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.
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.
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.