Let’s Negotiate Away Some Meaning?

“Good to see you again. I’m glad you’ve got time today to talk about the XYZ app. You’ve been briefed, right?”

Hopefully, your briefer, your manager, told you that meaning always gets lost in the requirements elicitation process. Hopefully, you know what meaning you can give away, because the compensations are easy enough. He probably didn’t tell you that your job was created by the MNO application, the app that the XYZ app will replace. He probably didn’t know that. Nobody told him that he’d need more staff once the MNO app was installed. Nobody had figured that out yet. He probably knows nothing of meaning either. It’s work. We do it. It’s not ritual. It’s not meaningful in the big picture. And, his team of functional specialists are just like everyone else, not a culture, and of course, silo denial. So why is it that at the company party, you hang with your team? Can you talk your job with anyone else?

Let’s face it, you’re doomed. Everybody loses during elicitation, or should we call that negotiations. Even the winner loses. Give a little, get a little. Play to play again. Game theory sure. Minimax is a conservative approach that ensures that you don’t go out of business, don’t win big, don’t lose big, don’t become a hero. Of course the assumptions under the theory are just plain weird. You are just like your opponent. But, this is a corporate IT app elicitation, who is your opponent? Well, every other functional staffer that will be elicited, every generalist that establishes the context, your bosses budget, even the elicitor. Anything but a two person game.

Game theory aside, it’s your personality that drives your negotiation outcomes. Your disposition self selected your career. Your career presented you with opportunities to learn and practice your negotiation skills. If it didn’t, you don’t have them. If you do it every day, well, you should be skilled. Researchers found, and HR trainers preach, that

  • Your executives and sales reps win their negotiations 55% of the time
  • Your functional unit managers win 35% of the time
  • Your functional unit leads win 8% of that time–hey, this is you!
  • Your data geek functional unit heads down get stuff done people win 2% of the time
Negotiating Away Meaning, Wins and Loses

Negotiating Away Meaning, Wins and Loses

This figure shows the wins for each participant. Only one user is shown here. The user has very little power in all of this.

It’s not so bad. At least you know what you’re up against for the moment. The situation will change soon enough. Right now you can say, “Hey, this is an internal development effort.” Yes, things are different for software vendors. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

If it was just you and one of your opponents in the resource allocation game, disregarding functional cultures, you’d keep only 25% of your meaning cleanly in tact, you’d keep another 50% somewhat polluted by other people’s meanings, and you’d lose 25%–just vanished. These numbers come from one of Kimble’s data warehouse books–real time I think.

Negotiating Away Meaning

Negotiating Away Meaning

This figure illustrates the 25%, 50%,25% results for two-party negotiations. The 50% really breaks down into a 25%-25% split with the winner gaining the advantage in regards to meaning retention.

But, we can’t disregard functional cultures if we want to avoid hidden costs, compensations, and loss of that theoretical economic rationality. Sure we can do it better, faster, cheaper if all we look at are the explicit costs in the firm’s books. I’ve mentioned the implicit costs in other posts. The true costs are off the books. Consider for a moment that the point of most applications is better decision making–better, less meaningful decisions. Yes, we trade off meaning. Consultants actually sell this with their silo busting and integration applications. Other consultants push the data quality concept. The Data Quality people may save us from ourselves one day. They know data quality is low. IT is looking at the problem at last. Technical solutions exist.

You’ve negotiated away meaning, so lets go back to the first figure and focus on use and value.

Negotiating Away Meaning, the User

Negotiating Away Meaning, the User

Yeah, that’s the user. Where did everyone else go? Hey, it’s the user that gets into flow with their application while the rest of the world disappears. That economic buyer is busy, off on their next buy. The user is driving.

Negotiating Away Meaning, Use and Value

Negotiating Away Meaning, Use and Value

But, the user is just the valet parking guy who brings you your car, before it’s driven off the lot and beyond out into the value provisioning of the firm and out into the world of process choreography and orchestration. So the value, where is it? Value is well beyond the interface, well beyond the user.

Product managers know that features do not equal value. Sales reps know that you have to turn features into benefits. They use the FAB framework for that. But, FAB statements are lexical playgrounds. Technical writers and trainers write about tasks and scenarios. These things are closer to value than features. But, those are just helping professions, like nursing. The doctors matter more, of course. Ask any developer. Derivative works. Denotational content. Do you read the manual?

The depth of an application’s value shows up in the depth of the fulfillment chains that move prospects into the sales funnel. Where is the attraction marketing? On the interface? You’re kidding right? No, it’s way out there on the Hype Cycle, the channels, the mentions. But, fast following, doing what everyone else is doing, commoditizers don’t have to get that far out in front. Do they? They can always cut their price, go out of business, whatever!

Technologies now exist that enable us to get meaningful applications built without trade offs. Now that we can do it, we just have to push the adoption of the technology and its underlying architectures. The market is already organized in just such an architecture.

Software vendors have to deal with the economic buyer vs. user split. Well, they don’t have to. They don’t have to capture their increasing return that they get from retained “customers” via customer loyalty. I’ve seen companies fail to do this in their marketing. I’ve seen companies that preached loyalty and drove the entire offer building functions to generate loyalty fail to do this in their sales organizations. Hunters, those sales reps working new customer acquisition, actually threw away retained customers. Ouch! But, in a B2B situation the relationship isn’t with the “customer,” it’s with the economic buyer during acquisition, and the end user thereafter. Expertise development retains that end user. All they need to initiate a purchase of an upgrade is a simple piece of marcom that says, “We are upgrading again!” That’s all it takes to generate that 80% of install base in 90 days metric provided of course that someone in sales is motivated to talk to and spend, say five minutes with upgrade purchaser. A price below signature authority goes a long way as well. But, yeah, some companies never get their 90%-60% cheaper sale and the higher profit from upgrade revenue. The figure please.

Negotiating Away Meaning, The User is the Customer

Negotiating Away Meaning, The User is the Customer

Notice the red line running through the user. Hopefully there is more than one user. But, if there are more users, then the upgrade decision will rest with either the team lead, or the functional unit manager. Let’s be clear here though, if it is a piece of junk, the user won’t go to their bosses and evangelize your product. And, if they go to their bosses about the compensating efforts, that boss will be asking the product manager for changes. Product managers should be talking to users, not customers. The customer doesn’t speak for the users. And, so should marketing. Do you know your user’s names? No, my users don’t include anyone named Joe Bob CEO.

The user gets the power finally, but now that user competes with all the other users. Which users get the ear of the product manager? How does that political game play out?

The figure also demonstrates how an organization is the carrier for the users. The hierarchical structure of even the flattest of firms still looks like LDAP or the HTML DOM, or those Russian matryoshka, nested dolls. From a leadership point of view, you protect your people no matter how costing the owning organization happens to be. You make a safe space for your people. That’s spaces within spaces–topology. Functional cultures and paradigmatic cultures likewise. The user is the last matryoshka, the recursive invariant, the end of the parse of the grammar of wants and needs, the final word on that upgrade buy, the final word on the longevity of the software vendor that got this stuff on their client platform.

Now for two spectrum analyzer views of the power relations.

Power Spectrum and Compensations

Power Spectrum and Compensations

The black, blue, brown, and read lines reflect the negotiation power of the various rolls involved. The pink lines represent the compensations involved. These compensations aggregate hierarchically to the more powerful roles.

Power Spectrum and Compensations

Power Spectrum and Compensations

Here is a more abstract view of the previous figure.


In my last post, I promised that I’d finish up in this post. I have a few more figures to illustrate elicitation and implementation. So we’ll go back to the triangle model and software as media model.

I omitted a link in the previous post. I did catch this and correct it, but only after most of my readers read that post. It was the link I promised to  the slideshow on the Triangle Model and how it can be used to model organizations as realizations.

So what does elicitation look like when modeled via the triangle model.



The elicitor, the guy in the blue shirt and gray pants, comes to the elicitation with a theory, the gray triangle at the top of the triangle on the right, which represents the requirements. That theory is the “Why?” The elicitor captures the relevant portions of the user’s model as, the triangle on the left. The theory drives the elicitation and determines the relevancy of the user’s model elements. The why filters the requirements.

When many different functional units are involved, an executive sponsor will determine relevancy after the elicitation. Executive sponsors make a mess of it. The product manager plays the role of the executive sponsor in a software vendor organization.

The functional requirements capture the functional culture, or carried component of the application. The non-functional requirements drive the implementation of the carrier component of the application. So the software as media concept was implicitly buried in the idea of requirements. It’s been there all these years while the focus was on developer efficiency. Nobody noticed. This divide has become more important as software economics shifts to lower cost software development, and the increasing commodization of software applications.

Delivered w Carrier Lost and Carried

Delivered w Carrier Lost and Carried

In this figure you can see that some of the user’s model was lost. If you wonder about this, look at your non-web based applications. How much of what you do is done, because you are using software? How much is done, because it’s what you would do if you didn’t have a computer. The proportion of these tool tasks vs user task changes from one phase of the technology adoption lifecycle to another. In the late mainsteet market where the web sits, you start into a continuum of task sublimations. The tool tasks must disappear. The web browser and databases takes care of most of this task sublimation. Moving to information appliances like cell phones and pads, the sublimation increases–less carrier. Eventually, the carrier is hidden from the user. Punch 10 seconds in your microwave, the computer is nowhere to be seen. So in the figure above, the brown components are just plain gone. But, microwave cooking is quite different than stove top cooking.

Delivered w Carrier Lost and Carried

Delivered w Carrier Lost and Carried

In this figure, the area of carried in the application equals the reduced size of the user’s model. This reduction in the user’s model shows up as compensations and loss.

Turning this around and looking at the conceptual a model a user creates while working with an application, disregarding the conceptual model the user brings to the application, we see a slightly different result.

Multiple Conceptual Models

Multiple Conceptual Models

In this figure, the user has to learn the carrier relative to the controls through which interactions occur. When you use a dialog box, you use carried controls, and then when you click OK, Apply, or Cancel, you are using carrier components. I don’t have to click OK if I do this on paper.

The user’s conceptual model involves looking at the interface, creating a hypothesis or expectation, using the application, inspecting the results, and if the user’s expectations are not met, looping back and making some kind of adjustment. This is learning. It takes the user from unknowing to knowing, but this knowing might be different from what they knew coming to the application.

There are actually four models here:

  1. The user’s (source) conceptual model originating from the user’s functional culture
  2. The elicitor-driven developer implemented model in the model component of the application’s code
  3. The UX designer’s model embedded in the view component of the application code
  4. The user’s conceptual model of the application itself.

None of these models will be consistent with each other. Ideally sure, but I don’t live on that planet. Even a usable interface doesn’t preserve the source conceptual model.

Yes, we can overcome these issues with available technology. Changing practice begins with awareness. So you’re aware now. You get to change your processes where you are. Let us know how it goes.

Next time, the thick tail vs. the long tail.

Comments? Thanks!

3 Responses to “Let’s Negotiate Away Some Meaning?”

  1. Who maintains two conflicting conceptual models? « Product Strategist Says:

    […] the very end of the Let’s Negotiate Away Some Meaning, I listed four participants that interacted with a conceptual model while it was realized in […]

  2. marketing sales funnel system Says:

    Why visitors still use to read news papers when in this
    technological world everything is available on net?

    • davidwlocke Says:

      Paper typically has a resolution of 23,000 dpi. Screens have resolutions of less than 400 dpi on the best displays available. Print was disrupted by the internet due to server logs, not readability. Our brains do not read paper and screen texts in the same way. Online, the best our brains can manage is scanning, not reading.

      Further, at 23,000 dpi, some screens can’t display the information that can be printed. The online version is pretty useless.

      There are technologies out there that could make print equivalent to online in regards to functionality. I actually called a vendor, but they could not make enough pens to support a large-scale market test. Oh, well. That back in 2009 or 10.

      Print should have analytic equivallence these days as far as marketing communications goes. It was possible before the internet.

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