The just-published overview of the requirements tool market is, at bottom, a story of unrecognized success. The requirements tool market has grown rapidly along several measures, including the number of vendors, the scale of adoption, and (the primary focus of the overview) the number of business problems that these tools are designed to address. From a small niche in the software market, requirements tools have grown and evolved, sometimes merging with other applications, to the point where it's hard to talk about them as "requirements tools" in the strictest sense of the term.
When colleague Mary Gerush and I dove into the primary research, we were immediately struck by the number of vendors that have crowded into a space that, to be honest, was not too long ago treated as a bit obscure and unexciting. The longer we looked at the market, the more little vendors appeared in the landscape. We'd heard of long-standing specialty vendors like Ryma, Blueprint, and iRise, but names like TraceCloud and AcuNote were new to us. The big vendors, too, have seen opportunities in this space, sometimes buying (for example, IBM's acquisition of Telelogic), sometimes building (such as Microsoft's Sketchflow tool).
Something was happening in this market, and at least a piece of the explanation was clear from the moment we started talking to vendors and users. Very few of these applications were exactly like the first generation of requirements tools, such as MKS Integrity and Borland (now Micro Focus) Caliber, and most of the newer tools bore little resemblance to each other. Although they share the title "requirements tool," they don't deal with the same aspects of requirements.
As readers of this blog know, I see a lot of benefits in using serious gaming to make better product and development decisions. Consulting firms like Enthiosys and Booz Allen Hamilton use different serious gaming approaches, but they ultimately have the same aim: Avoid the traps that we mere humans frequently make, even when confronted with a wealth of facts and reasonable arguments. The bigger the decision – for example, What will make us more competitive in the next five years? How do we make sense of all these enhancement requests? Should we pursue a new market? – the greater the need to guard against groupthink, the loudest voice in the room, information overload, and other common decision-making pitfalls.
While I could (and have) provided examples from business, an equally compelling example comes from politics. One of the offshoots of Enthiosys' work with businesses is Games For Democracy, a charitable foundation that, as the name implies, applies serious gaming techniques to political decision-making. A good example is healthcare, the topic of a Games For Democracy exercise using the "Buy A Feature" game. Each participant had a limited amount of faux money to invest in different healthcare options, such as the public option, a mandate for personal health insurance, and cost containment measures. No one had enough money to buy any option outright, so horse-trading among participants was mandatory.
Since I've been talking a lot about innovation, both in print and in person, I've been running through countless metaphors to make this point or that about the innovation process. My latest inspiration uses some well-known fictional characters to encapsulate the difference between invention and adoption: Who is the better innovator, Captain Nemo (Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) or Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Star Trek)?
Most people would probably choose Nemo. After all, his greatest invention, the Nautilus, antedated by decades the first real submarines. (The US Navy honored Verne's vision by naming the first nuclear submarine the U.S.S. Nautilus.) Previous military experiments with submersibles, such as the Hunley, seem primitive and almost comic compared to the sleek, powerful Nautilus, which was, at least in fiction, sinking enemy warships decades before U-boats became the terrors of the high seas. As an invention, the Nautilus was so new that naval experts assumed it was a sea monster, not something as novel as an underwater ironclad. Now that's inventiveness for you.
In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves in Speed, "Pop quiz, hotshot!" Answer the following questions:
On average, how long does it take for customers to implement your technology? (Include people using the technology in the definition of "implement.")
In all phases of a project (building the justification, drafting the requirements, selecting vendors, implementing the technology, reviewing its success), is there anyone in the customer organization who champions the project from start to finish? If not, when and how does the hand-off happen?
Is there anyone responsible for successful execution in each phase? Again, if not, what does the hand-off look like?
How does the project team convince people in their organization to use your technology?
Don't worry if you couldn't answer some, or even all, of the previous questions. You're not alone. Most technology vendors don't have anything but the most superficial understanding of how customers adopt their technology. Naming a few stakeholders isn't the same as understanding the adoption process, unless you think there's no reason to read Gone With The Wind if you can identify Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler as the main characters.
Tech vendors have all kinds of reasons to understand adoption better than they do. When projects fail, and adoption doesn't happen, those customers are far less likely to stay customers. That's also a potential success story that you must cross off the list. And that's just the beginning of the problems.
Adding up the last two years of Forrester research into the product management/product marketing role in the tech industry, it's easy to see why it can be hard to hire a good PM. Many of the skills that define successful PMs aren't easy to detect in a few hours of interviews. Since these traits generally don't reveal themselves until the PM is on the job, perhaps you should simulate the job in the interview.
While many technology vendors have a muddled idea of what PM success looks like, they usually have some notion of the outcomes they don't want to see. Can't build good working relationships with Development? Black mark. Can't say no to a sales enablement request? Black mark. Can't manage competing inbound and outbound priorities? Black mark. Can't give a detailed description of the specific roles to which we're marketing and selling? Black mark.
And the list goes on. The candidate sitting on the other side of the desk might have done an outstanding job, as it says on the resume, launching products at various companies. But what does "launching products" mean, exactly? Did the candidate keep the project on track, or was he just someone in the congratulatory photo op at the end? When you're interviewing a developer or QA person, you have a pretty good idea what their contribution was. The exact contribution of PM can be a bit more obscure, though certainly no less important.
Outside the technology industry, engineers sometimes build multiple prototypes before selecting one particular design. Rather than finding the defects of one proposed design, discarding it, and moving on to the next idea, engineering teams that apply this approach, set-basedconcurrent design, save themselves a lot of time and headaches by running through as many options as possible simultaneously. As you might have guessed, this technique isn't cheap. You need to staff multiple design teams, and prototyping in many industries, such as automotive manufacturing, is always expensive. Nonetheless, by delaying the design decision for as long as possible, until the team has found the best among multiple ideas, development can take less time, with a greater probability of building a good product, than with sequential design.
So why don't we build software this way? For Microsoft, SAP, and other technology companies, prototyping is orders of magnitude cheaper than it is for Toyota and General Motors. Executives at tech companies would love to reduce the unpredictability of development schedules, often thrown off-track by unexpected design issues. So why hasn't set-based design caught fire in the technology industry?
That question has been plaguing me since hearing an excellent presentation by Jean Tabaka and Bill Wake on this topic at Agile 2009. I'm not sure of the answer ("More research required," says the analyst), but I'd be amazed if it didn't include two factors: (1) the nature of the product being developed; and (2) the unspoken assumptions of the tech industry.
The Australian product management consultancy brainmates just published the results of a survey on a very interesting topic, social media usage among PMs. The short list of questions get right to the heart of the matter: Do you expect to be using social media more?
The brainmates survey indicates that PMs are ready to embrace, or bracing themselves for, social media as an increasingly useful tool for product marketing, product feedback, and collaboration. In contrast, PMs do not expect to be increasing their use of social media for monitoring "to find references to their products or services and any references related to their market, customer segments or competitors." Interesting, especially given how much electronic ink that social medianiks have spilled about using Twitter, Facebook, et al. to see ourselves (or our brand) as others see us.
In the technology industry, there has been a rising chorus of questions about the role of the executive in Agile adoption. The recent acceleration of Agile adoption has a lot to do with the frequency of the question. Here's the other reason: Agile has been around long enough for a collective contemplation of lessons learned. In the after action reports about Agile implementations, executives regularly appear as major characters.
Given the ripple effects of Agile adoption throughout a technology company, it would have been surprising indeed if executives had played only a minor role. When the development team changes when and how it delivers new technology, everyone (Sales, Marketing, Support, Consulting, etc.) is affected in some way. With Agile adoption, executives who are already trying to bring departments into greater alignment face another potential source of misalignment. At the same time, as Forrester's research into Agile adoption in the tech industry shows, executives are less able to influence the priorities and activities in Development. If the executives don't really understand Agile, or haven't invested much in making this profound transformation work, an avalanche of backlash from the upper regions of the org chart is the usual result.
If you're still baffled, flummoxed, or concerned about Facebook's now-infamous privacy policies, here's a handy chart from The New York Times. (Thanks, Madiha, for the pointer.) While the diagram retains a neutral tone, it's hard to read the phrase 50 settings with over 170 options without having a "What the hell?!?" moment.
In defense of Facebook, they're no worse than many technology companies that devise confusing UIs, full of knobs and dials that users don't understand or use. These companies are still to blame for creating the circumstances in which a confusing UI is hard to avoid, so they're not completely blameless.
An apology to future generations
Here's where we venture into the idiosyncratic sub-culture of the tech industry, which is hard to understand if you've never been part of it. In spite of having big development budgets, a staff of seasoned professionals, and months to build a useful product, tech companies repeatedly build software that begs the question, "Daddy, why is your product so hard to use?" (Even weirder: usability is often inversely proportional to the price.)