The seven deadly sins of building products 

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A good buddy Duncan asked me about product development particularly in a startup. Seems like a common question. So here are my five let’s call it pearls of wisdom:
Sorry this got stuck in inbox but a few quick thoughts that you might call the seven deadly sins of making products:

  1. It just ain’t clear what it is. Watch the 2007 launch of the iPhone by Steve jobs a hundred times. It is the single best example of minimalism in design goals I’ve ever seen. It is a phone, and iPod and the Internet via a touch interface. The challenge is to see if your “points of light” to use a Coleism is as crisp. My budy Ludwig is particularly good at this brand of clarity but most folks aren’t. 
  2. 99.9% of all products are more complex than they need to be given their missions above. Complexity is the enemy of usability and sales. It is essentially way easier to do 80% of 100 feetures than 10 features done superbly. Maybe this is why Fitbit out sells the Apple Watch 5:1. The hard thing is for the business leader to have the taste and style of their customers. Better to want more than to find things confusing. The trick is taking general purpose hardware and making to work for precisely the right purpose. This is also know as the “dessert topping and floor wax problem” to use a Nashism. Products that are complex are also hard to explain and position. 

  3. The feature you want is almost never the feature that customers want. My buddy Duncan said it well,  music companies wanted reporting while technology companies give them antipiracy. It’s so common that the best feature is actually reporting rather than the product (personally I think the Eco display of the Prius sold way more cars than we can ever imagine). Usually the feature that people  is so simple that developers like me  don’t want to build them. And they take so much buffing and polishing that it is boring. 

  4. Business guys get bored by the daily guidance needed for great product development. It’s so much easier to say “just make it work” than to grind through and each and every 9am remind the developers what they want. But they are the most important people because they motivate and they create realism for the development team. It may seem strange to tell someone this web page needs a back button but remember the src thinks fundamentally differently than you. It may seems stupid but time after time the first 30 seconds of a product starting with opening the box are what matter. Clicking on a button that doesn’t work doesn’t help. 

  5. A great product doesn’t come together in a spec. It is molded in two ways: the inspiration (let’s bring touch screens to phones) which lets you recruit the very best developers. And the day painful grind of how you get there. Business geeks like me like to focus on a huge spec but don’t realize that 90% of the magic comes form typically one feature don’t super well. You don’t get that in a software gantt chart. 

  6. Don’t be afraid to change direction or create demos. Engineers hate demos. It is like asking Michelangelo to throw together a cheese pizza. As an engineer I want to build truly beautiful stuff. But the reality is that until you find the right product/market fit, committing too early to a course is not smart. Many times markets open and for a brief moment you have to change direction. Jobs did it when he took his iPad interface and said lets do a phone first. Gates did it when he turned Microsoft back to a focus on the 80286 instead of a 386 specific operating system. 

  7. Really do agile right. It’s such a slang term but the idea that the business leader reviews the technology teams progress every morning at 9am is the core and most folks never follow it. It’s boring for business guys and randomizing for technical folks. But the reality is particularly for startups it takes month long mistakes and avoids them with daily corrections. I know it’s hard work but you have to do it. 

The last thing isn’t really a sin but a touchstone, will you really be proud of the product 30 years from now. Will it have made a difference in the world? In the end changing the world to make it a better place isn’t a bad goal for you to spend most of your waking life thinking about 🙂

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