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Social media surveys: A tool for better requirements?

How can social media surveys -- and social networking tools -- improve the requirements definition process?

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Social media is changing the landscape of how we go about doing our work (as well as living our lives). But how can a business analyst or product manager realistically improve the quality of the requirements they create through social media surveys and social networking tools?

Social media makes it easier to have more conversations, but with less engagement. Surveys work the same way.

I've successfully been able to use my social networks in four practical ways to improve the quality of requirements. I hope these examples help you to do the same.

  1. Learning the craft. By connecting with experts in the craft, other product managers and business analysts, I am exposed to more opportunities to learn how to do my work better -- both by reading what these experts share and by forming relationships with them that give me an opportunity to learn directly from them.
  2. Learning the domain. Finding experts is something that accelerates learning for me in whatever particular domain I'm working at the moment. By listening to what they say, and listening to whom they listen, I can ramp up faster -- by studying the core aspects of the domain, the key insights these experts have developed, and the trends and events that they see as having the most influence on changing the domain.
  3. Understanding a particular problem. The best practice for developing surveys is to start by having fairly deep, semi-directed conversations with people who represent the types of people you would be surveying. Start with an informed opinion about what you think you need to discover, and explore those areas to develop a rich understanding of the space. This helps you discover better questions to ask -- those more likely to yield useful insights. By engaging some individuals through social media initially and then engaging them deeply (through traditional means) and individually, you can develop better questions.
  4. Surveying broadly. Social media makes it easier to have more conversations, but with less engagement. Surveys work the same way; you get specific information, with limited or unknown context. After improving the quality of questions you want to ask in a survey, social media now gains you access to statistically significant groups of people who have responded to surveys, both validating and refuting hypotheses that you have formed before engaging them.

All of these tips presume you already have a social network in place. I love the phrase, dig your well before you are thirsty, and that applies here as well. As a consultant, I am regularly changing domains, so my well is deepest in the craft, which applies across domains. When I enter new domains, I start digging new wells -- for when I know I'll be thirsty in the future.

You have to invest in your network before you can expect to realize benefits from it.

This was first published in December 2012

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