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:

  • Does thought leadership improve awareness only, or are there other measurable effects on marketing and sales?
  • Is channel development a benefit of thought leadership, or a pre-condition?
  • Which is more important for thought leadership, vision or experience?

The final research benefits enormously by having people in these roles looking over our shoulders as we draft the list of questions.

Some aspects of this project will be open to the entire community. Others won't, since the final product is an official RoleView research document, accessible the usual ways if you're a Forrester client. If you volunteer to collaborate with us on this project (see below for details), you'll see all aspects of the research, including the finished RoleView document.  

Where Do I Provide Feedback?
The "always visible" part of this project is the development document, which is a guide to the entire research project (including the final RoleView document). In it, you'll find the important details (preliminary hypothesis, outline, research method, etc.) that point to where the project is headed and how much progress we've made so far. 

Therefore, if you want to comment on the project, the very first place to go is the development document. The Comments section beneath the document is the main feedback area for the project overall.

Why Agile?
Agile seemed like the right approach from the very beginning of this project. We plan to deliver value on an aggressive but realistic timetable. We must ensure that, however fast we're moving, we have built-in mechanisms for making adjustments based on customer feedback. We also know that the twists and turns of research, which nearly always lead to unexpected results, make it impossible to define at the beginning of the process the exact form of the deliverable at the end. (After all, if we already knew all the answers, we wouldn't be doing any research.)

This document provides the details on Agile Research Development, a.k.a. the way we've applied Agile principles to the research process. For instance, this project has a product owner, Yours Truly, and a Scrum Master, Eric Hsieh, ace research associate. (We're both pictured to the right.) In the methodology document, you'll see some very Agile-esque user stories. We may surface other Agile artifacts as we go, either here in my blog or over in the official home of the research project, the Forrester community for PMs.

How Do I Participate?
Feel free to go straight to the development document. Other than registering as a Forrester community member, there are no special requirements.

If you want to get more deeply involved, send a note to Eric (ehsieh@forrester.com). Beyond the development document, we'll ask for your feedback on other work products, such as the RoleView document we'll eventually be writing. We'd also appreciate help in recruiting additional collaborators, since we aim to increase, iteration by iteration, the amount of community feedback.

Now, let's get down to work . . .