Roleplaying for shortening the Product Development cycle, part 3

Hi there!

So if you’ve read the first couple of articles in this series, which you can read here for part 1 and here for part 2, you should have the start of the process down… We’re basically enhancing the standard product process by adding a little additional testing before it gets to your customers.

So with our two characters, Cathy (the homemaker and mother trying to use her blog to generate some revenue) and Bob (the professional writer who wants to use the internet and blogs to further his business).

Let’s say we have a few people in our product development team. Mary, George, and Tom. Mary and George are the writers for the book and Tom is the manager. All three can get involved in this process.

At a minimum it helps to have two people involved in the interaction. One to be the character interacting with the product, and the other as an observer, noting anything that comes up during the session. But with two or more characters, you definitely need the observer role to try and document the results of the experiment.

So George is going to be Cathy and Mary is going to be Bob. Both take a look at their characters and try to get into the mindset of that fictitious individual. They will try very hard to think how they think that character would perceive the product.

George goes first. He takes a look at the Table of Contents first, thinking that Cathy would probably want a bit of an overview. And then he goes to the Introduction, but doesn’t find much of an overview. That will need to get fixed. And as he goes through the book, chapter by chapter, he notes little things like the need for summaries at the end of a chapter, or perhaps they should add more examples, or even go so far as to write a series of tutorials to help beginners out.

Mary on the other hand, goes straight to the back of the book. Bob knows what he’s looking for and will mine the book for specific tidbits about blogging, about banner ads, social networking sites, search engines, and the like. He’s more interested in the down and dirty approach and wants lots of good examples that he can pillage and make his own going forward.

Do you see how each “player” in this session came up with different types of feedback for the book, all without actually talking to customers. Now, it may turn out that they were off base. But more often than not, if you’ve done your research and have developed characters that reflect the traits and attitudes of real customers, you will come up with some surprising results.

Once you go through this process once or twice, perhaps switching roles, and maybe even getting other people involved, you’ll feel more comfortable with the state of the product and can THEN start approaching customers to see what they think and take their feedback.

So this process is very flexible. It can be used during the development cycle at any point as a checkpoint to make sure things are progressing as planned and the product developers haven’t gone too far off track.

Let me know if you try this process and how it goes. I’d love to get some feedback to see how it works for folks.

Thanks for your time! Hopefully this series has been helpful and you have a new tool in your arsenal for product planning and development.

Until next time…

–Fitz

Roleplaying for shortening the Product Development cycle, part 2

Hi all!

As promised, here’s the second in this series of articles. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to digest the last article in this series (which you can find here), which served as an introduction to a process you might use to develop products for your markets and customers. It’s a pretty traditional approach, but one that works in a variety of industries.

This article will focus on how to use roleplaying techniques to develop personas or “characters” with which you can help test your products before they get to the customer for their review and input.

So what is a persona or “character”? Think of a movie, television show, or book you like. Each of these mediums has a set of “characters” that interact among themselves and with their environment. Each character has a few basic qualities:

  • a name
  • a description (what do they look like? where are they from? what do they wear? and so on)
  • a set of skills (what can they do? what are they good at?)
  • a set of companions/friends/coworkers (who do they hang out with? where do they spend their time? and so on)

So how does this help you? Take a common customer. Let’s say we’re writing a book about internet marketing techniques. You might ask a few questions about your target audience or customer:

  • Who is your customer?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • What do they already know?
  • Who do they know?
  • What internet sites do they visit regularly?
  • What do they spend on advertising?
  • What would they be willing to spend on your book?
  • What other products could they buy that would have a similar effect to your book?

Now most of these are common questions… But let’s take a look at what you do with the answers…

Let’s create a couple of characters from the information you might gather from the above questions:

  • Cathy
    • Cathy is a homemaker and mother with a computer just getting started on the internet with blogging
    • She wants to make some money with her blog to help with her bills and maybe give her some spending money
    • She’s not the most technically adept individual, but can follow instructions
  • Bob
    • Bob is a professional writer who is trying to move to the internet to help with marketing his products
    • He wants some ways to market his work via banner advertisements and possibly do some work for hire for other blogs/websites
    • He is willing to learn some of the technical aspects of the web, but isn’t a programmer

In the next article, we’ll take these characters and do some roleplaying with them to help work the kinks out of the book you’re developing.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time!

–Fitz

Roleplaying for shortening the Product Development cycle…

Hi all!

This is the first article in a new series about using roleplaying during the product development cycle to help get a more solid product to then take into further testing with real customers or users.

I am a long-time roleplaying game junkie, I’ll be the first to admit. I’ve been gaming more than 25 years now and have enjoyed playing a variety of games. But I’m also a technical writer and a software developer. I have seen from both sides of the desk the many benefits of putting products before actual users to get feedback and make better or stronger products or go back to the drawing board.

What I propose is that the same skills that make roleplaying so much fun for games can be used during the product development cycle to make sure when you start actual testing with your customers that you want to make sure you’re on the right track before your customers see anything. This should shorten the process at the customer end so you’re ensured a more successful outcome when development is complete.

So the basic product development process can be broken down into a series of steps:

  1. Find a niche that you think you can develop a product to help fill a need
  2. Do some research to see what other products are in this niche and get a list of the services or qualities they provide their customers
  3. Ask customers in that niche what they want the product to do
  4. Combine 2 and 3 and this becomes your list of product requirements
  5. Develop a product
  6. Take the product to your customers to “beta” test or review to make sure it meets their needs
  7. Revise the product after any feedback from the customer
  8. Release the product
  9. Maintain the product and start looking at new features for the next release

Pretty straightforward, don’t you think? Very market-driven, with the goal being a product that you can develop and market to a variety of customers to solve their needs so your product and therefore your company or yourself succeeds and lives to develop more products and gain more success…

Easy enough, right? Probably not. I’ve been involved in a few projects where we’ve developed products based on requirements and when we finally got it to the customer, we looped through steps 5, 6, and 7 several times to come up with a product useful to the user that they would accept and therefore pay for.

So where does roleplaying come in, you might ask? Well… I believe it fits in between steps 5 and 6 to help hopefully shorten the number of times you have to repeat steps 6 and 7 to get a useful product for your customer.

That will be the next article in this series… How to develop personas or “characters” based on your understanding of your customers and customer needs and how to approach your product accordingly.

Thanks for your time and I hope you come back to read the next article!

–Fitz

Project Management — A Beautiful Summary

Hi all!

Have you seen this lovely image that summarizes 99% of my experience with how projects get managed?

This in a series of 10 panels explains how NOT to manage a project better than anything I have ever read. The trick is not to go overboard, yet to do what’s necessary… And all too often you get what you see below… Amazing.

Check out the www.linuxkungfu.org site for more fun stuff.

–Fitz
Project Management