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The 3 Most Important Parts of the Gartner Magic Quadrant You’re Not Reading

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One of the things I love about working at Cherwell is the relationships I have with my smart and amazing co-workers. Cherwell is a wonderful collection of talented individuals who are extremely passionate about customer success and IT service management. There people like our Vice President of Solutions Consulting, Kathy Abbruzzetti, who, in addition to being brilliant, is a fellow Game of Thrones fan. I endearingly refer to her as “The Mother of Demos and Breaker of Status Quo.”

In that same context, I’ve also had the distinct pleasure of working at Gartner, again with phenomenally smart people who are extremely passionate about technology and helping IT leaders solve problems. I’ve authored a few Magic Quadrants in my day, which take an incredible amount of time and focus. The Gartner Magic Quadrant is one of the most traditionally widely read Gartner assets and, frankly, one of the documents that has put Gartner on the map.

Tweet this: What you’re missing in the Gartner Magic Quadrant if you’re not paying attention, from a former industry analyst

With that said, I endearingly refer to the Gartner Magic Quadrant as “The Mother of Data and Maker of the Shortlist.”

Admit it. That’s how you think about the Magic Quadrant, whether you are a technology buyer, technology vendor, technology investor, or even a casual observer. To many, the Gartner Magic Quadrant serves as a “Who’s Hot / Who’s Not” list, where the viewer takes a superficial look at the grid and draws quick conclusions. It’s the equivalent of watching 15 minutes of a random Game of Thrones episode and assuming you have enough information to predict who will ultimately end up on the Iron Throne.

Let me be clear: if you are using the Magic Quadrant in such a superficial way, as Ygritte the Wildling would say, “You know nothing.” There’s so much more value to be found in the Magic Quadrant, value that many technologists miss. You just have to know how to read it.

So, as a former analyst and author of the Magic Quadrant, here are the sections I believe you should pay the most attention to when reviewing the MQ.

The Evaluation Criteria

One of the biggest misconceptions of the Magic Quadrant is that it is an evaluation of products, not vendors. It’s actually the other way around. The Gartner Magic Quadrant is an analysis of the vendors who license the products in a given market, as defined by Gartner. The analysis is ideal to understand the risks of doing business with a particular vendor or the sales and marketing momentum of a particular vendor, but not in itself a reflection of how good or bad a product is. This misunderstanding is clear when I talk to buyers who ask why certain vendors are leaders, when they’ve had nothing but negative experiences with that vendor’s product(s).

The Evaluation Criteria spells out the Ability to Execute (what makes the dot go up and down) and the Completeness of Vision (what makes the dot go left and right), so it’s important to understand which criteria are present, as well as the level of “weight” Gartner applies to each criteria. For example, Gartner might specify that “Market Responsiveness” has a higher weight than “Geographic Strategy,” which might differ from your requirements. A careful review of this section outlines the placement factors, and Gartner’s interactive version (available to Gartner clients only) allows viewers to adjust the weights, which subsequently moves the placement of the vendors.

Note: Vendors are not allowed to adjust the scale, move their dots and present a different version of the Magic Quadrant to you, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some have tried.

The Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

At first glance, one may look at the Magic Quadrant and not see a vendor they are using or evaluating and question what they should do next. This pitfall is partly vendor-driven. Ever since the inception of the Magic Quadrant, vendors have improperly used the analysis to shame competitors who were either not included in the analysis, or landed in a less-favorable position. To a lesser extent, this is also customer-driven, as many use the Magic Quadrant as the sole justification for selecting (or not selecting) a vendor.

The inclusion criteria section of the Magic Quadrant spells out the vendor requirements necessary for evaluation, which could be related to revenue, number of customers, product capabilities, or even frequency of times mentioned on analyst inquiry calls. It could be likely that the recent startup that offers a solution that meets all your requirements was a few million short of the revenue criteria to be evaluated with the big dogs. This is why it’s important to understand the floor Gartner sets, in addition to how that floor may have changed year over year, hence the “movement” Quadrant over Quadrant.

The Quadrant Structure

Gartner clearly spells out the differences between Leaders, Challengers, Niche (Players), and Visionaries, but often these definitions get overlooked. Going back to the Evaluation Criteria, the Magic Quadrant is a vendor analysis, not a product analysis, so being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean that the vendor offers the best product. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

What’s important to remember about the Quadrant is that it should serve as a tool that compliments your analysis, not completes it. Your requirements and your roadmap are more important than what Gartner, or any research firm, concludes, so understanding the delta between how you see the market and how Gartner sees the market is critical. Look no further than the definition of a “Challenger” to emphasize this point:

Executes comparatively well today or may dominate a large segment, but does not have a roadmap aligned to Gartner’s view of how a market will evolve.

Having an understanding of Gartner’s view of how a market will evolve is important, and I would strongly encourage any consumer of a Magic Quadrant who is capable of getting that view from Gartner to do so.

Given the evaluation criteria and inclusion criteria, Cherwell is proud to have been named in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Service Support Management Tools for the fourth year in a row, and the only challenger in the report for the second year in a row. 


Now that you understand how to read the Gartner Magic Quadrant with the eyes of an analyst, take a fresh look at this year’s MQ. 

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