The importance of a ship-before-perfect methodology. The world is not slowing down, it won't wait for your idea to be perfect.
At its core digital has empowered consumers and businesses in parallel. However, there is a larger divide emerging between consumer expectations and a capacity to meet these evolving expectations. The bar for consumer or customer experience (CX) is constantly being raised, with outcomes always measured by what’s considered the latest benchmark—essentially the best becomes normalized and expectations follow.
For better or worse, technology has set the pace that consumer expectations evolve; consumers want new now. Unfortunately, design and business have been slow to change; technology has sped far beyond what design alone can offer. Nothing that design can say or do has any sway on what happens with technology. How do organizations innovate in an era where the hot next feature or new technology is right around the corner every 6–12 months, or sooner? Innovation is expensive, and it’s time-consuming to develop new technology, start a business, develop new services, or deliver products, let alone work within an agile business process. Couple this with uncertainty, and you have a blueprint for a risk machine. Fortunately, the last few decades have seen a significant amount of progress in the development of tools to meet this uncertain challenge, and it’s a holistic framework that combines business intelligence, research methods, and design thinking.
Innovate the process or the culture, not the technology
When Digital Transformation was of the moment, optimism was plentiful, unrealistic expectations overflowed. However, much of the excitement, was around the technology, as opposed to the transformation needed by organizations1. The outcome of this was a lot of failed initiatives that never made it to market, or friction inducing shifts that threaten organizational culture. Alternatively, more astute organizations that Didier Bonnet defines as digital masters enjoyed significantly better financial performance than non-masters. They accomplished this by nurturing a vision that embedded digital, fostered collaboration, and diversified multiple revenue-generating initiatives1.
Deployed well, digital technology boosts revenue and transforms the customer experience, operations, and business processes. When mismanaged, companies risk becoming obsolete.
—Zach Church of the Sloan Institute
It’s clear that organizations need to evolve, and it requires a holistic shift in thinking. But it’s not as simple as building a team or innovating through technology. Simply put, innovative teams and technology do not make a business innovative. Of the many shifts in thinking, the one thing we are constantly observing is the notion of a finished product. Products are never finished, they are always evolving, and they should be in order to keep pace with the progress of technology. Getting comfortable with always beta, and ship before perfect thinking will help organizations deliver faster, and with more focus on value. This is something that agile, and continuous integration and deployment have fostered.
Products are living and breathing organisms, you can give it life, nurture it, then it grows up and goes to university. Just as life didn’t immediately spring forth into a highly evolved biped, products also require a humble start. When it comes to the product lifecycle, the most critical stage is at the beginning when you’re navigating the thicket of endless possibilities. Fortunately, there is a framework to help facilitate these early stages.
Always be validating
Too often there is a heavy investment in the wrong direction. The best way to mitigate this is to validate your idea and test your assumptions. One of the best philosophies to follow is that of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The term was defined in 2001 by Frank Robinson and popularized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. The sole purpose of an MVP is to validate and test—it is bare-bones, efficient to evaluate and build, and has just enough to satisfy your early customers, and generate feedback for future development. An MVP can scale based on different scenarios, capital-poor startups will have leaner strategies than a capital flush organization that lacks assured viability. No matter the situation, market-ready products should still follow the philosophy of an MVP and focus on validation. This philosophy works for brands as well—ever heard of a Minimum Viable Brand (MVB)?
Validation should come in the form of commitment from the end-user as feedback and praise alone will undoubtedly be biased. Users will tell you they like the product, but the validation comes when you ask them to pay for it. By modern standards where we grow increasingly more time-poor, “paying for it” can mean one of two things: either a commitment of time or money.
“Consider everything an experiment.”
—Sister Corita Kent
It may seem counterintuitive to spend money on a feature-poor product whose sole purpose is to test an idea. But the alternative—spending money and resources on a fully-featured product—is like buying a Swiss Army Knife when you need a screwdriver. It’s a waste of features, and often each feature is poorly implemented. The fact remains; gathering insights from an MVP is often less expensive than developing a product with more features. More features mean you’re going to be weeding through feedback on features that may only be touched once, rather than remaining focused on the core value. Incorrect assumptions can lead to more features, and more features increase costs and risk, which makes it that much more painful if the product fails4.
Feature Poor is the new Feature Rich
There is a great homogenization of thinking in aesthetics (Instagram), UX/UI (Dribbble), and technology (Silicon Valley) is all-encompassing. It makes it easy to fall into the trap of feature bloat, unrealistic expectations, and the abandonment of a slow and steady MVP philosophy.
The lore of Silicon Valley unicorns and startup culture makes it seem like anything is immediately possible. The reality is that even some of the best-known companies started out by validating first. In 2010, Uber was UberCab, an app that was built and used by only the founders and their friends, strictly in San Francisco (now worth $82bn). Airbnb, originally called AirBedAndBreakfast in 2007 started with the founders putting mattresses in their apartment and making them available to Industrial Design Society of America Conference (IDSA) attendees (now worth $38bn). Then there is Dropbox, who famously didn’t even launch a product, they released a demo video and requested beta-users (now worth $12bn). Even some AI startups are exploring pseudo-ai which seems fully-automated, but in reality, it’s a blend of AI and human interaction. This is a great example as it first focuses on validating the service before recklessly investing heavily in AI.
Our intention with this article is to stimulate the idea that feature-poor is a good thing, and that your process should be focussed on validation and testing to see if there is even a need. There are plenty of methodologies and forms that an MVP can take, but the key philosophy is focussed on validation and testing. The MVP can be a powerful tool for testing ideas, and it’s important to consider where it fits within your own organizational goals and scale.
- John Maeda, How to Speak Machine: Computational Thinking for the Rest of Us, 20193.