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How do you create a Competitive Analysis? What is a competitive analysis? July 24, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Product Management, Project Management.
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How do you create a Competitive Analysis document? What is a competitive analysis?

Competitive analysis documents can be found as a primary product management deliverable in most every industry, and even the simplest competitive analysis document displays two critical dimensions: the competitors and the criteria, or the competitive framework. The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the analysis data in a way that makes it easy to compare the various products, companies, or services across the different marketplace features or comparative criteria.

Elements of an effective competitive anlysis

Competitive analyses vary along two dimensions: competitors and criteria, and so it is common for most competitive analysis documents to provide a visual mechanism for representing two or more products or services side-by-side with the differences showcased. The specific nature of those differences will vary depending on the competitive criteria the analysis author has selected. These competitive anlysis documents can vary in size, with some much longer than others because they their authors have elected to highlight more product features or more marketplace competitors on the analysis document.

“Two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Every competitive analysis document shares three essential elements: a purpose statement, the competitive framework, which is the competitors and the criteria, and the comparative data. The analysis document may also provide more details about the overall products, the competitors and their market positioning, or the method behind the comparative analysis results.

The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the data in such a manner as to make it easy for a reader or viewer to compare the products or service offerings across the different comparative criteria.

When the competitive framework takes the form of a table, the competitors or products can run along the top of the table and the comparative criteria along the side. The criteria can vary from the very general to the very specific.

A typical table competitive analysis

A different kind of competitive framework is known in MBA programs as the “two-by-two” graph or plot. The “two-by-two” plots competitors or products on a simple grid depicting only two comparative criteria.

In a two-by-two competitive framework, the number of criteria is down to two, so the analysis tends to be much broader than a traditional competitive framework. The “two-by-two” competitive framework is excellent at turning subjective information into objective information. Although it is technically possible for a “two-by-two” competitive analysis author to use real numbers and actually plot along the scale, most two-by-two presentations are ideal for very broad criteria that might not lend themselves to hard numbers. This type of plot is useful to help identify holes in a market or competitive landscape. Competitors that are clustered around certain areas of the two-by-two plot may indicate that there are opportunities for a competitive product or service to fill those vacuums.

A “two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Some research organizations use a modified version of the “two-by-two” plot format. Sometimes you may see competitors plotted out on a single square, with “waves” or “bands” of features, strategies, or market postions illustrated as areas of the single square. This format is equally effective, and it has the advantage of being an excellent format for the creation of a catalog of different one square competive analysis plots, one for each area of focus within the competitive landscape. So you could for instance have a single square plot for market positioning, one for revenue or scale of business, one for pltting out competitors’ different revenue situations, etc.

An example of a “wave” or “band” single-square plot

Yet another competitive framework that appears in competitive analysis documents and especially comparisons of different sites or user interfaces: the “small multiples”. This term was coined by information architect and data visualization guru Edward Tufte. In Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”, he states, “Small multiples represent the frames of a movie: a series of graphics, showing the same combination of variables, indexed by changes in another variable.” In other words, “small multiples” are a series of graphics that allow the viewer to easily compare similar sets of information. In the case of user interface design or information architecture for the web, or graphics design for print or interactive media, this approach is most effective for comparing online and offline page layouts or interactive storyboards.

“Small multiples” chart comparing web site detail pages

Sometimes a competitive analysis will take the form of a table, with various stages of detail added as comparative criteria for each competive category. Great care should be taken by the author of the competitive analysis document that the length of the analysis does not become too unwieldy. Consider breaking up long competitive analysis documents into sections or categories.

Try to use as many graphic elements as possible in your competitive analysis documents. Graphs, charts, plots and tables are all excellent ways to present your competitve analysis data, and you should leverage these artifacts into your presentations and marketing communications.

The data is of paramount importance in a competitive analysis. The data can be as simple as yes-no values, indicating whether a product or service or competitor meets a particular criterion, or it can be descriptive, going into some detail for each criterion.

Yes-No values are a very common way to provide differentiating data in a competitive analysis. You’ve seen these kinds of competitive analyses on infomercials where the product in question is lined up with “other leading brands.” For each feature, the product gets a check mark while its competitors get an X, to show you how versatile the product is.

Feature comparison table

Spelling out your process can help address any possible methodological inadequacies. You might want to spend some time in a section of your competitive analysis document rationalizing the selection of competitors and criteria to increase the impact and veracity of your conclusions.

Explanation of a competitive analysis methodology

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You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is Tshirtnow.net.

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What is a User Story? How are they used in Requirements Gathering and in writing User Acceptance Tests? October 3, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Definitions, Project Management.
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user stories image

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What is a User Story? How are they used in Requirements Gathering and in writing User Acceptance Tests?

User Stories are short conversational texts that are used for initial requirements discovery and project planning. User stories are widely used in conjunction with agile software development project management methodologies for Release Planning and definition of User Acceptance Criteria for software development projects.

User Goals, stated in the form of User Stories, are more closely aligned with Business Priorities than software development Tasks and so it is the User Story format which prevails in written statements of User Acceptance Criteria.

An Agile Project Team is typically oriented to completing and delivering User-valued Features rather than on completing isolated development Tasks.These development Tasks eventually combine into a User-valued Feature).

User Goals are not the same things as software development Tasks. A User Goal is an end condition, whereas a development Task is an intermediate process needed to achieve this User Goal. To help illustrate this point, here are two example scenarios:

1. If my User Goal is to laze in my hammock reading the Sunday Boston Globe newspaper, I first have to mow the lawn. My Task is mowing; My Goal is resting. If I was able to recruit someone else to mow the lawn, I could achieve my Goal without having to do the mowing, the Task.

2. Tasks change as implementation technology or development approaches change, but Goals have the pleasant property of remaining stable on software development projects. For example, if I am a hypothetical User traveling from Boston to San Francisco, my User Goals for the trip might include Speed, Comfort and Safety. Heading for California on this proposed trip in 1850, I would have made the journey in a high technology Conestoga wagon for Speed and Comfort, and I would have brought along a Winchester rifle for Safety. However, making the same trip in 2010, with the same User Goals, I would now make the journey in a new Boeing 777 for updated Speed and Comfort and for Safety’s sake I would now leave the Winchester rifle at home.

· My User Goals remained unchanged, however the Tasks have changed so much that they are now seemingly in direct opposition. User Goals are steady, software development Tasks as stated on SOWs (Statements Of Work) are transient.

· Designing User Acceptance Criteria around software development Tasks rarely suits, but User Acceptance Criteria based on User Goals always does.

A User Story is a brief description of functionality as viewed by a User or Customer of the System. User Stories are free-form, and there is no mandatory syntax. However, it can be useful to think of a User Story as generally fitting this form:

“As a <type of User>, I want <Capability> so that <Business Value>”.

Using this template as an example, we might have a User Story like this one:

“As a Store Manager, I want to search for a Service Ticket by Store so that I can find the right Service Ticket quickly”.

User stories form the basis of User Acceptance Testing. Acceptance tests can be created to verify that the User Story has been correctly implemented.

User Story Card

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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