Transparency in Product Priorities


Product managers are always looking for better ways to get feedback from customers on which new features are most important. A few companies have embraced the “Web 2.0” model and are putting their feature candidate lists out there for everyone to see and comment on.

Dell has Dell IdeaStorm where anyone can register and submit their ideas and vote other ideas up or down.

Salesforce has, not surprisingly, creates a SaaS service which they sell to other companies but which they also use themselves. IdeaExchange is viewable by everyone, but only registered Salesforce users can comment or vote on ideas.

Sun has always made their bug (and FR) database for Java publicly available, which was certainly great back in my days as a Java developer.

It’s an interesting idea to implement this for the product I’m currently working on, but is it always appropriate? Just like with roadmaps, it’s not a good idea for small companies to put too much data out in public as it gives too much away to competitors. For companies like Salesforce.com, Sun and Dell, there’s not much here that’s really a secret; it wouldn’t take a competitor very long to figure out the gaps in specific functional areas of Salesforce. But consider your own product – would giving away these details to competitors be a bigger drawback then the greater level of customer engagement you’d get in return? 

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3 responses to “Transparency in Product Priorities

  1. IdeaStorm and these other sites are great ideas, but IMO ripe for misuse. For one, they probably represent only a segment (the nerdy, online, vocal segment) of the customers that Dell wants to reach. If they view it as supplemental internally that’s great, but it can’t be a substitute for “feet on the street” when it comes to a PM. This is where the PM art and the PM science collide. Even with the matrix that Pragmatic offers, I still don’t feel like there is a totally programmatic method for customer input (yet). You’ve got to balance input from multiple sources intelligently, and be able to fend off those (execs) who would use a tool like IdeaStorm for validation of an internally conceived idea.

    I haven’t looked at IdeaStorm for a few months, but last time I did there were a TON of people asking for various Linux distributions. That’s great…if Dell wants to sell to the 5% of the World who actually knows what Linux is. Would Dell get the info they needed to tap into the market for a “PC for Children” or a “Seniors focused” PC on their site? Doubtful. But I’ve got to give Dell credit, for a company known for operational execution, and not necessarily innovation, this is a step in the right direction.

    Here’s a post I made on this topic a while back: http://www.productbeautiful.com/2007/02/26/dell-outsourcing-product-management-to-its-customers/

  2. You’re absolutely right on, Paul. All of these suffer from self-selection of the participants, IdeaStorm more so than the others. I think the primary objective is communication, not hard data. But it is an interesting source of data to add into the mix.

  3. We are currently making this available to our customers. BUT, since we sell enterprise socftware, we have the ability to put it in a client-only section on our website. So, the average competitor cannot get in unless a customer gives away their passcodes (which actually poses even bigger problems).