Leverage Social Media for Requirements Gathering: An Interview with Stefano Rizzo

[interview]
Summary:

Stefano Rizzo introduces the idea of using social media to encourage customers to get involved in the requirements gathering process. Learn how by introducing something that your customers are already contributing towards, you can capture the mood behind their true wants and needs.

Noel: Hello. This is Noel Wurst with TechWell and I am speaking today with Stefano Rizzo who is going to be speaking at the Agile Development/Better Software Conference East on Wednesday, November 13th giving a presentation called “Requirements Elicitation the Social Media Way.” How are you doing this morning, Stefano? 

Stefano: Good morning. Thank you for calling. 

Noel: Sure. I was really interested in speaking with you. Social media is obviously, one of the concepts that's easy for a lot of people to grasp but, at the same time, a lot of people don't really see, not so much the value in it but they don't see how widely you can apply social media across a broad spectrum of things to get enhanced results from before we had social media. I was curious as to how it works with requirements and how you got started connecting those two and what benefits you’ve gotten. 

Stefano: Most of our customers involve many different stakeholders with our technology. We speak normally with big enterprises and these big enterprises, some of them, have an office or a role function for tools and methods. There is somebody which is our counterpart. Users inside these companies make up a lot of different type of users. They normally send their requests or they demand their requirements to this office which acts as a filter. We get only major requests. We don't catch daily problems in using our technology. We don't catch the mood of people using our technology. We cannot catch those minor things that normally have usability improvements for our technology. 

So we decided to use the social way to engage more users. To do that, we started hosting user groups and we were encouraging our customers to come to visit user meetings, user conferences, meet each other, and then create user forums and communities who are using different kinds of social medias especially, let's say, CommuniDesk. We encourage all the participants and involve more colleagues. We're just giving them some giveaways like t-shirts or whatever. [We were successful into that and we are pretty happy. We are harvesting a lot of requirements. We are, today, using these results, this feedback. This are mostly unsolicited feedback in improving our technology.  

Noel: That's really cool. I never really thought about it as far as being able to capture the mood. A lot of times, you just think about wanting to be able to put together some list that's going to have all the requirements or all the major ones. At the same time, the difference between looking at just a list of requirements that, like you said, that filter, that office is put together in just a Word document versus the input you get from a community. There's just a world of difference between those two. 

Stefano: That's right. It would be perfect to sit together with any user you have, but this is really impossible. We have thousand of customer companies with million users. You can't definitely sit together with each one.  

Noel: That's really cool. One of the other things that I read in the abstract for your session that I thought was interesting was, and with what you were just saying it already makes sense as I'm asking the question, but with what you said that a company can gain a better reputation by listing requirements this way, I was curious if you could go into what kind of reputation gain you can get from this.

Stefano: Being in the social media, using the social media is a continuous investment. You need to nurture daily, provide content daily. Sometimes, even more frequently in social media. You need to give value to the people that share a community with you or in a circle or whatever. If you do that in the right way, if you provide some real value with answers or with comments or news or just cool stuff, your company will have a better reputation. In the past, the only ability for a technology provider to gather some reputation from customers was for the technology. It was just for the product. 

If you are making a product, send the product to the customer. The customer was basing their concept, their reputation of us as a company on the technology we're providing to that. That's not sufficient any longer. Let's say, our people are not just building the product and, the product, talking with the customer. Our people are talking with the customer directly. You need to invest internally, in training your people, in how to manage a social community, encourage them in providing content and, sometimes, just simply give them time to be in the community. Of course, this will give you a good reputation. On the other hand, it will be pretty easy to have a better reputation.

Social engagement is reputation at the end of the day. It’s up to you to have a group reputation. 

Noel: It gives a little almost like a stepping stone for the customer because, this whole social media thing is something that they are probably familiar with since ... I say all, but it feels like everyone is using some form of social media. By giving them something like a community and a message board or some sort of thing that they’re already using in their lives. To be able to use that for this purpose, that helps ... helps just get the job done because you're not introducing something completely foreign to them. You're giving them something much pretty familiar like they're already using for their personal lives. 

Stefano: What I honestly think is that being in social media is like meeting friends at the pub at the end of the day. You're talking in front of a glass of beer instead of in a a formal engagement with your customer. You're not sitting in a meeting. You're not in a meeting room with a fixed agenda saying we will discuss this and that. You're engaging with them in a discussion that sometimes takes its own flow. People are much more comfortable and that's very important for requirements from the aspect of a agile development, requirements development, requirement solicitation, harvesting to give the people the ability to tell you exactly what they think. 

They will not give you ... maybe in this environment, you will not harvest input for your innovation but you will get a lot of ideas. You will get a lot of feeling and feedback especially on the direction you are taking. Of course, if your technology is horribly bad then they will tell you. In any manner, they don’t need social media. If it's perfect, maybe the same but then you are mostly somewhere in the middle of the bad and the best. And so, understanding what you can prove daily that’s the right place to do that. 

Noel: Right. Since social media has always expanded and always grown. I can't imagine it, at one point, where we'll hit the limits of social media and what it can do and how it can be used. I was curious as to how, maybe, you're already seeing a change or how you're already seeing it expand into other areas of outside of requirements gathering, to other areas either in agile development or in just software development as a whole. I was curious if you had any ideas as to what we may see soon in the future or what could even be further down the road. 

Stefano: Social media is a kind of tool. It's something which is not, today, is not used today in software development. We are just starting. We are only in the early stage. The adoption will surely expand in the future. At least, as I said, to be able to communicate with more stakeholders and more frequently. Hopefully, those companies using social media in development and in requirement solicitation will be able to harvest more granular desires, more granular information. What would be critical though would be the ability to analyze the social data. 

All the feedback that you will gather on the social media, the fact that you will involve more stakeholders, you will have a lot of information. To analyze this data, I'm talking about big data analysis in this case, will definitely help companies in finding their products and marketing strategies. Just having this information is not enough. You need to understand that you need to dig into data and to analyze it. What I'm pretty sure that on one side of the marketing strategy and the product strategy will have benefits out of social media but innovation will not come out from this data. Innovation will still come from innovative minds, from a genius. Okay?

Noel: Right. That's great. This sounds like a really fascinating session and, again, this is going to be on Wednesday, November 13th. It's titled  “Requirement Solicitation in the Social Media Way.” That is going to be at Better Software Agile Development Conference East in Boston, Massachusetts. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. 

Stefano: Thank you very much, Noel, for calling. 

In a career spanning some twenty years, Stefano Rizzo has been a methodology consultant, a pre-sales engineer, an IT researcher, a university professor, VP of R&D for a large consortium, Regional Sales Director for a software company, and CEO of two software development organizations. With his broad experience in the Application Lifecycle Management arena, he has been leading Product Management for Polarion Software’s product lines from its first release in 2005 until 2010. In his current SVP Strategy & Business Development role, in addition to defining corporate vision, he leads several research projects in the ALM and PLM fields.

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