August 17, 2008

Of Market Research - I

image_preview.jpgMost of a Product Manager's business life is spent in avoiding problems. However, in market research he has to eagerly seek out problems. Problems are very strong motivators of consumer purchases, and customer buy-in's. People will buy something they believe will solve a problem that afflicts them.

Problem detection studies are often quantitative surveys designed to define problems in a category and then rank them based on intensity (How bothersome is the problem), frequency (How of the does the problem occur), duration (How long does the problem last), and preemptibility (What is the extent to which currently available products can solve this problem).

To discover needs and ferret out problems, a nice PM conducts surveys and asks questions. He may also arrange to actually watch a process, whether that process is machining a precision part, mowing the lawn, opening a bank account, or designing a mobile application. By studying the process, he identifies gaps, needs and more importantly, problems!

There is a catch here, instead of looking for ways to arrange work processes so that they are more efficient, our nice PM is looking for ideas about new products that will appeal to consumers by making tasks or processes easier, more efficient, more pleasant, more profitable and so on.

Talking of task and process observations, they should be combined with questions:

1. Ask the potential customer to list all the tasks or steps involved in this project.
2. Ask him to rate the steps from pleasant to unpleasant.
3. Ask why he finds a given step pleasant or unpleasant.
4. Ask if, why and how he would would like the step, task, or process changed.

We have to however remember that market research is a technique to be 'used' and not to 'rely' upon. The bad PM (like David Ogilvy remarked in Confessions of An Advertising Man) starts to use market research like a drunkard uses the lamppost, for support rather than for illumination.

August 7, 2008

Hiding Customers

hiding customersSome product managers are control freak, and some are too cautious. Those are bad fishes in my opinion. Teams that work in agile style, developing new products must be working close with the customer.

There could be instances where a team is newly formed and folks do not have much know-how about the attitude, way of life etc. of customers. The bad fish PM if given this situation does the following:

1. Runs short sprints, like 1 week. And here is the bad part - he claims that since he doesn't have trust in the team, he can't afford to lose control.

2. Although the team has good and proven experience in software engineering (although not in the current domain), they are NOT allowed to talk to customers.

3. All requests from customers come via the PM. (ok, this could be fair). If developers have doubts or questions, they have to ask the PM, and he decides when and how to take those queries to customers.

4. He yells in some meetings "I know the customer, I know what he wants! Do what I say."

5. No single soul in the development team, yes no one, knows who is the customer. Forget about what customers do and where they are!

6. PM arranges a face to face workshop with customers and does not take any developers/testers along.

Do you think this team (which is composed of experienced guys who could be new to the system) can ever grow, emerge and delight the customer?