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Best Practice Makes Perfect

A collaboration with Domino developers about how to do it and how to get it right in Domino

The developers are restlessUlrich Krause asked about our decision-making process about which features get added to Notes/Domino. The details are considered confidential. I'm not sure whether this is because our managers are afraid others will steal our competitive advantage by copying our ingenious process, or they are just embarrassed.

However, I can state some generalities and obviosities.

IBM, like most successful companies, is in business to make money. You make money in software by providing features that will sell additional seats in the short term, while simultaneously trying to keep existing customers happy so that they will continue to buy upgrades. Smart companies also have long-term strategies to assist partners in providing value by giving them the tools they need to integrate and build on top of their software products.
IBM focuses on customers, and what problems customers consider important. The needs of organizations with more seats tend to have more weight on their own, though if a problem is reported by numerous smaller customers, that will also give it a lot of weight, perhaps because their opinions are considered to be representative of similar organizations we don't hear from. We can make single big sales to large companies, but there are a lot of potential seats in SMB.

It's easier to make the case for obvious improvements that sell seats immediately (such as the improved PIM UI of version 8), than it is to argue for strategic changes such as, oh, letting you write a formula to select which database an embedded view comes from (just to choose something at random that one or two people have asked for). That's because the sales person can march into the IT director's office and say, "Look at this cool new UI!" and the IT director will say, "Great! Sign me up for 10,000 seats!" Whereas if they go in and say, "Look, now you can write a formula to select which database your embedded view comes from!" the IT director, who's never created a Notes application, will say, "Um..."

I'm not saying that the UI investments are ill-advised. Far from it; I think they were a terrific idea. But for the relative effort required to implement, the long-term payback for improvements that enable partners is probably as great as that for the big features that make immediate sales. But partners need to be active in making the case for them. Going to Lotusphere and other conferences and asking for them is a good thing to do. Getting customers to ask for them is even more attention-getting for our decision makers. So if you're a consultant developing Notes applications, or a partner trying to create products labeled "Works with Lotus Notes," talk to your customers and potential customers and explain to them why they need the feature. How will it save them money? How will it let you give them features they've been asking for? And then let them call their IBM sales rep and ask for it. Have the Domino developers at the company mob the IT director's office and explain why certain features are important. Also, let Bob Balaban know what you need (and why).

Note: the most-requested features of developers always get approved, but they haven't been at the top of the list, and development of the higher priority stuff has always taken longer than expected, so they've been tending to drop off the end as the deadline approaches. If you can manage to add an extra month between November and December, without letting IBM know about it in advance, that would definitely help get some of these features in.

Andre Guirard | 20 March 2007 06:20:00 PM ET | Caribou Coffee, Minneapolis, MN, USA | Comments (16)

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