Real Artists Ship

I have been thinking about this koan Steve Jobs used when developing the first Mac – “Real Artists Ship”.

I couldn’t agree more. As product people, we must produce. That means, plan, develop, launch and manage. Keeping to schedules is key. Like Gordon Gecko’s famous line in Wall Street, “greed is good”, “shipping is good”. BUT…not at the expense of a watered-down product.

I heard someone say it is ok to launch something that is 85% complete. I couldn’t disagree more. You launch when you are 100% ready or close enough to it. And you launch when you said you were going to launch. There may be some hard decisions to be made to leave a bell or a whistle out, but before that happens, I hope you are running a cost-benefit or a SWOT Analysis to ensure that what is left out isn’t at the expense of your original goal of launching the product in the first place; or isn’t diluting market entry of your product or isn’t putting you at a disadvantage with your customers and competitors.

I’ve been going around and around on whether I am on board with Apple’s position of not conducting market research because “customers don’t know what they want”. Yes and No. I am using my standard line of “it depends”. It depends on your industry and it depends on your product.

For example, I developed a product back in my earlier telecom days that changed call record collection – instead of calls being collected at the switch by the phone number (among other things, called a call detail record (CDR)), they would be collected by the carrier’s CIC (Carrier Identification Code) code. I worked with the carriers – think AT&T, Sprint, and MCI (pre-MCI Worldcom days) and others – these are the ones that had millions and millions of minutes riding on WorldCom’s fiber. For the product to be successful, we had to have our 10 largest carriers buy into this new way of collecting calls. Market Research was paramount.

For a consumer product, like an iPad or iPhone, maybe not so much. Apple’s stance is “we are going to create products for ourselves and we are going to appeal to a customer’s emotions to make them want we got, and in the process, they will buy into our ecosystem”. This is pure Apple and pure product evangelism for Apple. That may work for some companies but not for others.

Make sure you are conducting research for the right reasons. If you are conducting research to get that “perfect” product out to the masses, you are setting yourself up to fail. There is always going to be something you left out and you will find yourself in a Microsoft “loop” – always coming up with multiple iterations of a product, that will confuse you and your customers. Instead, have a goal for research. Are you reaching out to your customers to build loyalty? Do you want to go after a competitor’s product? Do you want to put a “dent” in your industry and market segment?

For everything you do, you should have a plan. What are the 1-3 reasons why you want to create this product, conduct this research? Asking WHY? and curiosity should drive you to your product goals. Don’t get caught up in the HOW? because that will kill your creativity. Honestly, the WHY’s will drive product innovation. The HOW’s will work themselves out.

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