Write software requirements specification

Since the Dotcom boom we have all come to know and love them. Their USP is: “One eyed man in the land of the blind” their value proposition is” I won’t blind you with science because I don’t understand it myself”. Yes they are the product managers of the software world, the IT directors, the Gadget Barons. Luckily for us they know what we want before we do. They will tell you that requirement engineering is for Nimbies and that suggestions from users are too dumb to take seriously. Allowing a mere human to write software requirements specification is not something they would easily consider.

I suspect that GBs also exist in the white goods arena. I have no idea what all the buttons and programs on my microwave or washing machine are for. The GBs also are firmly ensconced in my supermarket, where I pay for two loaves and take one because I can’t eat two and these gurus are convinced that selling me two at a discount will make me happier. Perhaps they are thinking of the sales of exercise bikes after all the overindulgence, or maybe they themselves eat a lot of bread.

We read with horror that 80% of government projects fail, but can you believe that in the hard bitten commercial world almost as many new product launches also fail. If you don’t, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Microsoft claimed recently that the majority of new feature suggestions from users were actually for features that already exist. Surely this tells you something about communication with users. What’s the betting that these features were included in response to user need?
Ok, now we’ve touched on one of the buzzwords and our world will never be the same again. Why should we build products that are user focused? Dumb question I agree, but this message still has not made it’s way through to 80% of the marketing world and possibly 99% of the software world. I believe I know a little about why this problem persists. You see there is a unique relationship between a product, its users and it’s stakeholders. I describe this as the UPS Triangle™. User- Product-Stakeholder.

The ultimate driver here is the stakeholder which is often a board of directors, and shareholders, or in political terms it is senior civil servants, ministers and citizens. Products can’t begin with user demand as the nice diagrams would suggest. Henry Ford never had a deputation of frustrated horse-riders turn up and demand he invent a motor car. This is why the GBs have a real part to play, they are the visionaries willing to spot a potential opportunity and pull together the support and finance to explore it and to make it happen. The people who provide the finance and take the risk are the people who want and deserve the reward and this is what makes them stakeholders.

Here however, lies the twist. To deliver this reward users have to agree that your product gives them value and become customers. That’s why it is a mutually dependent triangle. The confusion domes when the Product manager loses sight of this triangle and agrees to satisfy the stakeholder directly, hence ignoring the user and ultimately failing to deliver a successful product. On the other the side of the equation, if you leave product development to salespeople they will give away everything to the customer forgetting about profit and lifecycle management.

You can’t have much of a conversation with a marketing type without stumbling across the term “perceived value”.(PV) What they are referring to here is the “reason to buy your product”. Just think of it as another currency. The more of this PV you give to your customer the more of their currency they will be happy to give to you. That’s the ten second MBA, all you ever need to know about business. (link to value creation blog)

The profit is in the P. That’s right you see perceived value is in the mind therefore it can be created relatively cheaply and maintained even more cheaply, whereas products have to be manufactured packaged and delivered and depend on supplies of other commodities. E.G. A Ferrari costs much the same to make as a Jaguar, but it sells for immensely more, because it’s PV is such that wealthy men will gladly part with buckets full of wedge just to be seen driving one.

In this case, which is likely to be more important? what users want you to deliver or what stakeholders want you to deliver. Whose perception is likely to drive product sales, the stake-holder’s or the user’s.

So what is the concluson?

The Gadget Barons are annoying but they are also necessary. Users perceptions is where the gold lies. Perceived Value (PV) is where the profit is made. The more PV we can offer in our product the more £ the customer will be willing to pay.

The first rule of product development is to manage the UPS triangle and reward stakeholders by maximising PV to the customer. If you want to write software requirements specification which will lead to winning products then you must forge and maintain the right balance between Stakeholders, users and technologists.

Ed Taaffe

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