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.
Saeed Khan's recent series of posts about social media started with a video that purports to explain the new rules of marketing in which social media play a critical role. This video repeats a familiar argument: old-style marketing went one direction, from the vendor to the customer. The consumer, presented with a smaller number of choices than they have today, based their purchase decisions on a variety of motives, both tangible ("Costs less!") and intangible ("Be more attractive to the opposite sex!"). Vendors created their own messages and transmitted them through normal advertising and marketing channels, in the hope that they would deflect consumers in their direction ("We cost less, and we'll make you look even better!").
Last Wednesday, the part of Forrester that runs the Leadership Boards sponsored a dinner in the Boston area for product managers and product marketers. (This was part of the regular activity for the new Technology Product Management Council.) And wow, was that a good conversation.
The good news is, the research agenda is on the right track. From social media to product requirements, from the PM job description to general best practices for PM, from Agile in the tech industry to how people become thought leaders, we seem to be picking the right topics.
The bad news is, I have a lot of research to do. But that's only bad news as long as I'm not doing it.
However, that wasn't the best part of the dinner, which was when we Forresterites shut our big yaps. The product managers and product marketers had a lot to talk about themselves, comparing experiences in profession that doesn't give many opportunities to talk across organizations. Fostering and participating these missing conversations was one of the reasons I wanted to join Forrester in the first place.
Saeed's recent post on the triumvirate of Sales, Marketing, and PM contains laudable suggestions for how PM can work better with these other groups. When he starts talking about the rocky relationship between Sales and Marketing, I worry that some hapless PM might read this post and think about playing peacekeeping force between these warring factions.
My frank advice: don't try to be the hero that ends the frictions between these two groups. At some point, they might ask you for help in some project that might help settle their differences. However, as in all troubled relationships, they must want to change for this sort of activity to be worthwhile. PM has enough challenges of its own, and it has little leverage or no over either of these organizations.
I suspect that there are two reactions to this video:
"Oooooh, cool! Now I want a Prime Computer!"
"Who the heck is that guy?"
Count yourself on one side or another of this dividing line of humanity. I bet some enterprising company could take this commercial, digitally alter it to include a different product, and still reach people in Category #1. (At least, consumers in Great Britain, and the attendees at the San Diego Comic Con.)
Product designers in the technology industry have an unofficial measure of usability: the Mom Standard. No one has ever written down a rigorous definition, since it normally amounts to someone saying, "We want to build something that's so easy to use that my Mom would understand it."
Let's pause for a moment and say a word in defense of our mothers, who apparently have become the iconic representation of the most clueless user imaginable. There are plenty of clueless users, many of whom are not moms, nor are they even female. There is nothing in the process of giving birth that increases the level of technological challenges you will face. Still, for whatever reason, people keep blurting out the Mom Standard during product design discussions.
Which brings us to a different species of the Mom Standard, in this case applied to product marketing. In doing some research on the future of CRM, I'm finding my way through this jungle of technological and business issues. Nearly everyone who has advice about what lies on the other side of the jungle--the state of CRM in 5 years--believes that the true path goes through the tropical garden of community marketing.