Requirements and great products

An online post asked: Can anyone identify great software that was developed with a formal requirements process?

I wonder: is the challenge about requirements or the formal requirements process?

If the former, who would start a development project without a clear idea of what the market wanted to buy? Oh wait! We do that all the time! But does the product become successful?

Requirements are merely a list of problems or features that are driven by the needs of the market. The negative vibe on requirements generally comes down to two problems: 1) poor product management and 2) a misguided view of innovation.

In the technology industry, innovation is the name assigned to 'creativity' while requirements equates to 'dull.' What's missing both from typical innovation and from formal requirements is context: What is the problem? Why does it occur? Who is having it? How do they deal with it now?

The poster-child of innovation, IDEO's method of innovation begins with a clear statement of the problem and then field observation of it. Sounds like requirements to me.

What innovation is NOT is creating cool stuff in the isolation of a development lab. Innovation is not just adding more features.

Railing against requirements is often another way of railing against poor product management. Too often, product managers are trying to document their opinions of a successful product. Students of Pragmatic Institute have learned that product managers are messengers for the market. They know that "your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant." Product managers should bring market facts to the planning session instead of their opinions. And most of all, they should put those facts into context with problems, use scenarios, and personas.

The relationship between product manager and development manager is like a partnership, a marriage. Each brings something to the relationship: the product manager brings market information; the development manager brings technical prowess. One handles the business decisions while the other handles the creative decisions. And when conflict occurs--and it will--the answer can be found in market data rather than opinion.

One more point about market facts: we're not interested in what features customers say they want as much as an articulation of problems they have. Customers will ask for more of the same while continuing to struggle with problems. Great product managers observe the problems and report them to development... in the form of requirements.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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