Social Product Development

Friday, February 26, 2010

Breaking Down Gartner’s Social Software Predictions

In early February 2010, Gartner released its Five Social Software Predictions for 2010 and Beyond. You can read the entire press release via the link above. Below, I offer up my viewpoints and analysis on those.

Prediction 1: By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.

Parsing this a bit, one understands that they aren’t claiming that e-mail will die, but just that it will no longer be the ‘primary’ tool for interpersonal communications. Add to that the caveat of one in five businesses will go this way. On the one hand, I see this coming true because this is a nimble move, and more small businesses are more apt to make this (or be able to make this). In addition, as more Gen Y-ers and Gen Z-ers enter the workforce, communication through social networks will be more the rule, rather than the exception. Case in point: In late 2008, Boston College ceased issuing e-mail addresses to incoming freshman – they found that they had digital identities elsewhere. The businesses I see least likely to adopt this are ones with much tighter security risks, and fear that a social network-managed e-mail solution may be more risky than one controlled on site. In any event, Project Titan from our blue-and-white-logo’ed friends in Palo Alto is poised to be one of the largest e-mail domains on the face of the earth. If Gen Y-ers and Gen Z-ers are going to be spending their time inside social networks, splitting time between working and networking, it makes sense to reach them there.

By purposely mixing business with social networking services, organizations have the ability to push the envelope and spur knowledge workers to seek answers from their network. Imagine a Gen Y-er catching up on her friend’s weekend by clicking through some pictures, and then next asking her personal, curated network of friends (many from engineering school) about solving a computational fluid dynamics problem.

Prediction 2: By 2012, over 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging, but stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.

I think microblogging has great applicability inside the enterprise, and Yammer is a great example. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. However, I also agree that inside the workplace, adoption rates of microblogging are slower than outside the workplace. The challenge to convey is that, combined with other communication platforms, microblogging has the ability to let people collaborate and create together in real-time or asynchronously whether it’s a legal document or engineering calculations on a product design. Just as people in the early 90s communicated by means other than interoffice memos (hello, e-mail), knowledge workers today are communicating through e-mail, pictures, video, IM, and real-time, bite-sized edits of what they just did, learned, destroyed, created, or augmented. And those bit-sized shares are enabled by microblogging. Providing more tools to collaborate and work together will lead to better and faster designs and decisions, product-related or otherwise.

Prediction 3: Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail.

The first word of social media is ‘social’. This isn’t to say that IT departments and workers are not social, but it should be an indicator that these kinds of initiatives shouldn’t be technology-driven, they should be people- (and objective/strategy-) driven. Forrester agrees. Instead, these initiatives should be cross-functionally led, with various stakeholders offering input. Just as we here at PTC espouse social product development, these initiatives in question, too, can be socially-collaborated efforts. The better organization to lead these efforts is the organization that is most in touch with the customer base as well as with what the organization is doing. Often times, that’s marketing, but it could be customer care or customer service, too. The take-away is that technology plays a huge role in this as an enabler of scale, but it shouldn’t be the driver of these kinds of initiatives.

Prediction 4: Within five years, 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications.

I for one hope this does not come true. Making applications usable on smart phones is a challenge, since the entire ergonomic interaction, resolution, and media consumption rate is different than sitting at a PC. So, the challenge is in the hands of the mobile application industry’s product managers, developers, and customers to make this a great user experience. I support the push of a lite- or moderately-featured desktop application to the smart phone. But when my desktop experience begins to rival that of my smart phone experience, I think we’re collectively in a world of trouble. We’d be tacitly accepting degradation in service, usability, consumption, and resolution.

I think that the desktop application development ecosystem can take a page from the smart phone development and focus on ease of use and usability, but not limit the amount of work one can accomplish. Collaborating could mean something as simple as having a video chat, or a three-way call, or maybe even something as complex as asynchronous group editing. But I see collaboration as more like simultaneous editing, dragging and dropping, content creation, synch-ing changes, etc. – this is how it is played out in the product-development world. I suspect that this will be difficult to do, even with multi-touch devices. That, and the fragmentation of mobile phone OSs (arguably more so than the desktop market) makes the necessity of a Java-like platform for mobile smart phones all that much greater. And I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.

Prediction 5: Through 2015, only 25 percent of enterprises will routinely utilize social network analysis to improve performance and productivity.

If you are unfamiliar with what social network analysis (it’s not an analysis of how many of your Facebook friends are also on Twitter), go here. I concur with this prediction. I think social network analysis is a diamond in the rough, in terms of business-tool applicability. Knowledge that’s recorded can be put into data silos, and smart tools can link them together, effectively breaking down the silos. People store knowledge in their brains, and the holy grail of social product development (inside a product-development organization) is to identify people, knowledge, skills, wisdom, and interests, and create a master ‘have/want’ list. Being able to pair up these people or groups, based on skill set, tenure, age, demographic, specialty, time spent on a project, etc. will shorten the time to find experts in an organization, and permit better collaboration on projects. Even better will be looking at how projects get completed over time after implementing such a method – the trend of the trend, so to speak.

Where do you fall with these predictions? With Gartner? Me? Both? Let us know in the comments.

image source: Nostradamus, on

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Ideas are Overrated

“Hurry up and innovate!” What if that was your task for the day? How do you force your mind to come up with a huge new idea? And when it does, is the result something that can be acted on?

My perspective is that when it comes to brainstorming, real breakthroughs come from order and a stream of incremental successes. Having a structured way to allow unstructured thinking may seem counterintuitive, but I believe that it helps focus the mind by breaking down a problem into manageable units which can be worked on simultaneously by a team. In this way, an individual would be forced to expend more thought and energy exploring a specific dimension on the problem – one that otherwise might have evaded attention. Then, by aggregating smaller, disparate ideas, a bigger and more meaningful solution may arise. John Baldoni discussed this concept in the Harvard Business Review blog with his post “How to Encourage Small Innovation.”

To see how this might play out in a generic sceanrio, take for example the marketing task of naming a new product. One tactic would be to get a group of people in a room with a clean whiteboard and jot down as many names as possible. This is a traditional brainstorming approach which often times works just fine. However, another approach would be to frame the “innovation target,” in this case a product name, along certain dimensions, such as product attributes. In this way, you could have one person focus on names that encompass one of the product’s key functional differentiators, say, fuel-efficiency. Another could think of names tied to the product’s cost advantage. Each person would see the in-process ideas being generated by everyone else. This would potentially spawn new variants by taking a tangent on someone else’s thought. Plus, people could fuse ideas that span multiple attributes. Thus, a structured methodology would help to elicit freeform thinking, foster continual, incremental progress, and enable idea synthesis to ultimately arrive at a better answer.

Can the same freeform collaboration benefits ring true in the more technical realm of product development? Drew Gude, Microsoft’s Director of Hi-Tech Industry Solutions talked about this in his recent article “Unstructured Collaboration is Key to Increased Innovation and Business Agility in 2010.” Yet, Drew contends that PLM systems lack the requisite flexibility to support this time of interaction. I offer a different angle. Think about the underlying PLM platform acting as the secure foundation that handles the necessary product development chores of version/access control, change management, component management, and the like. This would afford teams a degree of rigor and methodology that a company requires when dealing with its lifeblood: product data. Now, weave into the tried-and-true PLM system, a layer of technology designed to enable freeform thinking and knowledge sharing. And here, I don’t necessarily mean seismic new product ideas that will yield millions in sales. These “breakthroughs” could be as small and seemingly innocuous, gained from a real-time visual whiteboard session between a designer and a manufacturing engineer aimed at discovering a better way to design a plastic molded part. Maybe the win isn’t a new product line, but a reduction in the mold complexity which leads to a shorter manufacturing lead time and lower associated tooling cost. By supporting both the “organic thinking” associated with freeform exploration -- delivered as needed, where it’s needed -- along with the careful configuration management required for released product data, a social PLM system could help make these mini-vations commonplace. And maybe, when you string together a few of them, the cumulative results become quite significant and better things start to happen.

So, perhaps a structured environment like PLM might just be the best thing for the unstructured mind. What do you say?

Photo source: Ross Mayfield's photo stream on flickr

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Preventing Sprained Ankles in your Knowledge Workers

Hi all, my name is Greg Marin. Since this is my first contribution to the blog, I am going to provide you a bit of context about my history and perspective, so the stage is set for future discussions. I am a long time user of social computing tools but I have always used them from behind the “wall” (inside the enterprise). I guess this makes me backwards from most that have migrated from the land of Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other thousand social tools on the web these days. I started using what I consider the core of Enterprise 2.0 in 2003 when PTC’s Services organization was growing by leaps and bounds and we needed a way to keep lots of new consultants from spraining their ankles. Our goal was to ensure that each consultant had the knowledge of the entire Professional Services Organization at their disposal to create customer value.

That’s how I got my view of social computing and why I get frustrated when I hear Enterprise 2.0 described as “Facebook in the enterprise”. People- to -people interaction is a big part of social computing but it is only one element of the way Enterprise 2.0 will change the way people work. Web 2.0 tools enable individuals to work with other experts, store knowledge, and capture tacit knowledge. Take Web 2.0 and leverage it inside a corporation and you have Enterprise 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 is more robust than just a new communication vehicle. Enterprise 2.0 harnesses the power of professionals by generating an optimized collaboration space for the development of new ideas, solution to problems, or just awareness of specific topics aligned to a professional interest or, in some cases, a professional passion.

These forums are what we call Communities of Practice. To the individual, they are a place that one can go to discuss topics with a group of peers with common skills, interests, customer focus, industry alignment, or any other thread that provides a context to the way they look at issues. The communities have a unique set of resources from which they leverage to develop ideas, they have unique terminology and acronyms, and they have a measurement of value on content that often is only relevant within their specific community. To the Enterprise, the collective knowledge generated by a community is much more powerful than that of any one individual (1+1=3). Communities enable an organization to leverage the best of all resources across the typical project or department boundaries, i.e. each individual has the access to the knowledge of the entire team of professionals.

In a product development team, this ability to apply context to product information is critical. Without the focus provided by community -based discussions, individuals “tune out” content based on who they know rather than what is being discussed. Social Product Development provides the ability for individuals to find people and resources that they did not know existed. It also provides the ability to leverage Web 2.0 tools that are integrated with the tools they use every day.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to write about how product development teams can leverage Social Product Development to solve problems, discover new information, collaboratively create content, and leverage the experience of a broad community of experts. What do you think? Do I “have it right”? How does your organization leverage the power of professional interest groups across team and department boundaries?

image source: Running Man(Ram on

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Engineers Rock!

I have been thinking long and hard about combining social computing with product development tools, and I am extremely excited about the possibilities. There is great applicability. However, when I tell people what I am working on I often get the response “Are you crazy? Engineers are not social… They’re nerds who don’t want to interact with people”. If you are an engineer reading this, you are probably thinking this is pretty insulting, right? I know I was insulted when I heard it. I am an engineer, and I certainly don’t think of myself as a social misfit. In discussion with friends, colleagues, and peers, I have learned some interesting things that fly in the face of this misguided remark – like the software engineer I know who played in a Guitar Hero competition in front of 800 people, or the seasoned software development manager I work with who has over 600 friends on Facebook and is a preacher, or the young engineer graduating from university I met who regularly post videos on YouTube with views in the hundreds of thousands. My point here is that stereotypes don’t work, especially, in the socially connected Web 2.0 world we live in today. You may think the quiet engineer sitting across the conference room table from you is shy and clumsy, but in the virtual world he is a chest pumping, hear-me-roar extrovert.

It is clear to me engineers are already active on the social web
, and it is with this insight that I can confidently say engineering departments around the globe have a strong need for product development tools that are social in nature – tools that will let them ask others questions, share information, network with colleagues, collaborate on problems, and be active in communities – all of which will help them build the products of tomorrow. I am excited about dreaming up and building these new technologies to satisfy this desire. If you are an engineer who has ideas of your own for using Web 2.0 to do your job better, let me know about it! I am serious, send me an email or comment on this blog. We are listening.

…in the meantime, here’s a
funny video of an engineer who literally rocks (or should I say raps?)

(Images courtesy of Ricardo Dematos)

Friday, February 5, 2010

1 + 1 = 3

Greetings! If we haven’t met, my name is Alan Belniak, and I’m PTC’s first Director of Social Media Marketing. My first few orders of business include better connecting the PTC company, brand, and its products to our customers, using some of the newer social technologies (and good ol’ fashioned face-to-face technologies, too – look for me at the PTC/USER events!). I’m excited to be in the role, and have been busy behind the scenes getting some things in order so we can best leverage these connections. I’ll be guest blogging here from time to time, so if you like what you read (or, even if you don’t), drop me a note in the comments.

Introductions aside, I’ve been thinking lately about the word ‘social’ in social media. One of the things that drew me to the social media space was the notion that we can all connect and (typically) arrive at a better solution collectively than any one of us individually; akin to the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Crowd-sourced content – intentional or otherwise – lends new insights into a problem or an issue. Whether or not the feedback is solicited, it’s often useful.

How does one go about finding that feedback, though? With the Internet expanding every day, it’s a challenge to find the best channels for listening. Finding those few nuggets, at times, can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. I’ve presented some thoughts on the matter – on how to go about listening in multiple social channels. There are many free tools, and even some for-pay tools that will help separate the signal from the noise, based on some refined keyword searches. PTC currently uses and will continue to use a combination of these technologies to listen to the conversations happening on the Internet, in conjunction with our user events, technical committee meetings, and regional user group meetings.

I’d like to crowd-source my question with you, fellow readers and product-developers. What sites, channels, forums, and groups do you visit when researching product development-related questions? Where are you spending time to research, learn a tip or trick, help someone out, or conduct a poll to aid your work? What sites have provided you with enough value that keeps you going back? I’m sure some of these sites have surfaced in PTC’s listening, but I know there’s more (there always is!). So, let me know in the comments – share with me a link or a site where you socialize with others on work-related topics.


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image source: Needle In a haystack / 335350003 (Ram on Flickr:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do People Really Want to Sleep Inside Dead Animals?

Ok, so I’m a little behind. I’m a lot like my dad this way; stockpiling reading material until I have a chance to get to it. I was reading the November 25, 2009 NYTimes Magazine recently and came across this great article entitled “Sleeping Gag” by Rob Walker. Rob talks about, an online retailer that, on April Fools’ Day, devotes its home page to products that don’t exist. They’ve conceived of some pretty funny products over the years, some of which have turned into real products due to their wide spread interest. But this article talks about the Tauntaun sleeping bag. Tauntaun, you ask? Well then, you must not be one of the many thousands of Star Wars fans who wouldn’t mind curling up in the body of a dead lizard-like animal.

Turns out that ThinkGeek introduced this sleeping bag on their April Fools’ home page only after they had tried to make it a real product. ThinkGeek’s attempts to reach Lucas Films had gone unanswered, so they decided to use their concepts as an April Fools’ product. Not only did tens of thousands of people try to buy it, but Lucas Films suddenly started paying attention and wanted to help ThinkGeek turn their Tauntaun sleeping bag into reality. Through their little joke, ThinkGeek learned that their original target audience (i.e. kids) was off-base. It’s the parents who grew up with Star Wars who are the real consumers of the Tauntaun sleeping bag.

ThinkGeek used social media to validate their idea and collect input from their customers, all towards a goal of delivering a marketable product. When I read this article, aside from getting a good laugh, it made me think of social product development and how capabilities to collect feedback from customers and prospects is a perfect use case for using social computing as part of early stage product development. This example is a little less sophisticated than the process of creating a new hand-held device or automobile, but there are parallels to be found, none-the-less. Companies looking to engage their customers on a specific idea or solution to a problem could hold a virtual event, broadly or with a targeted set of customers, where they could share interactive visual concepts, collect comments and new visual concepts, discuss the concepts, make adjustments, and hone their ideas.

ThinkGeek didn’t go down a traditional path for soliciting feedback from its customers – after all, it was serendipitous that the feedback about the target audience came to their attention. The fact remains, though, that they responded to the wisdom of the crowds – they embraced social media to make a more sound product decision. Has your company used some interesting ways to solicit feedback from customers other than a traditional survey or focus group? What types of products lend themselves to crowd sourcing ideas with social media or does it apply to all products? Let us know in the comments.