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I am the development project manager for a web-based software product. I have been asked the following question from my superiors:

Our product is facing increased competition from other solutions on the market Can you describe a strategy to ensure that the product remains a competitive product?

Without going into detail about the intricacies of the product and the competitors that we face, what should be my line of attack for answering this question?

(Let me know if you need more details via the comments)

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First, I'd break away from the word ensure. I am sure they did not mean this literally but, just in case, it should be clear you cannot guarantee anything.

Your R&D and Marketing are the two business capabilities in which you need to invest to keep your product relevant, fresh, and in demand. R&D to keep track of cutting edge solutions as well as to develop its own; marketing to watch for external threats, engage customers for wants and needs, and provide intel to R&D and other areas of the business.

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Have you tried doing a simple QFD analysis using House of Quality? You should use it not for the six sigma implementation but only to have all this information in one place so you can actually "visualize" where do you lose out and where does your competition win and what could help improve the chances. I strongly suggest you at least try doing that. You can get the templates from http://www.qfdonline.com/templates/ Once you know what it is that you offer and where does your competition outshine you, you should be in a better position to take a strategic decision!

It can be immensely helpful: You have your current business goals (and customer delight aspects) on one dimension and the feature(s) or feature-sets on the other. Along with columns for competitive benchmarking (relative, no need for absolute). You can actually see a large scale comparison on many dimensions and have a better grasp of what all will the strategic plan entail. And as @David pointed out R&D and Marketing are you best bets to affirm your plans and engage the customers for wants/needs (the latter being the MOST important, IMO).

Hope this helps!

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  • You can also take a look at the SWOT analysis, it can be used for simple strategic planning. – Vadim Feldman Jul 10 '11 at 0:46
  • I also recommend this tutorial on QFD. A decent QF takes time, but it's worth it for answering the question the OP is being asked. – Peter K. Jul 17 '11 at 23:58
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One area to consider is the design of your product. You may wish to use a technical architect to advise on how to make the product as open to future development as possible, both in terms of the code being developed and the design of any underpinning data structures.

You should also maintain market awareness of what your competitor products are doing, if you can, and prioritising your developments accordingly. Keep flexible: if a new idea brings more value than something that you are working on, then consider putting current developments on hold to let you progress the new bits (but beware of chasing every new idea and never implementing anything!)

Although you are the project manager, you should not be expected to be the only person managing the flow of ideas. You will presumably have access to the rest of the company, and your sales and marketing people will be key stakeholder groups. Use them to help you to keep aware of what is important and what will give them a cutting edge. Get them into your project as formal members of the team!

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