Forrester Blogs For Technology Industry Professionals
This is a roll-up of all Forrester blogs written for Technology Industry Professionals. Role-specific blogs are listed below. Visit Forrester.com to learn how we make Technology Industry Professionals successful every day.
Within 24 hours, InfoWorld published two seemingly unrelated articles. One covered HP's announcement of its intent to acquire Palm, which led people to speculate aloud, "What the heck were they thinking?" The first part of the article spent a couple of paragraphs musing about how this move might or might not help HP's interest in the slate computer market. The path from acquiring Palm to becoming an iPad competitor isn't very clear, however, so maybe the real point has nothing to do with slate computers. We can't get enough of talking about slate computers, but what if Palm's products have some potential connection to HP's existing portfolio? Crazy idea, I know.
Smartphones and mobile devices are becoming a nightmare for IT shops to manage, with users carrying multiple types of phones with different operating systems and expecting access to email, video-conferencing, and various types of corporate applications.
In other words, IT departments struggling with these standardization efforts might want to talk to a company that can help. Say, someone with a lot of products and services for solution areas like cloud computing, application transformation, portfolio and asset management. It'd be great if said vendor had mobile technology that factored into these larger IT infrastructure concerns.
Next Wednesday, May 5th, fellow product management/product marketing blogger and Informatica PM Saeed Khan and I will be having a conversation, live via teleconference, about the two sides of PM metrics:
Metrics by PM. What are the important metrics about a tech vendor's business and technology that should PM maintain? This question strikes at the heart of PM's core responsibilities, making sure that a tech vendor's products and services help its business, and vice versa.
Metrics about PM. Want to start a lively conversation? Ask product managers and product marketers about the metrics used to measure their performance and contribution. These metrics do more than just point PMs in the direction of quarterly goals. They also communicate within the company the value of what PM does.
Saeed always has sharp insights on these sorts of topics (which is why you should be a regular reader of the On Product Management blog, by the way). This call is a real conversation, not a one-way blabfest, so we're definitely looking for your questions and comments during the call. Expect a mix of observations about the state of PM in the tech industry, as well as best practices developed through hard experience.
HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion in cash, ending recent speculation over who would purchase the struggling handheld device manufacturer. On the surface, this acquisition appears to bolster HP’s mobility strategy with Palm’s webOS mobile operating system, carrier relationships, experienced mobility personnel, and intellectual property.
However, if you look under the hood, this acquisition has a key flaw. HP currently offers iPAQ PDAs and handsets that use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system, but these devices have had limited success among enterprise users. Will acquiring Palm put HP in a strong position against other competitive mobile operating systems vendors? Not necessarily. In Forrester’s survey of over 1,000 IT decision makers in North American and European enterprises, only 12% of firms officially support or manage Palm devices. In comparison, 70% of enterprises support BlackBerry smartphones, and 29% support Apple iPhones. Android devices, the newest entrants in the mobile OS wars, have strong momentum and are officially supported by 13% of firms.
HP did gain some important assets as part of the acquisition. Palm's carrier relationships are a plus, and HP can leverage its strong international distribution channel to expand the reach of these mobile devices on an international level. Palm’s highly skilled employees, mobile operating system R&D expertise, and intellectual property are also a benefit. In the short term, HP’s acquisition gave Palm a new lease on life, but given the intensely competitive mobile device landscape, HP’s $1.2 billion investment may not pay off in the long term.
VMware And salesforce.com Join Forces To Push PaaS To Mainstream Adoption With vmforce
salesforce.com and VMware announced today the development of a joint product and service offering named vmforce. Forrester had a chance to talk to executives at both companies prior to the announcement, and I am quite impressed by the bold move of the two players. Most developers in corporate environments and ISVs perceive the two stacks as two totally different alternatives when selecting a software platform. While the VMware stack, with its Tomcat-based Spring framework, reached mainstream popularity among Java developers with its more lightweight standard Java approach, salesforce.com’s Force.com stack was mostly attractive to developers who liked to extend CRM packaged apps with individual business logic or to ISVs that created new applications from scratch. In some cases, the Java standard and the more proprietary APEX language at Force.com even appeared as competitive options.
As we've discussed before, Agile adoption swelled in the last one or two years, diving into the mainstream of how businesses build and deliver value to customers. (You can definitely say that Agile is mainstream if there's more than a one-third chance that, in your next job in a development team, you'll be following Agile practices.) At a time when the public perception of companies has taken a brutal beating, that outcome is a genuine compliment to many businesses.
When the economic storm clouds gathered, companies might have battened down the hatches, sticking to the most tried-and-true ways of doing business. The recession might have been the strongest argument against disruptive changes, once the economic margin of error became a lot smaller. A business process as critical as product development might have been the last thing anyone wanted to tinker with.
Therefore, Agile presented just the kind of disruptive change that organizations might have avoided. It doesn't work unless organizations embrace new values and procedures. These changes ripple throughout the organization, especially in the technology industry, where the technology is the business, not just a business accelerator. Every team must figure out how to chart its own Agile course, usually leading to an idiosyncratic mix of Agile and non-Agile methods. None of these changes will be easy.
While there might not be a single correct formula for fitting product management into an Agile setting, there's one inescapable rule: Prepare to have your PM skills put to the test.
Recently, I was speaking with Barry Paquet of Quantum Whisper, a small firm that has a tool designed to help PMs with these Agile-related challenges. To the right, you'll see one of the slides from Barry's presentation. The message is pretty self-evident: if your company is going to take the "voice of the customer" part of Agile seriously, PM must keep a lot of plates spinning. Feedback loops in Agile development don't run themselves—someone has to be on top of the collection, analysis, validation, communication, and review. With Agile, these activities are happening nearly constantly.
While any PM who has a passion for building good products should welcome this change, it also can be a little scary. In my own research and advisory work on Agile adoption in tech industry companies, I've heard some PMs express no small anxiety about this new model. In part, they're worried that the company might not support or even understand this process fully. However, they also experience some dark nights of the soul about whether the have the skills and experiences needed to play that sort of role. Here are a few common concerns:
A disproportionate amount of the discussion about Agile in the technology industry centers on product development. However, services are an inevitable part of the Agile story. Here are a few examples:
Consulting teams have to adapt to rapid iterations of new core technology. In other words, the professional services arm has to keep pace with the product development team.
Services are a source of value that gets folded into the product. For this process of productization to work at all, the consulting and development teams need to speak the same language, share common expectations about development processes and deliverables, and work at a similar pace.
Agile consulting teams have to work with customers who aren't conversant with Agile. You might be excited about working at an Agile pace, but your client may have no idea what you're talking about.
That last scenario is a common source of frustration for clients. In place of dense project plans, clients often get a sketchier picture of how the project will proceed. Of course, both client and customer know that, the more complex and detailed the project plan is, the less likely it is to accurately predict what's going to happen. As mythical as the project plans can be, there's something reassuring to clients about having them. At the very least, they provide leverage when the consultants don't deliver.
Agile adoption requires a change in values, not just a change in process. That's the message of the Agile Manifesto, and everything we've learned in the year since the Manifesto's publication has only expanded and emphasized it. We might not have all the specifics on how that relationship works (for example, does an "Agile culture" automatically dictate Agile practices?), but the correlation is definitely there.
In technology companies, these values are critically important, since technology does not just improve the business, it is the business. Agile changes how teams develop and deliver technology. In a technology company, delivery includes practically everyone outside the development team—marketing, sales, support, consulting, partners, you name it. Beyond the janitorial staff, it's hard to think of someone who won't be effected when a tech company goes Agile.
Consequently, product managers and product marketers, sitting on the border between the development team and everyone else, are simultaneously the agents and targets of Agile transformation. For example, when monolithic releases crumble into many smaller iterations, people throughout the rest of the company have obvious questions, such as, When can I tell a customer to expect the enhancement they've wanted for the last two years? When is the next time we're going to have to do sales training? When will we have delivered enough new value to merit a product launch? PMs facing this situation will have to make adjustments to their own work, such as building and communicating the product roadmap.
In the first and second parts of this series, I argued that people who write about product management and product marketing should be circumspect in their choice of topics. A field that's as young as PM in the tech industry isn't fertile ground yet for a grand theory of what the profession is all about. Categorizing the PM function was a good first step; now, we're in the middle of building "middle-range theories" about PM. A good set of field-tested guidelines for researching requirements, doing market opportunity assessments, or crafting the right marketing mix would be pretty darn good, thank you very much.
Aristotle beats down Plato in no-holds-barred epistemological cage match
In fact, middle range theories are an essential precondition of a grand theory. Big, unifying ideas, such as special and general relativity, don't come before the observation of the real world. (Sorry, Plato: the people who spend a lot of time in caves get prison pallor, not "actionable insights.") They always come after, when a set of hypotheses that seemed to work pretty well, until you noticed that the planet Mercury wasn't in the right place, made hash of them. Then, someone fretted over the inadequacies of these tenets, and after a fair amount of head-scratching and hair-pulling, came up with the big unifying idea.
One of the great things about researching Agile is, given the scope of both its applicability and effects, you'll never run out of interesting topics. Agile product management, Agile used outside development, contract details in Agile projects, Agile channel management, the effect of Agile on requirements—researchers like myself and Dave West, writing about Agile directly, will have plenty to do for years to come. So, too, will others, like Mary Gerush, exploring the effects of Agile on requirements and other aspects of development.
As Agile goes mainstream, video game developers like Bioware have taken the Agile plunge. This corner of the technology market is very interesting because of the high level of challenge. In some cases, video game developers face extreme versions of common problems, such as an unforgiving standard of product quality. (Ship a crappy product, and your dreams of making obscene wealth will be replaced with the nightmare of watching your game vanish from retail channels.) Other challenges are unique to the video game industry, such as managing all the creative talent—artists, musicians, and actors—critical to product success. (But heck, if you get to meet John Cleese, Claudia Black, or Gary Oldman, the work can't be all bad.)