting with potential customers, and they're not big fans of your Big Idea. You were sure it was brilliant, but they just don't get it. Or they applaud the effort, but they think you're going approaching it from the wrong angle.
Here's the moment of truth when many projects go bad, and sometimes drag companies down with them. The crisis isn't unique to the technology industry--there's the cautionary tale of New Coke, after all, from a well-established industry that should have known better--but given the immaturity of the technology industry, and the plasticity of the work product, it happens quite often.
At this moment of truth, development teams choose from among the following responses:
Here's just the sort of diagram that you might find in a book about product management. Or maybe it could be something that the VP of Product Management presents to other groups in the company, to explain the PM team's strategy for understanding customer requirements.
OK, I lied. It's not a diagram from a product management or product marketing presentation. Here's the real version of the diagram, which comes from an article in the Small Wars Journal, the magazine for people in the business of fighting guerrillas and terrorists. The article's title is a bit of a mouthful: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Collection Management in the Brigade Combat Team during COIN: Three Assumptions and Ten "A-Ha!" Moments on the Path to Battlefield Awareness.
I remember being at Novell in the late 90's and feeling absolute hate emanating towards Microsoft. This was despite us all using many of their products internally - including Windows - Microsoft has some extremely good products (Excel is a case in point). Novell's hatred of Microsoft caused them to go on an irrational buying binge to assemble products (Wordperfect, DR DOS et al) and compete head-on with Microsoft. As we know, this didn't work - nobody can beat a bigger adversary by attacking them head on. Hatred created a flawed strategy that led to failure.
Of course you have to observe your competitors carefully. Frequently, you'll need to react to what they're doing. However, that's not the same thing as shadowing their every move.
I've been doing a fascinating set of interviews with the successful heads of product management and product marketing organizations. Since the topic is, "Tell us your best practices," the interviews are the perfect occasion to probe many issues that vex people in this profession.
Whenever we got to the part about running a PM team, I inserted a question about the type of person who makes a good product manager. As seen in some of the research I did last year, product managers come to the profession from a motley collection of previous jobs. (No surprise there.)
However, it's clear from these interviews that the people who run PM departments are pretty unhappy with this state of affairs. Frequently, they've taken deliberate steps to fix it. Sometimes, this means an agonizing reappraisal of whether the people in the team today have all the skills and experiences they really need.