2 axis of product lifecycle

If you want to launch a new product you expect it to be innovative, yet stable. Inertia in your organization is the main reason this doesn’t work but this often doesn’t come from engineering..

Chart2Software development is a basic time vs. cost vs. features problem but usually we collapse time and cost into the (mythical) man-day. If we have a certain quantity of man-days and a set of functionality we want to implement we can visualize this as a chart. Let’s say we want to implement some kind of Finance app for the iPhone. We can place all of our effort on one device and get the best possible app we can.

Chart1Very nice, but you could argue with iPhone you can only reach a minority of users and with tens of thousands of apps in the App Store discoverability is a challenge. What if we just tried to get something running across as many mobile browsers as possible? We only have the same number of man days, so looks like features have to suffer. Perhaps now I can just check a stock price..

Is this acceptable? Looks like we’ve lost the edge with innovation – everyone has a stock checker 😉 Worse than that, perhaps our iPhone app looks like a Motorola website?

Chart3So, either we start small and then work up for specific devices, or we start big on a specific device and work down. Either way the inertia kicks in and our edges get almost no attention at all. It looks like stability in one direction is weighing down innovation in the other.

Ah. You can’t have everything.

This is the domain of product management. Do we understand why people like our product? What do they actually use it for? Who are are these people anyway?

Chart4Armed with this knowledge you can better plot that development course and the chances are that things were not as generic as you thought. You can pick specific features for particular segments – remember that a certain niche often has a certain device, e.g. Blackberry users like to manage a complete portfolio, however iPhone users check basic stocks and read news.

We often see this as a product races from that sketchy 1.0 to a stable 3.0:

1.0 – we had an idea, a good one, and we built something which gains some traction.
2.0 – we rush out something for a wider audience with all the features we think they need.
3.0 – plagued by poor quality we work to understand our users and release the first “proper” version.

You don’t always know up front what will work – sometimes you just need to throw it out and see what sticks, but remember that this inertia means if you try to do everything you will fail. Understand who you are designing for and your decisions will be much, much better.


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