Your sales staff wants new functionality or products to capture additional sales and beat the competitors. They want this functionality to use the latest technologies and have plenty of flexibility through user-configure options to support different customer needs. They also desire that any new or enhanced functionality be fully compatible with old functionality. However, they want this product to stay within the same sales margins and they cannot increase the price. Their goal is to get every customer.
Your support staff wants a product that will last forever, be backwards-compatible, highly usable, and rock solid stability. Their goal is to never impact the customer. If possible, to provide a product that can troubleshoot, fix, upgrade, backup and restore on its own without any intervention by the customer. Also, to have a product that meets everybody's needs but doesn't need our education through training or user manuals. Essentially, something that just works, never breaks, and continues to evolve as their business does. However, they want this product to not increase support fees, but also not reduce them as they sustain the profitability of the business. Their goal is to keep every customer.
Both of these goals are desirable. Who wouldn't want a product like this - we don't have to pay more, never needs replacement, makes sense to use and has all of the functionality we would ever desire. But aren't these goals not only conflicting (better technology, fully backwards compatible), but are all of these goals realistic for a business? Can a company support a product like this without changing its revenue and cost models? What kind of product development staff is needed to do this? Can you achieve the goal of getting and keeping every customer or are there acceptable risk of casualties along the way?
Just wondering if others that may be in software or product development have this kind of problem? If so, what have you done to make it more realistic and achievable?
Narrow your market focus
Dallas focused on three inputs to any software project:
1) Quality (innovation, backward-compatibility, no customer intervention, etc)
2) Time (can the product be sent to market before the competitor? before your customers give up on you?)
3) Resources (money, programmers, computers, etc)
If you want a quality project done in a short amount of time, it's going to take a lot of money, developers, etc. If you have limited resources but a lot of time, well you can still get quality. But what you can't have is a high-quality product, created on a short timeline, with limited resources. Some people will say it can be done, but I'm sure if you look at it, they probably have a very talented developer that is working some long hours, and that would lead back to being balanced by resources.
His advice would be to narrow your market focus. Don't be a good product for everybody, be the best product for a specific market. You'll find that you'll become a leader in that industry and your good name will allow you to charge a premium price for your must-have product.
Handling conflicting goals
Robert DiFalco compared software to people and what marketing needs to do to help the balance.
A jack of all trades is not going to be as skilled as a specialist in any one area. Sometimes you need the former, other times you need a specialist. So you have to look at many balancing factors and many of these are in the purview of marketing. Consider a traditional equation like the following:
Unit Sales = Market Share × Total Available Market × Product Life
As we all know, to increase Unit Sales you want to increase any or all three of these. Adding features is one way to increase market share. Other times there are more compelling ways to increase Market Share. The opposite of adding many features is adding fewer more directed features so that you get your product to market faster than the competition. Waiting longer to get in every feature that every customer could possibly want (without validating features for their fit in your specific Market segment) will actually reduce your Market Share. Competitors that aren't taking the Jack of All Trades approach will get to market sooner with fewer features that pack more punch (because they specialized to get as much of the Total Available Market as they could).
He agrees that goals are conflicting. Someone needs to own the strategy and to be the voice of the customer to arbitrate these conflicts. Are we more interested in product life right now or new features? Are we in a mode where we will be revamping (or even replacing) the current technology and so should we get to market ASAP with the current technology without as much attention to maintainability? Are we getting negative feedback from customers and should we slow down on features to improve reliability? Should we go with broad feature appeal or precisely deliver solutions to those customers that are in our chosen market segment(s)?
The good news is that data, direction, and purpose can help you choose between conflicting goals. For example, backwards computability may actually "not" be a good goal if you know your competitor will be coming to the market with feature "xyz" next week and that it will take you 9 mos of development to implement a backwards compatible version of feature "xyz". I think if a company has an inordinate amount of difficulty choosing between conflicting goals it could be that they have not collected enough customer/market/strategic data about the impact of each goal. Another thing I often see companies do (esp. in commercial software) is the "covering all bases" anti-pattern. They do not have a lot of confidence in any one specific direction so they attempt to service many directions at once. This lack of a clear and focused direction makes it impossible to choose between conflicting goals. If that is a problem, you may want to start discussing what your arrow really is and how to get all the wood behind it.
What kind of staff is needed?
Mike Sale provides his thoughts. The "answer" to this question is completely dependent upon the highest weighted variables and their relationships, and the capacity of the organization to deliver to affect those variables that they can, and knowledge of market conditions (e.g. your competitors, open source, etc) likely affect on those variables that you cannot affect (unless of course you have an aggressive M&A strategy factored in).
When he's interviewing product managers, he is typically looking for the style and experience that the candidate brings to the table. Are they able to communicate clearly how they would balance the current install base needs with the company needs to drive growth of the install base?
At a more strategic level, as a company, the better you can clarify what it is you are going to deliver when (i.e. the product roadmap), and then deliver on those promises, the more latitude you'll have in investing in those holes that were not or could not be foreseen (e.g. bug fixes, MS enters your market and gives the product away for free, etc).
Any characterization of the staff other then typical "ra-ra-ra" hyperbole is not going to address the range of possibilities here! More must be known about the company and its leadership, the market and, believe it or not, the technologies and architectures used to deliver the product (IF it already exists in some form). THEN you get together great marketing people, with great product management, and highly capable development operations management to develop your product strategy and roadmap.
Playing to your strengths while making money
Kevin stresses the importance of understanding the weaknesses in the market, and comparing that to the internal strengths that your company has. Often it comes down to the "Good to Great" basics - does your company have a passion for the product it is producing? Do you have the skill to produce it? And finally, will you make money doing it?
One of the toughest things in business is killing a product that you company is passionate about and has skillfully produced, but is longer profitable (or perhaps was never profitable). You may end up losing customers, but end up increasing your profits, as you turn to more lucrative markets with new products generated with those freed up resources.
Just as difficult is end a relationship (or choose not to begin a relationship) with a customer that is more costly than beneficial. There is often a lot of satisfaction that comes from meeting a difficult customer's requirements, but then there is a harsh realization that you just burned through your profit (and bonuses) making it happen.
Finally, the only constant is change. What ever your model is, it should be able to evaluate the changing market strengths and weaknesses, as well as your internal ones.