Friday, August 21, 2009

Magic Quadrant or Sorting Hat?

What is it about analysts and 4 quadrant models (asks @aleksb6 )? Were x and y coordinates so firmly etched in our brains that we can't get away from it?

I presume Aleks is talking about 4-quadrant models produced by software industry analysis firms, such as Gartner's Famous Magic Quadrant, which is a bit like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat.
  • Leaders: Gryffindor
  • Challengers: Slytherin
  • Visionaries: Ravenclaw
  • Niche Players: Hufflepuff
Nate Orenstam (Gartner Magick Quadrante) offers a similar mapping - Finders, Keepers, Losers, Weepers - together with a cynical explanation of the x and y axes.

A quick internet search for Gartner's Magic Quadrant yields many hits from software vendors boasting that their product has been sorted into Griffindor, presumably because these vendors believe that this quadrant implies some kind of endorsement by Gartner. And Oracle's Billy Cripe tweeted triumphantly "Oracle WIN!" when his own product was sorted into Griffindor.

As Mark Whitehorn explains (Is Gartner's Magic Quadrant really magic?), Gartner actually collects a considerable amount of data before summarizing everything down to a simple static picture. The quadrant is not the analysis, it is merely a simple visual summary of the analysis. And as Alan Pelz-Sharpe of CMS Watch asserts,
It is both the beauty and the curse of the MQ that it dramatically simplifies a marketplace. (De-mystifying the Gartner ECM Magic Quadrant, September 2007)

But what is the methodology behind the analysis? According to Tony Byrne, another CMS Watch analyst,
Many of Gartner's "strengths" and "cautions" have to do with a vendor's "marketing effectiveness," "messaging," and "awareness." Things that matter to investors and other vendors, but not so much to buyers. (Looking beyond the magic quadrant to find the nitty-gritty, August 2009)
Thus like the equally famous hype curve, it tells you more about marketing and image than about the intrinsic qualities of the technology. This may be one of the reasons why Open Source sometimes gets a poor deal.

Of course, Gartner's fine print strikes a note of caution.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in the Magic Quadrant, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors placed in the "Leaders" quadrant. The Magic Quadrant is intended solely as a research tool, and is not meant to be a specific guide to action.

But obviously the vendors placed in the "Leaders" quadrant don't want you to read this.

See also

Responding to a range of criticism, Gartner analyst Jim Holincheck (Misunderstanding Magic Quadrants, June 2009) makes the following points.

1. "Sometimes you will also hear criticism that Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision do not matter as decision criteria for customers. I think the evaluation criteria within Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision give a well-rounded view of a vendor and its place in a particular market and that is really the point of a Magic Quadrant."
Jim thinks the Magic Quadrant gives a "well-rounded view", but other people don't see it like that. In any case, this is not an answer to the criticism that the dimensions of the quadrant are not relevant to customer decisions.

2. "A 2×2 matrix is a really convenient way of showing the relative comparison of vendors."
Convenient to Gartner and the winning vendors obviously.

3. "There is a perception out there that clients basically will look at a MQ and put the vendors in the Leaders quadrant on their short list. There is no doubt that some clients do that. They shouldn’t, but they do."
So Gartner accepts no responsibility for clients misusing the quadrant.

4. "More importantly though, most clients will set up an inquiry (or a series of inquiries throughout the selection process) with an analyst to discuss their specific requirements. ... The interactions we have customers and Gartner clients gives us perspective to tailor our advice for customer-specific needs."
Thus what Gartner really wants is to sell more detailed advice.
5. "Is the Magic Quadrant a good tool to use to make a vendor selection? It can be."

I thought he said that people shouldn't do that. Now he's saying it might be okay after all. What's the recipe today, Jim?

Related posts

The Magic Sorting Hat is Innocent, OK? (March 2010)
Two Dimensions of Trust (April 2012)
Inside the Whale (November 2014)
Into the Matrix (October 2015)

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