Crowdsourcing (a/k/a Web 2.0 way of gathering requirements)

  1. Microsoft Excel was intended to be a number-crunching application. However, thousands of us use that as a database – despite its 65,000 row limitation
  2. Facebook started off as a platform for youngsters to network. Today it drives advertisers and hundreds of application developers who build widgets for people to use with their Facebook profiles.
  3. Large-display calculators were made so bean-counters could avoid (or at least delay) those thick glasses. Anyone who has experienced price haggling in the streets of Bangkok know how numbers are punched in succession in those devices to determine price equilibrium
  4. I know many who, using their Blackberries, forward office e-mails with large attachments to their G-mail accounts and delete the mail from the handheld (anyone knows why corporations cringe on e-mail space when storage sells at 20 cents a gig?). G-mail gets used as storage.

There are many more examples (John Catone writes about them here). The point is that products (and sometimes services) evolve in a manner the creator never thought they would. That is not necessarily bad – in fact it is good. it is good because now instead of a handful product managers and product marketers there are thousands of minds figuring things out. This does not absolve Product Managers of their responsibilities though – it adds another dimension, another “channel” they must monitor to know the pulse of users.

How does a product manager open up this “channel”? The easiest way is to create a product blog, integrate it with the product (if it is web-based) and understand what the crowd is saying. It is important – vital – to communicate back with the user community by publishing (and later implementing) concrete examples of active listening. Alternatively, boldly go where no product manager has gone before. Declare that the next quarter will be devoted to only developing features requested by users and go explicitly ahead to collect those requirements (Gmail does it like this). Deployed, licensed software product managers have it easy because the client invariably signs up for post implementation support. Product Managers of such products should make the guy who sits up late solving issues his best friend. He’s your living, breathing product road-map!

Post Script
For “Product Managers” in charge of making those never ending serials on Indian television. Please create a website where viewers can decide the course of the story. Perhaps a lot of them will ask you to end it. Listen to them.

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