Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Experience

With over a decade of experience working as a business analyst, I have been a staunch believer of the saying “once an analyst, always an analyst”. Being a business analyst for a significantly large part of my IT career, I often thought about the evolution and transformation of a Business Analyst through these years. Ever since the role of a Systems Analyst conceived in the late seventies, there have been numerous changes to the name, role, responsibilities, job description and others.

From the modest roots of being able to understand, specify and communicate the problems and requirements through to that of a product owner and a change agent, the role of business analyst has gone through significant shifts along the continuum. For the sake of simplicity, I wish to call the old age business analyst, a “traditional” one and I prefer to call the modern avatar as the “New Age” business analyst. In this post, let me bring out the main differences between these and in the process, present and unveil Texavi’s New Age Business Analyst.

 

Traditional Business Analyst

Besides many other activities, traditionally business analysts have been gathering, analysing and specifying the requirements of a product, system or application. That role was specifically considered as the “requirements” person in the team. Largely for the most part of the late 1980s and early 1990s, analysts used to be part of the support team rather than the development team. Eventually business analysts transformed themselves into customer-facing roles with business acumen and domain knowledge. Systems analysts slowly turned into business analysts with an emphasis on the functional knowledge and awareness about the business and markets at large.

Business analysts moved on from a mere support role, and slowly their contribution and the recognition therefrom, in the product development lifecycle was perceived to be at par with the other prominent roles like programmers and architects. This gave rise to a new version of the business analysts in the form of subject matter experts (SME). Also referred to as functional consultants and domain experts, these business analysts have been adept in their business areas. They possessed the right blend of industry experience and expertise, alongside a dash of  IT exposure. They used to be the professionals with vast experience in specific industry verticals such as banking, manufacturing, healthcare etc. Analysts in these times started going beyond requirements and contributing more value to the product, business, customers and users.

The evolution of New Age Business Analyst

The business analysts as we see today are increasingly more empowered, and influential compared to their traditional counter parts. This transformation has been rather more pronounced and visible more so in the last 6 years, with the advent of agile processes. Its an encouraging trend that several organisations in the IT industry have been embracing with open arms different agile methodologies such as SCRUM, TDD (test driven development), BDD (behaviour driven development) and user stories. Also the transformation has been augmented by newer ways of product development, technology revolution. Market dynamics added another dimension considering that speed-to-market has been the mantra for success for most businesses today. I give below my interpretation of this in the form of a diagram, to drive home the above points.

Texavi_NABA_NewAgeBusinessAnalyst_Key_Factors

Who is the New Age Business Analyst

I can say that the New Age Business Analyst is agile, responsive, responsible, tech-savvy and people-focused professional. They are no more restricted to requirements alone but are empowered to own the product roadmap. Though largely focused on problems space, new age business analyst facilitates the solutions by pro-actively engaging team members, management, customers, users and key stakeholders. The New age Business Analyst is neither an outsider, nor a mere consultant to find faults and present reports. They are very much part of the teams, organisation and provide timely inputs and insights through their expertise and experience. Not just advice, they jump in by rolling their sleeves and work along with the team members in addressing the problems, needs, thereby creating solutions that work for customers and users delivering a great experience. At the same time, the New Age Business Analysts strive to make the solutions commercially viable from a business standpoint.

Its with great pride and honour, I unveil the logo of Texavi’s New Age Business Analyst.

Texavi New Age Business Analyst_NABA_Final_Logo

 

 

Please keep a watch on more updates, posts, applications  and news about our new initiative titled as Texavi New Age Business Analyst. Thank you and have a nice weekend!

 

 

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Product Development, User Experience, User-centered Design

For the nth time, I am mentioning this, at the risk of sounding cliched, “User Experience is not the same as Marketing”. This is more true in the context of referring to customer and user research. While some terms and activities such as profiles, personas and interviews do happen to be common to both User Experience, that does not give us a blanket permission to assume that they both are one and the same. The very use of the words “Customers” and “Users” says it all – marketing is all about customers and prospects, whereas User Experience is well, about “users”. The importance of this topic came into the fore once again, thanks to a recent conversation with one of my clients. In this post, I wish to draw the main differences between User Experience and Marketing/Sales. Hope what you read and see below, will help shatter a few myths and misconceptions out there in most people’s minds.

Marketing helps build brands

I am not Philip Kotler to define what Marketing is. However, to my mind, Marketing is about the planning, activities and the outcomes related to understanding the needs of customers. The function of marketing helps organisations to create products, services and offerings to meet the needs of the existing and potential customers. And yes, marketing is about the brand that encompasses Marketing is a function of the 4Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. And of course a fifth P was later added, which stands for Positioning. But I would say why stop at 5Ps? The sixth P that I would add for Marketing is “People”.

MarketingMix_Focus on Customers_Texavi

User Experience helps create Products

Like Marketing, User Experience is also about people and understanding their needs. However, as the words have it all it is about “users” and usage experience and not customers or prospects. However the focus for UX is on the consumers of the products and services more than anything else. It tries to look at the various elements of the experience such as satisfaction speed of performing the tasks. The 5E model of User Experience focuses on Ease of use, Easy to learn, Effectiveness, Efficiency and Error-free nature of the products and services. Over the years, UX has been catering to products more than services.

User Experience_5E_Focus on Users_Texavi

Similarities between Marketing and User Experience

While most of the other disciplines help provide the perspectives internal to the organisation. These range from operations, administration, finance and other support processes etc. Whereas Marketing, Sales and User Experience offer an external perspective on the organisation, brand, products and services. Both Marketing and User Experience are cost centres. Both of these rely extensively on quantitative and qualitative data. They use similar tools and techniques such as interviews, discussions, tests, among others. Both can be used to test the concepts, ideas and new products in their early stages.  In marketing, you call it as Market Testing or test marketing, whereas in User Experience, we refer to it as User Testing.

Smiley_face_User Experience_Marketing

 

Differences in Marketing/Sales and User Experience

I give below a table with the differences between Marketing and User Experience, for your quick reference. After all, its important for me to market my User experience skills :)

Marketing vs. UserExperience - By Texavi's Unified Experience Framework

 

Hope this post is helpful to you. As always, I welcome your feedback for the improvement of the blog content and coverage.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, 2013! Happy Holidays :-)

Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, Social business, Social Technologies, User Experience, User-centered Design

This post walks you through with an overview of Texavi, what we do, who we are and where we serve. You will also get to see the core services and offerings, practices and focus areas of Texavi. With this presentation, you will know how we can help you and the benefits for you, working with us.

– Team Texavi

Business Analysis, Business Case, Social business, User Experience

For any business in this world, these words hold true
Yes, your customers look for fresh and new
All you need is to give them a small cue
To find the best solution among their preferred few!

Realise that your customers look very much like ‘you’
When they get products/services that give value
And those that delight them in whatever they do
I promise, they will stick to your brand for life, like glue :)

Unified Experience, not just user experience anymore
Unified Experience, not just user experience anymore
Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Product Development, Social business, Social Technologies

“The old computing was about what computers could do…the new computing is about what people can do“, Ben Shneiderman’s saying is as much relevant today as it ever was.  The impact of social business and social technologies on our professional and personal lives is so profound that businesses now are re-thinking their strategies in the light of ‘social’ context. The social web offers a lot of opportunities by harnessing the tremendous potential offered by multiple disciplines ranging from marketing, consumer behaviour, information technology, design, data analytics, gamification and customer experience and cognitive psychology, to name a few. The nice thing with the social strategy is that virtually anybody or any company can get on the board, however it does not guarantee success to all players in the game. The definition of ‘success’ in this context is debatable and fairly open, so I shall consider effectiveness over success. In this post, I wish to highlight the key pitfalls you must avoid, which would help you to get it right with your social strategy.

1. Giving only lip service to ‘people power’

All along, we have been hearing companies and people claiming “we are in the people business“, or “I am a people person“. In the context of Social web, these phrases are now acquiring new meaning and perhaps ‘the correct’ meaning. Now more than ever, opportunities are opening up, which will enable you to really do what you mean and put people in the rightful place they belong to and given the attention they deserve. Whether its the customers who bought your products, users who are facing problems using them or those people, who you think, know you by your name or brand are becoming your potential target audience. The nets are widening to reach out to the larger audience and in the broadest of contexts. The social channels are helping organisations reach out, listen to customers’ heartbeats and not just their voices, and providing support to the needy in real time. I have seen instances on Twitter when British Gas attempted to respond, advise and resolve the issues of their customers, on Twitter.

Put the people focus back into your business

 2. Getting aboard all the social trains

Resist the temptation to get on to every social and professional network available. As the old saying goes, “tell me your company and I shall tell you who you are”, the same holds true with the social channels and networks. Carefully consider who your target users are and identify those networks where your presence adds value to your brand, offerings and customers. For instance, just because everybody is creating a Facebook page, you don’t have to create one, when your product is targeted to the older generation users or high-security defence-component manufacturers. Look out for the maximum buzz and check if it suits you to have your presence there. Also, sometimes it is not the quantity that matters, but the quality. For example, Facebook and Twitter might have millions of users, but just focusing on them may not work well, if you are a large brand with global presence and rich legacy. To better leverage your interests and aspirations, a different network, say Pinterest could be a better bet, considering that it is the fastest-growing social network specially for the big brands out there.

Answering the following questions will help you choose the networks, wisely!

  • Who are my target audience?
  • What is my real offering and how does it help the users?
  • Where (which online networks) can I find my target audience, the most?
  • What is the nature of my business offering – social/professional?
  • Which networks should I consider for my presence?

3. Thinking “Social is the flavour of the season”

From businesses, news corporations, traditional media houses, celebrities and common people, everybody is getting active on the social networks. Don’t just focus on the social aspects at the cost of losing the advantage with traditional media. You need to ensure that there is harmony and congruence in your offline and online presence. Yes, it is true that to host a campaign on Facebook or run a series of hashtag tweets on Twitter it might be a lot cheaper or perhaps costs nothing. Add to that it could be the easiest thing to create, track and manage campaigns on these online networks. However, without careful consideration and calculation of cost-benefit analysis, don’t ditch the traditional marketing channels and rely solely on the social channels. With all the positive vibes going around with the social media, there is also another side that needs to be looked at. These social media can make or mar the reputation of your brand in no time with as much ease and speed you had in creating the campaign. For instance, McDonalds ran a campaign on Twitter with the hashtags  #McDStories and #MeetTheFarmers, but the campaign backfired thanks to the comments by some ‘enthusiastic’ users and their sarcastic tweets on McDonalds and their products.

4. Excessive focus on your products and services

Gone are those days when only your customers and users were talking about the products and services that they bought and used.  You were happy interacting with the people you know – whether  its your preferred partners, loyal customers or willing prospects. Now the context is changing  rapidly and the landscape has been extending further to prospective customers, friends of users. The World is indeed becoming one global village with inter-connected networks and individuals, intersecting each other in a criss-cross fashion. The interactions that you encourage among the various stakeholders, customers, users and followers need to be focused on the brand and not necessarily the products or services alone. Newer measures and metrics such as awareness, engagement, influence, reach, buzz and total customer value are complementing the good old measures like sales per product line, customer satisfaction index.

Unified Experience goes beyond products and services

5. Quitting before you start seeing the benefits

Let us accept it, just because you have hopped on to the social strategy earlier does not make you a leader in your industry. Getting social has become a sanity factor and more of a tick on your checklist, than a well-thought strategic directive. Often it takes more effort, time and perhaps other resources such as people, money too, to take off to a proper shape. Don’t give up just yet. Here are a few tips that will help you get better at the game of social media.

  • Set realistic goals which need to be tracked on a continual basis
  • Be persistent with your efforts
  • Learn from the leaders and follow the paths which worked right for them
  • Monitor the impact of social operations on your core business
  • Track and analyse the key measures and metrics to assess how you are performing
Hope you find the above tips helpful with your social initiatives. Don’t hesitate to mix and match different things that could work wonders for you. Do share your feedback. We shall discuss more interesting stuff in the upcoming posts. Till then, ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business Analysis, Business Case, Social business, Social Technologies, User Experience

Last week, Cadbury UK launched its new product Bubbly through their Google+ brand pages.  I think this is a brave new attempt that augurs well for the social networks and the businesses, in general. Social media are fast becoming the mainstay digital platform and are eagerly waiting to get alongside the traditional marketing channels. Not just the consumers and media, but technologies and businesses too are drifting towards the ‘social’ side, thanks to success and reach of Facebook, Twitter and Google. No wonder that we have social networks, social technologies, social business…everything has a ‘social’ touch today. But what are the effects of this socialification (I don’t want to use the word socialization, for obvious reasons) on your products and services? How can you leverage these social trends to your advantage and bring about the positive changes in the way you operate & deliver? In this post, I give you some tips addressing these questions and also touch upon some key aspects of our Social Experience Framework.

1.Get social – The emergence of ‘social’ everything

There is little doubt that the buzz word today is social and the whole world is now geared towards a ‘social revolution’ of sorts. From the revolution in Egypt to the ‘Occupy…’ movements, social platforms are aiding the way people connect, unite and demonstrate for a cause. The revolution is not just restricted to mass protests and demonstrations. It is expanding its reach and making inroads into our lives and work. Just a few days ago, Google began including the content from their social platform, Google+, when searching and showing the search results. This is yet another example of how ‘social’ content and interactions are  getting into the mainstream content. There are more people now who, before buying a product, read the reviews of “other people”.  Before saying anything good or bad about anything, some people “google it” or when in doubt, check it out on the “Wikipedia”. The growing emphasis on the relevance of big data and open source technologies and tools, is only adding more ammunition to this social revolution.

2. Focus on people and their social interactions

Yes, they are all people. You once used to call them  customers, users, partners and vendors. Your sphere of influence was restricted only to these stakeholders and perhaps extended to prospective customers. But now with social media and technologies, the reach has increased and the scope is broadened to cover more number of people. This includes not only prospective customers and product reviewers but also potentially  friends and family members as well. Now is the time to make your business, and technology, products and services more people-centric, for real and reap the rewards. Listen, observe and understand the various ways people interact online and offline too. Make these interactions more meaningful by providing context-sensitive information which they can use readily and easily. Simplify their interactions and enrich them by offering value-add through seamless channels and platforms.

3.Make it work on multiple platforms, devices & channels

The developers and testers among you will agree with me that its a real nightmare to design, develop and test applications on the ever-increasing number of channels, platforms and devices. However, this is great news for all the customers and users as they have a plethora of options (often to the extent of getting spoilt for choice). With newer technologies coming into the fore to help you, it might not be as complicated as it might sound. HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, XML and other technologies, accompanied by the all-powerful bowsers, offer great ways to develop and deliver rich, interactive applications to your users.

4.Deliver social experience, not just user experience

As you have seen in the recent past, there has been a  proliferation of computers, laptops, mobile phones and Tablets. Also, there has been a significant raise in the Internet usage for education, work and entertainment. All along you have been focusing on delivering great customer and user experiences through your products, services and solutions. With the advancement of social context, it is just not enough if you try and look only at your customers and users only. The experiences have to be broad based, reaching out to friends, prospects, family members and ‘people’. I call it the ‘social experience’, covering all these. Our SoX Framework is an integrated experience delivered via multiple channels, devices, platforms and media. SoX is a pervasive, personalized and persuasive experience, delivered in context-rich, yet simple way.

5. Not just quantitative, but qualitative

There is a plethora of online analytics services that measure the social media usage. From Klout to PeerIndex and recently PeekAnalytics, these have been serving up measures and metrics on the engagement, influence and network reach based on the activities you do online and especially on the social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. All of these provide the scores, ranks and numbers. While analytics are good, they can only be useful, if applied to the right cause. As business leaders and product owners, one needs to balance the quantitative measures with the qualitative aspects. How do you get to the qualitative information? Be open and actively participate in the social networks and reach out to the audiences. For instance, Dell appointed CLO (Chief Listening Officer) whose role is to follow and listen to the noise and voice of customers on the social networks. British Gas resolves customer issues on Twitter, using it as a platform for understanding, tracking and closing people’s complaints.

To summarize, social businesses, technologies are already in and we are left with no choice, but to embrace them and use them to our advantage. Delivering social experiences require today’s businesses to broadbase  their focus to ‘people’, listen to them constantly and help them instantly. Let me know if you have a suggestion, question or comment. Until next post, ciao!

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

As you all know, during the recently held “Lets talk iPhone” event, Apple officially announced the launch of  iPhone4S, iOS5 and iCloud. While it was a disappointment to some people who were expecting the big upgrade to iPhone4, that’s beside the point I want to make in this post. Rewind to April2010, when Apple first launched iPad, as the first ever consumer Tablet in the market. There was a knee-jerk reaction from lot of people, who rejected Apple’s new Tablet concept. There were more naysayers who expressed that they didn’t find any use for it and that the iPad was just a “glorified and bigger iPhone which can’t be used for calls”.  Its everybody’s knowledge how that perception and reactions changed drastically over a period of time. Apple created the undisputed benchmark and a leader in the Tablets market, with many more companies bucking the trend and releasing their me-too versions. In this post, let us look at what it takes to create great products by managing users’ reactions and how you can better define the product.

Great products vs. good products

Some times, you would have come across products that not only have features and functionality to help you do the mundane tasks, but also fit in very well into your life and work. Discerning readers like you are very well aware that there is a difference between great products and good products. Great products differ in that they offer rich context, enable users to realize their goals and enchant them satisfying their implicit and unmet needs. These often go beyond the briefing and provide more than just nice features. Its true that not all products are created with this intent and that they gain users’ acceptance slowly over time.

iPhone and iPad

How users relate and adopt to new products

I have seen an almost pattern-like behavior from users on how they react to products launched as groundbreaking new concepts which go on to become a huge success. I call this the 5A model of User reactions to new products. It starts with an almost hatred like feeling towards the new product. This is because users develop habits with the existing products and are happy using them the way they are. They perceive the new product as a change and a potential threat to their comfort. This could be because of the innate behavior of aversion to change and anything new. Then over time, due to various factors, both external and internal, customers tend to develop an acquired taste for the product.

The 5A model for product adoption

The perceptions and reactions of users to new products almost always follows a gradual progression of steps leading to great adoration for the products. I am not sure if anybody has patented this model already, but these terms came to my mind 3 months ago, when I was working on a new concept product for one of my clients.

  1. Aversion
  2. Acceptance
  3. Admiration
  4. Aspiration
  5. Adoration

I observed this model applicable to many successful products, tracing back to the times of their launch, how they changed with marketing, alignment to business and better product definition.  One of the most successful product companies, Apple and its successful creation, the iPad are not an exception to this model, as we discussed above.

Ask what you are creating

The trickiest thing in developing new products is in understanding, defining and communicating what your product is and what it can do. Most products fail, not because they are designed badly or implemented in a technically incorrect way. They fail because the product vendors could not communicate the purpose and benefits of the product clearly to the customers and users. Or worse still, products are hit the hardest, when the product owners themselves are not clear about the vision and definition of their product.

How to define your new product

Innovation and thinking differently often help you in defining your product, which is a first step in paving the way for its success. The standing example for a successful application of innovation with thinking big is Metamorphosi which changed the way lamps and lighting are created.

Lighting Solution, not just a lamp  Metamorfosi_lighting_solution

While every other player in this market thinks of creating better and attractive table lamps, Artemide realized that they are not merely creating lamps, but helping keep people in better mood through their lighting. So, they decided their product definition as not just as a lamp, but a ‘lighting solution’! Small wonder that Artemide and Metamorfosi are equated to innovation in the home decor segment that triggered many admirers, followers and copy cats too, all around the world.

New product development checklist

The critical success factor in the product development is having a clear vision, direction and purpose for the product or application, that you are creating. You need to define the scope, intent and content of your product, which help in translating the vision into the product design, development and delivery. It is often necessary to go beyond the immediate form and name of the product under description. Do not get attached to, nor be limited by the physical aspects of your product. I always do a check with the following parameters to decide how well we are doing and whether we are on the right path. I use these as a definitive check list to assess the potential success of your product or concept.

  • Business viability
  • Technical feasibility
  • Product usability
  • Resource availability
  • Consistent Quality

The above factors play a decisive and definitive role in the assessment of your product’s potential and performance. Do not underestimate the potential of validating your product against this check list. This would give you a very good measure of how your product is faring and in what direction it is heading to. You can then take necessary course correction and take preventive steps to steer your product back on track. We can talk in detail about applying each of these in the context of your new product, in a separate blog post.

Hope you found this post informative and usable. Happy Diwali to all my Indian friends and followers. Until next post, ciao!

 

Business Analysis, Business Case, Product Development, User Analysis, User-centered Design

Whenever we start working on a new product or project, we are often rushed into creating ‘the  solution’. Pressure builds up from all directions and we are but forced to start delivering the solution from the day one.  This is where my problem lies…not being able to work on and understand the problem itself, but still trying to solve it.  For instance, whenever you go to a doctor with an ailment or complaint,  he does not give you treatment straight away. The physician asks you a set of questions, listens to your responses, understands what your problems are and then starts giving you the correct treatment. They call it ‘diagnosis’ and we all are happy to be diagnosed without asking any question to anybody, including ourselves. Then why is the resistance to adopt the same approach in other spheres of our work and life?  Taking specifically the case of you, me and all of us, IT professionals and experts, I write this post to highlight the approach we should adopt to understand, define and communicate the problems before resorting to solutions.

Problems, needs, challenges & opportunities

Most of us use the terms problems and needs interchangeably in varying contexts. I am not too tied down to using any one terminology over the other.  Bottom line is that we have to make an effort to identify them, define correctly, and strive to solve the problems or fulfill the needs. Some people also use opportunities in the same vein to convey that these have to be understood, pursued and addressed. You might have also come across the suggestion to replace the negative connotation of problems with its more positive and pragmatic counterpart, challenges. As I said, I am flexible on this and you can choose whatever you might like among the four terms problems, needs, challenges and opportunities. However, from a product manager’s perspective, my personal preference is to use the terms problems or needs, because they convey some sense of urgency and cry for addressing them and solving them at the earliest :)

Texavi’s Model for Problems and Solutions

I would like to touch upon briefly the model I evolved at Texavi to have a better handle at problems and solutions. The image below provides a clear distinction between problem space and solution space. As you can see, focus on the problem domain first helps us understand the WHAT and WHY which enable us to get to define the TO-BE WHAT and HOW to reach there.  Also, this platform independent model lets you apply the methods and rules to any platform, technology. I shall discuss more on this in a separate blog post.

 

Problems drive solutions

Yes, problems do drive solutions and not vice versa. It is imperative to specify the problems first and then accordingly, direct our attention to the solutions. I would like to take the analogy of train and engine to put forward my point about problems and solutions. My fascination for trains and being a son of a Railways employee, I couldn’t but think of a better example.  A train is driven by the engine and not by the bogies attached to it.  No matter whether the engine is placed in the front or back of the train, it still powers the train and makes it move. Similarly, understanding the problems always helps us to find the correct solutions to tackle those problems.

   

How do you get to the problems

Well, by now you might have been convinced that problems are as important as, if not more important than solutions. The next obvious question that might come to your mind is how we can identify the problems, in the first place. From experience, I realized that problem solving is best when it is solved where it has come from. To be able to spot the problems in the correct way, we need to really have an open mind, with an inquisitive  approach leading to exploration and discovery. This is quite different when you approach the solutions, which might need a one-pointed focus,  with deep dive approach leading to generation of ideas and implementation of solution.

I follow a set of unwritten rules when trying to work in the problem space. These facilitate me by providing the right directions for the flow of my thinking. You can find the following pointers helpful in structuring your thoughts and approach to problem identification:

  • What are the problems?
  • Whose problems am I trying to solve?
  • Why are these problems existing in the first place?
  • Where can I start with my solution? Which problems need my attention, first?
  • When can these problems said to be solved?
  • How can I solve these problems?

My mantra for problems and solutions

Based on my experience as an analyst over the years, trying to find problems and solve them, I created a small mantra to help myself.  This helps me focus and leverage the powerful relationship between problems and solutions. It is applicable to most situations, and helps all of us in any sphere of work and life. In fact, this entire post is based on this one and I would urge you, especially the product managers and business analysts among you to note it well and try and put into practice.

Know problems…know solutions

No problems…no solutions!

I hope that you find this post helpful to set the direction and help change your views about the problems and solutions. I will cover more details on the proven methodologies that we evolved at Texavi Innovative Solutions. As always, your feedback is welcome. Until next post, Ciao!

 

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Product Development, Requirements Development

When I visited the National Gallery of Arts in Washington D.C., one thing that struck me among all others, was a fridge-magnet in the display. It bears a popular saying of the great artist, Romare Bearden, that reads…”what you don’t need is as important as what you do need”. This caption has relevance to everybody in today’s world, and especially I would like to draw its benefit to the product managers.  I give below a snapshot of the magnet for your reference and I think it could be a powerful mantra for the product managers among us.

Get your priorities right

Getting your priorities right will not only help you to be successful at creating a great product, but also in continually delivering superior experiences to your stakeholders, customers and users. As a product manager, you need to not just prioritize the product’s features, but also plan your product releases, expedite the time-to-market, and help in marketing activities such as product launch campaigns. In this post, I wish to touch upon the challenges that constrain the proper scoping of a product, and how you can leverage the right tools and techniques to help prioritize in the constantly changing world.

Prioritizing is not easy

Today, more than ever, we are witnessing flux everywhere and little wonder then that whatever we are exposed to has been undergoing a rapid change. Change and chaos are posing the biggest challenge to all of us today, but in them also lie huge opportunities and avenues for achievement, cheer and success. The key to success lies in making note of the changes that happened and also in sensing the impending changes to come through in the areas of your interest.

What drives your prioritization

To come to grips with the changes and chaos, you really need to look at the various factors that are either directly or indirectly responsible for your product. Let us try and basket them into two categories- internal and external, for simplicity’s sake.  To be able to prioritize better, you need to consider the internal factors such as the resources available say people, schedule, cost, organizational goals and business vision. I would also like to add to this list the often unseen or unspoken aspects such as internal politics, power dynamics and the relationships among the various management and team members.

Vendors, partners and third party service providers

Also you need to pay heed to external factors such as stakeholders i.e., vendors and partners’ expectations, needs and demands of customers and users. While its true that customers and users’s needs take the attention of product management team, its also imperative that the capabilities, constraints and commitments of your vendors and partners need to be considered while planning and prioritizing your product.

A case in point is Apple’s inability to fulfill its iPad2 delivery requirements in some countries. This was due to the shortage of material at Apple’s suppliers in China which resulted in the delay in shipment of the final products. One might argue that this is a good problem to have because the demand is more than the supply and you can keep your customers wait for your product. On the other hand, there might be a worst case scenario where the supply exceeds the demand and then you will be in trouble with the excess stock. In both cases though, the lesson for you is to consider your vendors’ and partners’  constraints, capabilities and commitments while prioritizing and planning your product release.

Beware of (pressure due to) competition

Perhaps the one biggest factor that could play with your prioritization game is competition. Often times, as product managers, you get undue pressure to look out at the competing products in the market and re-adjust your priorities as per your competitors’ new releases.

For instance, just because your closest competitor announced (not even launched) a new product in the market, you will get tremendous pressure for ‘doing something about it’ from the senior management, peers, media and worst of all, your own team. While most often, all of this could be genuine and help in the cause of better product development, other times, it could be a knee-jerk reaction without knowing the ground reality. This is something you must be really wary of and ensure that you don’t succumb to the pressures beyond the capability of your organization and team.

Scope, de-scope and re-scope

The single biggest contribution from a product manager, if you ask me, is the ability to prioritize the features and plan the releases for the product. This is the area where team really looks up to the product manager or product owner in the context of agile software development. Prioritization, as per my experience, comprises three simple tasks of scoping, de-scoping and re-scoping. As I keep telling people, sometimes it is more important to specify what is not in scope, than to say what is in the scope.

In a traditional sense, you might be maintaining a ‘product roadmap’ which spells out all the things your product will be and do, in the times to come. In agile development, product owners need to maintain a ‘product backlog’ which is a configurable document that lives across the life-cycle of the product. For some people, the term ‘backlog’ might connote a negative intent of not being able to complete some stipulated work. But now the artifact as well as this term has become an industry-standard accepted by many. Remember, though that this product backlog is for the product and not, as many people mistake it, for the project.

Important vs. Urgent

Another key dimension in prioritizing is being able to specify either tasks or things on the scales of importance and urgency. Note that all things that are important need not be urgent and vice versa. You need to clearly delineate among things and tasks that are important, urgent or both.

I usually map all the items across four quadrants classified into the following four categories across the two axes of importance and urgency:

  1. [important, urgent]
  2. [important, not urgent]
  3. [not important, not urgent]
  4. [not important, urgent]

Use the right tools and techniques

Most of you are familiar with the prioritization techniques such as ABC or 1-2-3. You can also try the MoSCoW (Must, Should, Could and Won’t) technique which is helpful in further shortlisting the features. I use index cards and post-it notes to do a quick sorting from within the shortlisted features to get to the most important ones. At times, to simplify you might just mark the items ‘Need to have’ and ‘Nice-to-have’. You can use any, all or some of these techniques based on your preference to arrive at the prioritized list of features in your product.

We can talk about more such tools and techniques in my next blog posts. Hope you could have some takeaways from this post to help make your product, a success. Till the next post, ciao!

 

 

Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies

Caller:             “Hello, is this Tech Support?”

Tech Rep:      “Yes. it is. How may I help you?”

Caller:             “The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about getting that fixed?”

Tech Rep:      “I am sorry, but did you say a cup holder?”

Caller:             “Yes, it’s attached to the front of my computer

Tech Rep:      “Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped, it’s because I am. Did you receive this as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it? ”

Caller:             “It came with my computer, I don’t know anything about a promotional. It just has ‘8x‘  on it.”

The caller had been using the load drawer of the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder and snapped it off the drive.

[This story was attributed to George Wagner,  Greenberg,1971]

You might have read this earlier and laughed it off. I started this post with this very naive-sounding, but true conversation that happened between a PC user and a customer service representative.  Today, I wish to touch upon  the widening gap that prevails between the management and stakeholders of product companies and the needs and conceptual models of end-users. As a product manager, its all the more important to understand the existence of this divide between the creators & consumers and try to plug this ever widening distance!

First, identify the people involved

First things first, define the roles of the people involved in the process of product creation and consumption. To keep it simple, we can classify them into three different categories – stakeholders, customers and users. These can be people, groups of people, entities or even organizations. They can be separated physically and logically into different classes, but sometimes there could be an overlap or common areas amongst a few of them. For instance, in a product company such as an automotive manufacturing, sometimes the stakeholders and customers could be the same as the company might be manufacturing the components which are consumed by the same company in building a car.

What do you want to be and want to do

Stakeholders are those people who have a direct or indirect influence on and who get benefited from the product, solution or service  under development. One might argue that customers and users are very much part of the stakeholders. Yes, they are, but since they hold bigger stake of your product, you can classify them under a separate category. For simplicity’s sake, include in this category of stakeholders…management, product development team, client, vendors, partners, venture capitalists, and all those involved in the process of product creation.

You need to identify the key stakeholders in the form of individual persons from within the groups. Have one-to-one interactions with each of the identified stakeholders. During these interactions, extract the various perspectives depending on their roles and profiles. For example, from a CEO, get a business perspective, whereas from a CTO understand the technical perspective and from a Business Development Director, get the views on customers and competing companies.

Define the ‘Identity’ –  Inner view

The sum total of the vision, challenges, constraints, expectations, views about competitions, products, business, technology etc. from each of the key stakeholders provides the composite identity of the organization or the product under discussion. You might notice that within the same organization, and on the same area or point, there might be conflicting views and expectations from different stakeholders. However, this should not be a stumbling block, but instead try and understand why these differences are cropping up and resolve them with the involvement of stakeholders.

I am reminded of the marketing assignment which I did during my MBA summer-project. It was with a company which is into biscuits,cookies and dairy products. They just re-positioned their brand and brought out a whole range of products aligned to their new identity. The company’s stakeholders thought that the brand and the products they create not only support the health and well-being of the consumers but also enhance their thinking and intellectual capabilities. So, they started massive campaigns all around the country brandishing those perceived values, strengths and greatness of the brand and product. Read through the next few paragraphs to know the outcome of my studies.

Customers and users may not be the same

In the case of services, mostly customers and users could be the same, but in the context of products and that too for enterprise and B2B products and services, these two groups invariably differ, to a large extent. In fact, even within the same group say customers, you have different variations such as decision makers who hold the purse strings, and purchasers who execute the deal.

No ‘Average Joe’ in users

The ‘law of averages’ might work in almost all the places but not in product innovation and user experience management. Bear in mind that there is no average user or stereotypical user, for whom if you design and develop your product, it works across all the potential users.  Similarly within the users, there may be many different sub-groups based on tasks, work profile, experience, education, and other demographics. You just cannot assume that all the users are same and have the same needs, wants and challenges.

Understand the ‘Image’ – External view

Another critical component is to understand the external perspective, that of the customers and users about your product. This is what I refer to as image of the organization or the product. Often times, this image is formed in the minds of the users through various ways. Some of these could be the interactions that users have with  your company or product, experiences formed through usage of this or similar products earlier, advertising and promotions, interactions with friends, peers and family about the product etc.

Sometimes the image formed about the product need not be real at all and instead was formed from incorrect perceptions and misconceptions. Again this could be due to various reasons such as users themselves( demographics such as education and experience), your product (promotion, design of the product, and its promotions) or both.

Referring to the biscuit company case of my assignment, I did a lot of user research talking to users, understanding their mental models, conducting some market research to know their perceptions, preferences etc. All these studies led me to a very strange set of results. The consumers of this specific brand and products, don’t really see anything healthy in the products, nor do they associate it with their thinking well or intelligence. They had a completely different sense of what these products stand for and do

Gap = Identity ~ image

You defined the identity for your product from stakeholders’ view and also understood its image among your customers and users. By now, you would have realized that they are not exactly matching and that there is a difference between the identify and the image. Often times the success or failure of the product is decided by the extent of this gap. The focus now shifts to measure the extent of this gap, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Then the next steps are to understand the root causes for the gap and taking corrective and preventive actions.

Going back to my project work on the biscuits company, I analyzed the results and found that there was a huge gap between the company’s vision and consumers’ view of the products. After further analysis, I could get to the bottom of the case and understood the real reasons to be lack of customer awareness, increasing focus on competition, new management oblivious to the ground realities of the industry and the market needs etc.

Here is how to plug the gap

To ensure that your product works well for the key primary users, follow the guidelines I give below. These are based on industry standard best practices and also from my experience from the past success stories. Note that each of the steps can be explained and expanded into a separate blog post or even a separate chapter in a book. I am just giving them in a list so that we can focus on the specific topic of this post.

  • Create user profiles
  • Select no more than 3 user profiles as your primary target user groups
  • Create personas
  • Understand the conceptual models of users
  • Identify the key needs, challenges, pain areas of the users
  • Understand the key tasks that they do
  • Define the breakdown scenarios, and workarounds used in doing these tasks
  • Use the personas extensively throughout your product development
  • Scope the features and functionality of your product, around the personas
  • Design and develop your product around the needs
  • Keep stakeholders, customers and users involved throughout product development
  • Go back to these people on a continual basis with whatever you have developed
  • Try and identify the gaps, problems, and areas of improvement

I hope this post would help you form a vision for your product, reach out to your users, understand and bridge the gap between the two. And by doing all of these, you are increasing the chances of developing a successful product. Till next post, ciao!