Thought Leadership Project: Moving Briskly

Since earlier this week, when we launched our research project on thought leadership in the technology industry, we've already received some very valuable feedback in the Forrester community, where the research plan (a.k.a. the development document) lives. We're looking for as much additional feedback about the topic and approach as we can get before the actual research begins. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed or will contribute soon.

As I explained earlier this week, this is our first venture into Agile Research Development, a very different way of doing research. Since it's officially Agile, I'll use even the thinnest of excuses to explain how we're applying Agile principles. Pictured here is our Scrum Master, Eric Hsieh, taking a picture of our initial list of items that we're putting into the backlog. That chart sits right next to my desk in the Foster City office of Forrester, so I threw in another shot that gives a peek at the scenic view from my desk. (If you've never been to Foster City, it's the mini-Venice of the Bay Area. I could kayak to work.) Also taken from the Agile canon are the user stories that define how we expect the collaboration between us and the Forrester community to operate. 

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Thought Leadership: Bringing The Community Into Research In An Agile Way

Today's a very exciting day for me. As you know, I'm a member of a team of Forrester analysts who write research specifically for product marketers and product managers in the tech industry. A few weeks ago, we launched a community for product marketers and product managers. Now, we're bringing those two activities together by including our PM community in every stage of a research project. Plus, we're using an Agile approach. And you're all invited.

(Role-based research. The voice of the customer, expressed loudly and regularly through social media. Agile as the vehicle for applying what customers say to the product we're developing, in the most rapid and substantive way possible. I guess we do read our own research.)

What's The Topic?
We've yet to meet a product marketer or product manager who isn't interested in thought leadership, given its attractiveness and elusiveness. Gaining recognition as a thought leader is only the first step. Having achieved that exalted status, how do vendors convert thought leadership into tangible business benefits?

For our first venture into this new research approach, thought leadership was an easy choice of topic: important, popular, practical, and manageable.

Where Does The Community Fit In?
The community has a bigger role to play in this project than just suggesting a topic. We need your suggestions and feedback throughout the entire research process, from inception to publication. For example, before doing the primary research, we'll draft a list of interview questions. Since thought leadership has no end of interesting aspects, we want to make sure that the questions we ask go straight to the issues that matter most to product marketers and product managers. Here are but a few examples:

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Friday Wrap-Up: Book Reports On PM, Marketing, Startups, And Agile

Here are several readable posts about other readable content.

Also worth noting, Rich Mironov has a great presentation on the product challenges facing startups.

Shoveling Ideas Into The Requirements Engine

[Another interesting finding about the requirements tool market, from research by Yours Truly and Mary Gerush. For other observations about this very interesting market, click here and here.] 

As organizations improve their requirements practices, and as the requirements tool vendors adapt in response, the front end of the requirements process is getting a disproportionate amount of attention. Many requirements defects start early, with the information that you feed into the requirements-generating machine. For example, if you don't have a clue how criminal investigators work, you're going to make basic mistakes in feature prioritization and design when you build a case management system for them. 

And it's not just the information that has fallen under suspicion. A lot of people are equally worried about the other raw material, ideas, that you feed into this machinery. Here are a few commonly cited concerns:

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When Requirements Failures Become Epic Fails

By now, the arguments for improving product requirements are very familiar – all too familiar. Bad requirements lead to misconceived projects, many of which fail outright. The survivors can waste frightening quantities of time, effort, and money. (And if you've been unlucky enough to be part of one, you don't want to repeat the experience.) In technology companies, even the best requirements are no barrier against failure: insights into what kinds of problems customers face, how the company's products and services can help address them, and why they'd consider getting the vendor's help remained siloed in the requirements, never reaching other people in the company – sales, marketing, support, etc. – who deal directly with customers and partners.

Nonetheless, it wasn't until relatively recently that the market for requirements tools expanded and diversified, as described in my previous post. Many organizations had the same attitude toward requirements that most of us share about regular visits to the dentist: We understand the clear, direct benefits of changing our behavior, but we'd rather not make the effort. Clearly, something changed in the last few years to increase the general interest in adopting better requirements hygiene.

In fact, many things changed, all pointing in the same general direction. Not every potential requirements tool adopter experienced the same new pressures, so you won't be able to identify a single, iconic tale. Instead, the history of the requirements tool market is more of an anthology of stories that have the same moral: the business consequences of bad requirements are no longer tolerable.

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