Tuesday, March 13, 2007

requirements: different types of goodness

In the third of Liao-Fan's Four Lessons we find this little nugget:

Liao-Fan: If we were to examine goodness closely, we would find that there are many different kinds.

Narrator: There is real goodness and false goodness, honest goodness and crooked goodness, hidden and visible, seeming and unseeming, proper and improper, full and half, big and small, and finally, difficult and easy.

Liao-Fan: These different types of goodness each have their own reason, which are to be carefully learned and understood. If we practice kind deeds but do not learn the way to differentiate between right and wrong, we may end up doing harm instead of good.

As I consider a raft of requirements from both inside and outside the organization, I'm struck by the motivations behind them. Some features are suggested because "they'll make money". Others because "they complete the product". Still others "are really, really important to customer x". Competitors dictate some, preferences of developers others, and executives still others. The list of sources is as long as my arm, which truth be told, is rather on the longish side.

A feature, in isolation, is a pure good - it serves to empower an individual to accomplish work that would otherwise be difficult to do.

But in the context of the broader solution's gestalt, an individual feature loses its "pure goodness" and takes on different meaning. What capabilities did we not develop by working on this feature? What users are going to be unhappy because we delivered feature x instead of feature y? Does that competitor over there have an articulated frabjulator and you don't?

All of a sudden that one feature takes on a somewhat sinister quality - it's existence is an affront, an insult, to an alternative and (it is assumed) more desirable state.

And by association, those who created the feature become similarly tainted, but none so badly as the product manager who was supposed to know better.

What to do, what to do.

We do research, we pour endless hours into requirements, we socialize and we justify. But perhaps, just perhaps, it would be helpful to draw a great big circle into which we pour the entire universe of potential customers.

Inside this big circle we draw progressively smaller circles. Size doesn't matter, just that they get smaller and they are drawn inside each other.

Until you have a circle that is quite a lot smaller than the biggest one.

You're developing for people in that circle. Make them happy. What you create should do more good than harm for those in the circles just outside of the one you're developing for. That's important, as in time you'll be servicing their needs as well.

You can call this an abstraction of persona design if that makes you feel better. But if you design a product that is half-way good to a great many different buyers, each of them will work hard to pull you in distinct (and more than likely incompatible) directions.

Stay within your concentric circles and your efforts will always be aligned with the broader good.

Caveat - this gets a lot easier if you've got excellent positioning, messaging and strategic vision. So go get some. Marketing FTW!

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