The product roadmap that is communicated throughout the organization is actually the result of considerable research that includes:
- Customer feedback
- Internal factors
- External factors (using the STEP model – Social, Technological, Economic, and Political trends are all analyzed)
- Competitive analysis
- Sales analysis (win-loss)
- Product analysis (a subjective and objective checkpoint of the product in its current state)
It is the last item, Product Analysis, where mining your technical support database can lead to some enlightening and useful information to drive the future direction of the product. In the past, I have mined this empirical data as a measurable means to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the product. This comes in three forms:
- Customer-requested features by function
- Customer-reported bugs by function
- Support incidents by function
For each of these three components, I have found it most useful to have this data grouped by functional category. This provides a measure of what areas of the product customers find lacking (feature requests ) or problematic (bugs and support incidents). For one analysis that I did, the same two functional areas of the product bubbled right to the top for having the most feature requests, reported bugs and overall support incidents. Recommendations from a Product Manager are best when the are backed by data – what better “ammo” to have to convince anyone of where the focus needs to be.
Pulling and massaging this data is dependent on the solution that technical support uses, however, it is most likely to be there in some shape or form for the taking. Once you have created a process for assembling the information subsequent updates on a quarterly or annual basis becomes easier and allows for comparison from past analysis – for example do support incidents or bugs routinely come from the same functional component of the product. If so, then a problem still exists and warrants an action plan.
This has an added benefit of building bridges and good relationships with the technical support organization so they feel empowered and part of the team. In other words, as the Product Manager you will be exhibiting a sound cross-functional leadership role.