Use cases – a lingua franca in the tower of Babel

July 18, 2018

Have you ever noticed how powerful a real example is in cutting through confusion, disagreement or hyperbole?

In pragmatic product management I’ve found use cases helpful to draw a line of logic between a product feature specification, the user benefit and the product cost incurred in delivering that feature.  In setting performance boundaries to decide what’s realistically useful and what’s just “specmanship”.  In designing product portfolios to define product adjacencies and overlaps.

Use cases also enable marketing people to illustrate segmentation.  Is this use case plausible among this target audience?  Really?

Nice new product?  Loads of clever features? So what?  Educate customers (and sales people beforehand) with plausible and engaging use cases.  (And if they’re not plausible use cases then why did you build the features in the first place?)

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

Many people think that getting R&D to communicate with marketing is difficult.  Not if you communicate via use-cases.  Engineers and developers can easily translate technology mysteries to sales people by describing the use case that a new technology enables.  And, importantly, the use case provides a common language to negotiate the art of the possible and the art of the saleable.  Where I’ve been involved in choosing new technology directions, I’ve found that the discussion partners, be they sales people or the board, engage with, understand and explore use cases.  Then it’s no longer ‘technology push’ but rather ‘market pull’ via benefits offered and sought.  The debate is real rather than superficial hyperbole.

Similarly, in exploring opaque new research offerings, a key question is how would the customer use it?  But also look at other use cases.  How would we sell it?  How would we make it?  How would we repair it?

Risk management?  Dig into the detail with a use case to illustrate aspects that may be missed – for example, as we build redundant systems how will we know the extent of failure?  And how will the system inform the decision-makers?  What will they see?  Be specific and avoid management jargon which may hide a failure to think things through.

I’m just embarking on a project to ‘research research’ – how does research deliver value in practice in a particular sector?  Loads of hypotheses, plenty of generality, and some plausible claims.  But we need use cases to bring it to life – both to explore the reality and then later to communicate results to an audience that will include scientists and non-scientists.

In the tower of Babel, the use case is the lingua franca.

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