Archive for the ‘Marketing & Strategy’ Category

Differentiating R&D vs Innovation – A Conceptual Framework

December 24, 2010

While Research & Development (R&D) and Innovation has always been at the core of success for any organization since ages – until some time back it has been somehow considered like an ‘assumed’ thing. However in the recent years – as competition for almost all businesses heats up and hence the immediate need to start differentiating becomes more acute – the hue and cry about R&D and/or Innovation about/within any organization has taken a new proportion. In most of the organizations I have been working with or dealt with – I see that the Leaders are constantly thinking and talking about driving and pushing R&D/Innovation within the organization; the Mid-Management are required to think about implementing and extracting value through R&D/Innovation; and the Rank-and-File individuals are responsible for execution. Yet, one of a common challenge I have seen in almost all these organizations is across the board lack of clear definition of what R&D and Innovation means and how it differentiates from each other. Needless to say even I have had my share of confusions and misunderstandings – and have often been guilty of using/understanding these terms in an incorrect fashion.

I recently came across one of the key finding from Boston Consulting Organization Survey about measuring Innovation (PDF link – a year old survey) – that per the feedback from the Executives only 32% of organizations were satisfied with their own Innovation results. The same survey also says that this percentage is in fact falling over the years. While I do take such surveys with a pinch of salt – I think that these satisfaction numbers are telling. Having seen in many organizations, I somehow think that this lack of proper understanding/definition of R&D/Innovation could be one of a big contributor to such poor measurements.

Depending on where one reads and whom they talk to – there are different opinions and perceptions about what R&D and/or Innovation means. IMO, none of them are completely correct or wrong. The opinions about them are formed based on what works for any particular organization. For my own sake, in order to have a clear guidance on how I think and perceive R&D and/or Innovation – I have created a conceptual framework in my mind about how I perceive both these activities. For the sake of discussion in this blog – let us refer to this framework as my own “Manish Rathi’s R&D/Innovation Framework”  or MRRDIF in short.

While conceptualizing MRRDIF – my guiding thoughts were driven from what I had read on Wikipedia about Invention and Innovation -

“R&D is about taking cash and converting it into Inventions; Innovation is about taking these Inventions and converting it into cash”.

Per me, the picture below captures the steps and work-flow which forms the core essence of  MRRDIF. As it can be seen, the process is about first creating Inventions through the approach of R&D after accumulating/assessing multiple types of inputs. Second is to convert these Inventions into specific Value for the organization – which IMO should be measurable in financial terms – using the approach of Innovation. The key to remember in this is that Invention by itself does not have any Value.

R&D Vs. Innovation

R&D vs. Innovation - Conceptual Framework (click on the picture for enlarged view)

An important point to remember in my MRRDIF approach is that I do not consider Innovation as an outcome. For me Innovation is simply a form of approach/process which converts Invention into tangible and measurable Value. In simplistic terms – generated Value is the outcome!

A bit more about the key blocks in this MRRDIF approach -

  • Organization Mission and Vision = As a thumb rule – I have always felt that the R&D/Innovation strategy in modern day organizations should be guided by what the core Organization’s Vision/Mission is. I do realize that this point is debatable and there are several examples of successful Inventions/Innovations which somehow were not in line with what the core initial organization’s mission/vision was. However, more often than not, such cases are very very few. Aligning the R&D/Innovation process with the organization’s mission/vision just makes it easy to manage and get better buy-in/acceptability from a long-term perspective.
  • Market Inputs = Traditionally, taking the market inputs has always been an after-thought and has possibly worked for solo inventors in the past such as Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers. However, in an organization setting requiring collaborative effort for reaching to an Invention – the investments and risks are higher. In today’s world an Invention has to conjoin itself to a valid and unfulfilled market pain point. IMHO, an Invention without the validation based on market inputs can possibly give the organization only a sense of intellectual safety – but that may not translate into financial rewards.
  • Technology/Services Inputs = While this point is self-explanatory – the key in this to assess and validate both internal and external dependencies. For example – I am sure Thomas Edison had a dependency on electricity (external dependency) when he invented the light bulb.
  • Invention = Invention is typically considered to be an embodiment of something new. While the picture above may imply that it takes some effort to convert an Invention into something of value – there are several occasions where this effort is minimalistic. Again such scenarios are typically on the lower side.
  • Execution = This is the block where MRRDIF differs substantially from what has been the typical perceptions of what Innovation means. For me, Execution here is about gaining the acceptance in society, profitability, and market performance expectations of the Invention. This is about the process of deriving Value associated with an Invention.
  • Value = As alluded to above – Value in any measurable form is the ultimate pinnacle of the whole R&D and Innovation process which has been described above. This is the stage where the Invention/Idea has been successfully exploited resulting in tangible outcome for the organization and resulting in some form of commercial returns.

The significance of the ‘$’ signs and its associated colors (red and green) besides the ‘R&D‘ and ‘Innovation‘ process blocks is along the lines of what the Wikipedia statement meant above. R&D is going to consume cash (red) and Innovation is about generating cash (green). The key is keep the ‘red‘ $ smaller than the ‘green‘ $!

As I conclude on this blog post – I would like to repeat that MRRDIF is more tuned towards helping in trying to formalize a definition of R&D and/or Innovation. Like it has to me till-date, my hope is that this framework would help in taking steps towards setting up a measurable R&D and Innovation program.

Any thoughts/comments are welcome.

Pros and Cons of the Traditional Marketing Tools in Selling Technology Products and Services

October 28, 2010

Over the last many years, I have had the opportunity to play a close role in defining and planning the Strategy and Marketing of multiple products and offerings in my current organization. Sometimes indirectly and very recently more directly. The key successful ones amongst them were for GlobalLogic Velocity (Product Engineering Platform which won the Infoworld Top 100 Innovation Award), Version 1.0 Offering (End-to-End Idea to Launch Services Offering for Early Stage Products), and very recently with the Cloud Computing and Enterprise Mobility offerings within the Consumer and Enterprise (C&E) Business Unit. In addition to these direct ones, I have till-date assisted more than half-dozen early stage product companies with their Launch Strategy and Marketing.

For many who know me personally or through my blog – would know that I come from a technology/engineering background. So it was not only enriching to understand, learn, and implement various Strategy and Marketing activities but also has given me a chance to think about the all the established practices in Strategy and Marketing from a completely different/new angle. So in some sense the Engineering/Analytical mindset in me did affect my thinking in my new role. And considering that I work for a Technology R&D Services organization certainly made me think more analytically.

When I started in this Marketing role – a large chunk of marketing strategy was (it is still a big part of our strategy) driven using more of the traditional marketing tools which typically were very content driven. Be it using the collateral artifacts (case studies, brochures, white papers, etc.), web sites, email campaigns, webinars, etc. Over the years the sophistication and quality of such marketing tools has certainly improved a lot and I have seen it able to hit and target and reach more and more varied customer base. However, the effectiveness from the perspective of sales converts of this Content-Driven strategy leaves a lot to desire. Here are some of my thoughts on the effectiveness of many of such existing marketing tools -

Case Studies -

Case Studies - Tool for creating perception

Case Studies - Tool for Creating Perception (Note: Perception is Reality!)

Case Studies are the marketing collateral that tells the stories of other customer’s beneficial experiences with the product or service offering. Case Studies as a Marketing Strategy has been age-old; sellers and buyers are well-aware of this concept; and is considered to be a no-brainer to be implemented if there are enough evidences of successful usage of the product/services being marketed.

From an ROI perspective, however I have always questioned the marketing value of case studies. Here are my reasons why -

  • Regardless of how one writes it – it is very difficult for the reader to draw/conclude definite cause-effect conclusions from a case study. And this defeats the whole purpose of writing the case study.
  • Biases – Perceive and writing down beneficial experiences of the customers from a delivery side is always filled in with biases.
  • Eternal Truth – From a buyers perspective – the needs for every buyer are different. What has worked for another organization may not work for them. It is typically very hard to generalize from a single case.
  • Lastly, if standards and best practices associated with writing a case study are not well implemented in an organization it sucks up a lot of time and effort to create them while the returns on such efforts are always questionable.

For me the real challenge in case studies is not in its creation – but in spending enormous number of hours in trying to determine that one golden standard which is most applicable to the product/services. After so many years, I have come to the conclusion that no such golden standard exists for creating Case Studies!

According to me, the strategy around Case Studies should be more directed towards creating a perception around the product/services. Expecting that it would help in influencing a buyer’s decision would be far-fetched in terms of expectations, IMHO. Few of my colleagues have argued that creating a good perception and influencing a decision is one and the same thing. However, any good Marketeer would say – good perception only creates an environment to buy – however decision to buy is based on many other factors. With this in mind, I strongly believe that it is not the number of case studies we have in our repository which matters – but it is about whether those case studies are helping in creating the perception around the product/services or not. I have seen many organizations unfortunately fail to think about it in this way.

Brochures -

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

Especially in the technology sales world, I personally find this particular marketing strategy i.e. creating brochure to be the least effective one. Historically brochures typically seem to have a flashy or cutesy embodiment associated with it – and this typically does not go well technology-oriented products and services. Second – Brochures  typically are a print-based strategy and not associated with the digital world. This might be the reason why I feel this way about Brochures considering that this is the most commonly used thing which we all see around us today – especially in the Consumer world.

As a rule of thumb – brochures in marketing is used to let your customers know about your offerings. However, considering the much better effectiveness of online medium in technology world to let others know about your products/services –  brochures have a very limited applicability in the technology world.

White Papers -

First, my definition of what White Papers means is based on how Michael Stelzner, author of the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” describes it -

The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, which is an official publication of a national government. A famous white paper example is the Winston Churchill White Paper of 1922, which addressed political conflict in Palestine.

A white paper typically argues a specific position or solution to a problem. Although white paper take their roots in governmental policy, they have become a common tool used to introduce technology innovations and products. A typical search engine query on “white paper” will return millions of results, with many focused on technology-related issues.

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

In the Technology world, White Paper has been an age-old popular marketing strategy. In my experience, I have seen White Papers – if implemented and delivered properly – as an effective tool for Lead Generation. But beyond the purpose of Lead Generation, I have always felt that the effectiveness of White Papers is very limited based on how and where it is used. The second challenge I see in White Papers is in how organizations confuse them with Articles or Brochures. Important thing to keep in mind is that White Papers is kind of a hybrid between both. Articles are typically based on informative content whereas Brochures are more persuasive.

Web Sites -

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

As much as there is an inherent desire from any Marketing professional to use push mechanisms of reaching out to their potential customers – pull still remains more prominent than the push in terms of engaging with the customer. Towards this Web Sites – from many other purposes it also serves – remains and will continue to remain a prominent tool in the Marketeer’s hands.

In my personal opinion – not many companies still have completely cracked the mystery of how to use Web Sites effectively as part of their marketing strategy. One of the biggest challenge, IMO, is the reducing attention span of the readers and the increasing number of choices they have. (Jakob Nielsen’s article – “How Users Read on the Web?” is a good read to understand the challenges facing Web Sites)

Webinars -

One to Many Outreach

Webinars - One to Many Outreach

Compared to the above tools – Webinars (Web + Seminar) is relatively newer marketing tool which has come into prominence in the recent 5-6 years. Once again a powerful tool and with an increasing ease from a technology perspective it is starting to become easier to implement it too – but the jury on this one too is still out on how best to use this mechanism to reap the maximum power to reach out to the potential customers. In some sense – the current challenge is once again to attract the attention of the target customer to the webinars.

IMO, the key thing for successful webinars – topic, presentation style, and the follow-ups. There is enough science out there to help on all these three and can be a topic for another thread itself.

Once again, this blog is a dump of my conclusions about these tools typically used in marketing drawn from my experience and observations. I would love to hear experiences from others too.

Psychology of Consumers During Consumption of Products or Services

September 7, 2009

Personally I am no student of Psychology, however have always found this subject and its associated reads quite fascinating (I have similar fascination for two other subjects – Law and History – although those are also not my main area of expertise).

Last week I read an interesting article on what kind of psychology drives the consumption amongst we human beings. The article titled “Conceptual Consumption” by Dan Ariely and Michael I. Norton was a fascinating read on this subject in which they break the psychology of consumption into two distinct parts – the Conceptual Consumption followed by the actual Physical Consumption. They argue that it is the Conceptual Consumption which typically drives the consumer towards the Physical Consumption, especially in the modern times.

The notion of how human beings finally consume anything physically is increasingly getting driven how they consume the same thing conceptually first. Increasingly what we buy and consume is simply not the actual thing, but also the idea which is embodied in that thing. The way we relate to this idea – either positively or negatively – finally results in the consumption i.e. the physical consumption. As an example – I have to believe that Consumers are buying ‘green‘ cars like Honda Prius for more varied reasons than just that it gives a better mileage i.e. there is a strong Conceptual Consumption which is driving the final consumption of these cars.

For me this article provided lots of interesting learnings which I am trying to summarize in brief below  -

  • Advertisements or Marketing do set up Consumer’s Expectations with the product. These expectations can finally influence or supersede the actual physical consumption of the product or the service – both positively or negatively. People tend to seek confirmation for their beliefs – and any mismatch in the expectations and actual behavior of the product or the services – can potentially be disastrous to the product or the service.
  • Our concepts about a product or a service also drives the consumption experience too. If we think about the product favorably, our experience of the consumption is also going to be favorable only. For the same product, if our initial perception of the product has a negative bias – the experience also can be unfavorable.
  • The placebo effects in consumer behavior: Human beings – for reasons unknown – demonstrate this peculiar behavior where they tend to derive a better consumption experience because of totally unrelated associated factors. The study of students who bought the energy drinks at discounts performing worse than the students who bought the drink at full price seems to be very interesting.
  • Goal and momentum seems to have a positive impact on the physical consumption. As pointed by the paper, researchers have shown that just to consume a goal and with a push of initial momentum, consumers when faced with goal-evoking marketing promotions have increasingly shown to vary their consumption behavior in a positive manner. The authors point to the research where consumers responded more favorably to loyalty cards requiring ten purchases (and having two already purchased) than to the loyalty cards which required just eight purchases.
  • Equally true is an interesting corollary of the above point. Desire to consume a completed goal seems to have reduced consumer’s typical physical consumption. What does this mean? As an hypothetical example – consider that for the consumers whose typical average spend is about $4, receive a coupon of a dollar off for a purchase of $2. Authors point out that in such cases, consumers seem to have purchased much below the typical average spend. If the consumer had a goal of $4 worth of purchase while the loyalty card goal was much below than that, it looked like the consumers did not have felt the push for the goal and hence the consumption seems to have been affected in a negative way. In such cases, the goal-evoking marketing promotions typically tend to affect adversely.
  • Consuming Fluency: The easier it is for the consumer to consume it conceptually, better is the value which a consumer estimates on a product or a service and equally better is the final physical consumption. As an example, the author quotes the study where consumer investors seem to have valued and consumed stocks with fluent (or pronounceable) ticker names more than the ones which were not.
  • Non-fluency: Once again, as a corollary to the above point, as the fluency of consumption conceptually reduces, the physical consumption also reduces. Consumers seem to defer making choices on the consumption in order to avoid conflicts or regrets arising because of the decision.
  • Consumers have shown tendencies to sacrifice or be dissatisfied with their physical consumption to an extent when exposed to wider range of varieties initially. Even then studies have shown that consumers will increasingly seek variety possibly because of social pressures. This is an example where the consumers are willing to indulge in conceptual consumption more even if their experiences with physical consumption of the same product has been not to the mark. Same is true when the product or service itself has many features.
  • Forgoing Physical Consumption: If the consumers have truly enjoyed the consumption of a product or a service, there is a very good chance they would forgo another chance of consumption of the same service in order to safe-guard the memories and the possible fear that the future experiences may not be as good as the previous one.
  • Any thoughts or memories of contamination affects the physical consumption of the product or the service in a negative manner even if there is no actual contamination of the product or the service. The authors give an example that even a tightly bottled drinks briefly in contact with a sterilized cockroach can affect the final consumption of the drink.
  • There are several scenarios where consumers have preferred to choose negative physical consumption for the sake of getting a positive conceptual consumption experience. Mountaineering, bungee jumping, etc. are some examples of such scenarios.

As part of current job, I have to think a lot about various kinds of products and services which could potentially catch the eyes of new sets of customers and hopefully get consumed too. With that in context, study of this paper has been fascinating exercise for me to understand how best to serve different types of end-user preferences. If we were to think about it, almost all of us in our profession are producing something which is going to get consumed by someone else. If we can all understand the philosophy behind consumption, there is a very good chance that we all can deliver our services/work in a much better manner.

Thoughts and comments are most welcome.

[Update, October 5, 2009] If you like the above article, check out another interesting article on similar thought process titled “Advertising on the Brain” by Greg Satell. It talks about how advertising works neurologically on human beings.

Don’t sell Experience; sell Experiences!

July 29, 2009

During my recent flight on American Airlines to US, I got a chance to flip through their recent edition of in-flight magazine – American Ways. I came across this very well written article by Joseph Guinto titled – “Making a Change” – in which he talks about how one can make a career change if the existing one is not working out for him or her. One of the sub-title caught my eye – “Forget your experience, sell your experiences“.

How true!

While the context of the above statement has been used more from a job-career perspective; IMO, it also applies a lot to many aspects of marketing and selling of any products or services. From a job-career perspective, I have seen that  it is a common habit of focusing more on self as individuals rather than trying to describe self as part of a role played in a particular scenario.

Sounds confusing as to what I meant? Well, here is a very simplistic example. Suppose you are an experienced Java programmer and you want to mention this attribute of yours on your resume. Based on my experience of scanning thousands of resumes, I think majority of the individuals would have written this as -

Experienced Java Programmer” or “Java Programmer with 5 years of experience”

Note that the above statement is only referring to your experience i.e. what you know and how much you know (Assuming here that years of experience is a quantifiable way of measuring how much you know. Whether that is true or not is a point of another debate). What if the above experience can be put in the manner as below -

“Successfully helped build a streaming media product using Java for a online social media start-up with needs for rapid go-to-market, managing fast-evolving requirements, and collaborating with geographically distributed team.”

Now the above statement in a way talks about your experience in a holistic manner. You are no longer just alluding to your knowledge about Java; but also referring to your overall experiences in building a particular product in a particular environment. Joseph Guinto in his article points to a quote from Rachel Canter – you would get hired for a job not because you think you can do the job, but only if the person/organization hiring you thinks that you can do the job. To do that – as a seller you have to sell your experiences and not just your experience.

IMO, the above statement about selling experiences applies not only to the people looking for a career change, but also to selling other things in life. For example – selling products or services! More and more customers are more interested in knowing if products fits in with their personal needs rather than just simply knowing what the product can do. A classic case of this is Amazon Customer Reviews feature. Customers who have brought the specific product put in their experiences associated with their buy. Potential buyers read through these reviews and typically decide if the product fits in with their needs. Considering that in today’s highly competitive market – be it for a product or any services offering or be it to all of us as individuals if we were to consider ourselves as a product –  when almost all of these things are dime-a-dozen, it is the experiences which sells. Just ask Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz or Virgin CEO, Richard Branson or Kingfisher CEO – Vijay Mallaya!

Thoughts and comments are most welcome!

Chief Product Officer – Does your Organization have one?

May 26, 2009

Over the last year, while working with many of the consumer oriented businesses – I came across various scenarios where I had to compare the role of Chief Product Officer (CPO)  in comparison with the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). While industries are well familiar with a typical CTO role and what he/she is supposed to do, the role (and of course the need) of CPO still seems to be confusing to many. Do organization need both? Is one the replacement for other? And so on.

I tried making a Google search for the job description of CPO; however could not find one. However, I did come across several search results associated with the announcements of CPO in several organization. This makes me believe that this role is still not part of main stream. Also, an interesting observation you would see when you make this search – seems like most of the industries in end-consumer interfacing/used products are the ones who are making investment in this particular role.

So what is a CPO? PTC in one of their press release has made an attempt to describe this role. One of the analogy they have used is with the role of CFO – the way CFO is to Finance in the organization, CPO is to the product. Traditionally organizations have had fragmented responsibilities in terms of product ownership within the organizations. Product Management/Product Marketing looks at the product more from the strategy and product vision perspective; CTO looks at the same product more from design and development perspective; while VP Engineering is more responsible from an execution or product development angle. Almost 80-85% of the organizations with whom I have interfaced have typically been organized in this fashion. However, I have started seeing that many organizations have started having second thoughts on the dispersion of these responsibilities. Hence the role of CPO – someone who looks at product from an end-to-end perspective; someone who can act as a visionary and at the same time be realistic in terms of execution also; seems to be getting into prominence.

IMO, there are also some other factors which is possibly forcing organizations to think from a CPO perspective.

  • For many products, especially the ones in end-Consumer oriented, technology has now started becoming a second fiddle. By technology becoming second fiddle is not to say that technology is not important. I mean that in such applications it is not the technology which drives the user pattern, but it is the user behavior which tends to drive the technology and engineering. In such applications, the head of the product needs to be more nearer to the customer rather than just getting driven by technology & engineering.
  • More and more products are also becoming hybrid in nature i.e. products are getting built-up because of partnerships between multiple relationships. In products such as these, the need is to have someone with his/her responsibility spanning across vision and strategy, design and development, product marketing and management, and partnership management.
  • On the similar lines as above point, as Engineering and Product Development is becoming more and more commodit’ized – many ISVs today are becoming more and more dependent on their partners in helping them out on this rather than growing an in-house expertise on technology front. So from an in-house expertise perspective, organizations have started looking the role of CPO with more interest.

I also think that by investing in a role of CPO, organizations have started becoming cognizant of the fact that they need to start becoming more inclusive in their product evolution and development side – both internally and externally.

I would love to hear your thoughts – especially if you are/have played the role of CPO in your life. If you also have interacted any of the CPO out there, would love to hear your thoughts too.

Taking an Innovation to the Market in an Uncertain Economy

November 30, 2008

The following article written by me recently appeared on Global Services Media. Please visit them for more reading -

Article URL – Taking an Innovation to the Market in an Uncertain Economy

What a year this has been! Organizations which had long withstood the weather over the years, simply found that they were probably just made up on paper.

With the new environment filled with uncertainties where even the big players trying to grasp for air, things have started becoming tricky for new product/business innovators. For these innovators, speed and innovation are the two things which form the foundation of their long term success. The challenge for these innovators now is how they can create a viable market for their ideas in an environment where typically the bears are ruling the roost and the desperate need to extract the maximum mileage from each of their invested dollar.

So below are the few best practices which could help customers in their endeavors.

1. Prepare yourself for a marathon rather than a dash: Any marathon runner would tell you, it requires a completely different mindset and preparation. At this time it is important to have the financial and go-to-market plans takes in the assumptions associated with the long term uncertainties by keeping them nimble.

2. Now is the time to put more focus on the end-customers: The end consumers of the products and services would still be there in this economy that is in turmoil, however the only thing is that they are now going to be choosy and demand better value and services. The business model of any services/product should incorporate more time and effort on customer acquisition and less on the operations and engineering.

3. Focus on innovation: The innovation in the products or the services is what is going to generate value to the end customers and would help to differentiate from the crowd.

4. Work within the budgets: It is important to take a good stock of your resources in hand. Understand their velocity and plan your operations within the constraints. Any changes or surprises should be managed within the known velocity by varying the long term scope or plan.

5. Build in early feedback mechanisms: Engage with your customers or to-be customers from very early stage. Invest in mechanisms like Prototyping or Visualization if you are into product development. Focus Groups are a good way to get early inputs into the evolution. It is also an easiest form of practicing and sharpening the skills associated with selling the offering. A lot of this skill would be needed in this economy.

6. Be agile: Always have a goal for the end destination but be flexible in choosing the path to reach there. Follow an incremental and iterative design – develop – test evolution process. As part of our methodology in the organization, there is one thing we always strongly believe in. It is not important to build and deliver what we had thought about. It is more important to deliver what is required.

From a service provider’s perspective, survivability and patience in an uncertain economy is the key. I am saying this from an all round perspective – whether it is an organization or an offering or even as individuals. This is the time when our strengths would have to come to the fore and our weaknesses may become our biggest liability. If we ever wanted to see how the “survival of the fittest” theory gets applied in the real world, this is the most perfect time.

Honey, I destroyed my product by adding too many features!

November 30, 2008

The temptation associated with squeezing in as many features before it gets into the user’s hands is typically very overwhelming for any product entrepreneur. This is especially true when a new product is being launched in the market for the very first time. A typical assumption behind this is that the probability of users accepting the product is directly proportional to the number of the features which the users find in it. The notion that the products just have one chance to get to the eyes of the potential users or buyers also fuels the urgency behind squeezing in the features. This a classic dilemma for products today.

Per the standard practices prevalent in product engineering today, the standard practice is to classify the features to be developed into different Priority Buckets along a scale. e. g. Priority 1, Priority 2, and so on. This scale may vary amongst various product groups. However, broadly this scale typically gets classified into three kinds of buckets – “Can’t go to market without them!“, “Lets do it if we have time!” and “Forget about it right now but I am so glad you documented it!“. Once the features or the requirements are classified in this manner, as a standard practice it is typically a race against time to see how many of these can be implemented.  If the team is able to implement the most from this list – they are considered to be the most efficient. It is also assumed that the product is better off once most number of the features from the list gets implemented.

However, in my opinion and experience – there should also be another way to look at the feature queue. The requirements prioritization should also take into consideration to understand if there is a threshold beyond which any addition of features would start affecting the product in an adverse manner. This threshold could be from the perspective of count of features or the spread of features from functionality perspective. Features and functionality in the product are meant for empowering the end users to fulfill their needs with the maximum amount of ease. Beyond a point, the additional features can make this task more complex and may actually result in turning off the user from using it.

Every product needs to have a core value proposition and a defined user base which it targets to. In my opinion and experience, the tendency to squeeze in as many features as possible in the product is typically associated with both. It can mean an incoherent understanding of the needs of the potential user base or probably a sign of weakness in the core value proposition associated with the product.

Any features which needs to go into a product should be focused around the few key value proposition which the product has to offer and how to do that in the best possible way. Increasing the breadth of features may enable the product entrepreneur to fill in a check list associated with a long list of features and claim “we have that too!”. However if this comes at the cost of diluting the key messaging associated with the product – this may just might mean the doom for the product.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome!

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Product Development – From Idea to Reality…

August 24, 2008

It has been some time since I have blogged. As usual, hectic work schedule over the last month took the toll on my blogging habits. Not that I am complaining about the same. The last month went into some wonderful work. On a personal front, it was an enriching experience for me to work in a high profile environment and to look at things from a completely different perspective. It also was a big validation of the GlobalLogic Version 1.0 Offering which we have put together recently and now have taken it to a completely different level. The ability of the entire team to come together to understand, comb through the issues, and deliver was very fulfilling to see.

While I will not go through the details of the project, the key challenge for us as a team was to help a high profile client of ours to go through a series of planning activities to convert an idea to a product and then take the product to form the base of a successful new organization. Envisioning a concept getting converted into a real enterprise product is not a simple task. IMO, almost most of the times how well one executes the tasks associated with product development supersedes the brilliance of the idea itself. Product Development today is an ardent task in daily-changing business scenarios and tough competition. In addition to that one has to hash through the combinatorics of available go-to-market options, product visualization, technologies, competition, risks, and partnerships and come up with a clear strategy. This requires broad and experienced heads to come together and work around evolving the best plan forward. This is where my team comes in. Our work starts with understanding what is driving our client to his/her vision; go through the multiple dimensions of issues; and come up with a prospective plan. There is typically no one single perfect plan to build a product. However, simply putting things in proper context and perspective can be of great value. Almost all our clients vouch for that. The main questions which we help them answer are -

  • What are we trying to build?
  • How will we build it?
  • What is it going to take to build it?

It is not easy to answer these three questions to the highest degree of correctness. One has to put the past experience to work a great deal here. However, the biggest criterion here is how to make the plan Agile and Adaptive. That is the key.

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Designing a Product for ‘Repeat’ User

May 10, 2008

Let me first describe what I mean by ‘repeat‘ user. I think there might be a better term to describe this kind of a user, but the term is escaping me right now. By repeat user I mean the user of the product who has already used or checked out the product once and now is returning back to use it one more time. Hope you are able to relate to the category of product user I am referring to here. Almost all of us have been in this category one time or the other.

For the sake of this post, let me refer to the repeat user as Mr. X.

In my opinion and experience (both from the experience of engineering a product and also from being an end-user of the product), the perspectives of X towards his needs for the product are quite different as compared to what it could have been when he would have seen/used the same product for the first time. It is also well known and well understood that the success of a product – both from usage and commercial angle – is measured more from the repeat user perspective (and not from the first-time user perspective). I am not saying that the first-time user’s needs are not important. The requirements of first-time user needs to be understood well also because they are the ones who would translate into repeat users if things go well.

So what is so different from a product design perspective between the ‘first-time user’ and ‘repeat user’? First-time users are more keen on exploration. Repeat users are more keen on focusing on the regular functionality. A sophisticated design can certainly impress the first time user, however simplicity and ease is the key for a repeat user. As a repeat user for many products, if I were to quantify my usage, more than 75% of my interaction with the product is of a repeat type. Something which I have already done once and I am just repeating the same tasks again. My requirements from the product are now as to how it enhances my activity needs based on my usual usage patterns.

In my experience, I have noticed many product designers failing to think about the product from Mr. X’s perspective. Best products are those which keeps in mind the needs of this user. It is my strong opinion that in the end it is users like Mr. X who finally decide the fate of the product.

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Sometimes these products amazes me…

March 8, 2008

Check out the Bluetooth-enabled pillow which is supposed to make its debut very soon.

I am trying to count the number of assumptions this product is trying to make here -

  1. Like teenagers, grown-up adults like talking on the phone lying down for a long period of time.
  2. Teenagers are not going to buy this product – well, atleast the normal looking at the price tag.
  3. While in the bed, people typically won’t like to bother their body while talking on the phone – well atleast anything other than the mouth muscles.
  4. The pillow would really require a long battery life – for more than 8 hrs of talking time.

I am sure the product manufacturer’s have done a broad market study to find this to be a viable product idea. However, I am sure people like me would have been left out of this market study.

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