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"A Faster Horse" - Mentor 'IDEAS for Mechanical' driving product development

The Mentor ‘IDEAS for Mechanical’ site allows users of FloTHERM, FloVENT, FloTHERM PCB and FloEFD to post their software enhancement requests (access via their SupportNet login credentials), comment on other people’s and most importantly vote on those ideas that they believe would  be of benefit to them. The result is a prioritised list of possible software features that product management can use to help determine a short term roadmap of the products that has the best chance of ensuring continued satisfaction of the userbase. 

 As blogged about last September, my colleagues and I involved in the development of  FloTHERM, FloTHERM PCB and FloVENT are committed to using the IDEAS for Mechanical site in this way. A recent blog on that site covers some of the other enhancements we have been working on in the development of V9 as a direct result of the posts to the IDEAS site. All in all we’ve implemented 5 of the top 10 voted requests and 8 of the top 20. What better way to demonstrate our continued commitment to both our products and our users?

As a product manager I’m a representative of our users to the software development department, the internal client if you like. As a customer representative I have to actively and accurately reflect the needs and desires of the customer. It’s a job I love and one I take very seriously. It was therefore with a sense of incredulity that I reacted to the following quote attributed to Henry Ford when I first came across it:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Apparently an often quoted phrase in product management circles for obvious reasons. At first I thought it smacked of arrogance, albeit a retrospectively successful arrogance! Surely to provide anything apart from what your customers wanted was conceited and bound for commercial failure. I’ve come round to taking the quote as describing the benefit of trying to know your customers better than they know themselves (although there’s still a lingering sense of conceit somewhere in that phrase…).

In my experience users will recommend solutions to underlying problems. A good product manager will be able to bury down below the recommended solution to identify the true underlying issue. A good and honest dialog with the customer is of course critical in achieving this. Once the underlying issue is teased out, a close relationship with the software development team will enable the most effective software solution to be identified and implemented. Makes for a very enjoyable working dichotomy!

6th April 2010 Ross-on-Wye

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About Robin Bornoff Follow on Twitter

Robin BornoffRobin Bornoff achieved a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Brunel University in 1992 followed by a PhD in 1995 for CFD research. He then joined Mentor Graphics Corporation, Mechanical Analysis Division (formerly Flomerics Ltd) as an application and support engineer, specializing in the application of CFD to electronics cooling and the design of the built environment. Having been the Product Marketing Manager responsible for the FloTHERM and FloVENT softwares he is now Market Development Manager for the Physical Design of Electronics in the Mechanical Analysis Division. Visit Robin Bornoff's blog

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