The Most Critical Step in Product Development

By on July 22, 2011 in Current Events, Leadership with 1 Comment

By
Wendy Campanella

Wendy Campanella is a business strategist who consults for large and small organizations. She offers career insights for professionals at her blog, www.thethinktap.com.

Deliver Something from Nothing.

It sounds simplistic and obvious, but in reality this is probably the hardest step in developing any program, product, service or document: Getting from Nothing… to Something. There isn’t a person around who hasn’t had a great idea for a product, program or market strategy. One that was eventually delivered by someone else.

Web 2.0 is terrifically cool. Who would argue that point? But wasn’t it Web 1.0 that changed everything?

4G smart phones are great. None of us would want to relive the days of brick-sized cell phones with coverage that barely extended beyond our own zip codes. But those hobbled, laughable, not-ready-for-prime-time first-generation products had to happen to set up what happened next.

And what happened next was that everyone criticized those services. They were a passing fancy, a flash in the pan. They weren’t necessary. Hadn’t we always done just fine without them? Surfing was something you did at the beach. Wasn’t any information you needed readily available at the library? Was it really necessary to have people be able to reach us at any moment of the day or night?

But something else happened too. The early adopters recognized the same value that the creators had seen. They jumped in with both feet. They used the services. They benefited from them. Their lives were transformed and they couldn’t see how they’d ever lived without them. And sure, they too criticized them – for not being perfect out of the gate. But it was constructive criticism. How could these services be even better?

I once delivered a new software product to market after a slim six months of development. I was working for a startup in desperate need of some differentiation. In feature and function this product was the absolute bare minimum to be commercially viable.

Predictably people criticized it.

“We’ve been talking about this for years.” “It could be so much more.” “Is this really a game changer?”

But nobody had delivered it before. And it was a game changer. Customers adopted it. Competitors copied it – a year later. Sure, our early customers demanded improvement, which is exactly what you want with the first version of your product. The point is, none of it could have happened – the early sales, the customers, the criticisms that led to the next and better version – if we hadn’t first developed Something and put it out there.

So the next time you have a vision to deliver a new program or service, just find a way. Find a way to push it out the door – immature, imperfect, begging for improvement.

Hedge a little. Call it a “pilot,” a “trial,” a “demo” or even a “test.” Set expectations appropriately. But deliver Something.

When you first deliver it, will it be done? To quote Seth Godin, “It’s never done. That’s not the right question. The question is: when is it good enough?”

By all means, let people know what your Program 2.0 will look like – and Program 3.0 and Program 4.0. Outline the whole vision, but don’t shoot for the moon in your first delivery. Even moon missions start with imperfect pilot periods where rockets fall in pieces into the sea. 

But upon these first, imperfect deliveries are built the truly extraordinary subsequent generations. Building on 1G to deliver 2G or 3G is actually a pretty common talent.

But delivering Something from Nothing is considerably more rare.

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