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Why is it that there is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over?

One of Murphy’s laws that crops up all too often in product development goes something like this:

“ There is never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.”

This law is almost guaranteed to show up when a development team is faced with critical deadlines and just have to get the product shipped no matter what. Which puts into play Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics:

“Things get worse under pressure.”

Indeed, there is a lot of pressure these days to get products to market as fast as possible, but in our haste, we make waste. There is nothing more wasteful than rushing a product to market only to discover we really didn’t understand what customers wanted. And there it sits in the channel pipeline looking for customers who will buy it.

And equally frustrating, and avoidable, is rushing through the design and test phases, choosing to forgo qualification testing because we believe testing will add too much time to the launch schedule. After all, we are pretty good at design and we know testing adds time to the product development cycle. Why not just rely on our good design practices and skip this “wasteful” step?  What could possible go wrong with our design decisions? Just ask Murphy!

Don’t get me wrong, time-to-market is important and may make the difference between winning market share or being an “also-ran.” But speed can kill too. Rushing inferior products to the market seldom ever leads to market success.

Whether it’s because we failed to take the time to understand what customers really want and need, or didn’t take the time to test and measure the overall quality of the product, the market will reject it. And more than likely your company won’t get a second shot. (see my article on Five Top Reasons Why New Products Fail and Remedies to Alleviate Failure )

“Waite a minute,” you might be saying. “Isn’t perfection the enemy of progress?”  Yes it can be and in my next article I’ll cover that topic. Depending on the circumstances and the dynamics of a market situation, a product offering doesn’t have to be perfect but it still has to be “good enough” to attract paying customers.

For example, in early stage markets, the early adopters (visionaries) are willing to experiment and work with you in developing a better product if they can “see” how a new idea and technology can give them a leg up.

The early adopter’s mindset and needs are much different than the early majority’s (the pragmatist). Early adopters are looking for a competitive edge are willing to accept a “minimum viable product” (MVP) and provide continuous feedback to the development team in validating what customers really want. (The MVP concept was popularized by Eric Ries – for more information see Minimum Viable Product)

Pragmatist though, aren’t looking for science projects. They don’t want to help development teams “get it right.”  That’s the job of the development team. Pragmatist expect the product to deliver value out of the box.  Pragmatist already have competitive choices and will change only when they are confident a new product provides them a better value than what is currently being offered, and the cost of switch is worth the effort.

In an article written by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. on Steve Jobs’s formula for success (How Apple Foot-Dragged to Victory, WSJ – January 26, 2011), Jenkins’s proposed the following hypothesis about Steve Jobs’s success.

“Mr. Jobs’s slowness is the key to Apple’s success. His focus on the device, his emphasis on perfecting the user experience, meant holding back, not overreaching. The iPod would only be a music player. The iPhone and iPad would be Web-browsing devices that wouldn’t play most of the video on the Web. Apple TV remains “a hobby” (his words) because there’s no way yet to deliver an acceptable user experience. And notice that each of these device categories had been around for five or 10 years by the time Apple entered (clobbered) them.”

Getting “it” right the first time, was the only option for Steve Jobs. Could you imagine the iPhone being a runaway success if Apple had shipped a faulty product? Remember the Newton? (Not released under Jobs’s leadership.) The cost both in market leadership and bottom line dollars would have been devastating for Apple had they jumped into the market with another clunky smart-phone and accepted the rules the carriers were then dictating.

What would Newton’s outcome had been had the then Apple team approached the market using an MVP concept? Perhaps they would have figured out that given the state of the technology, a better solution would have been a simple organizer and come up with the Palm Pilot? Who knows? But perhaps an MVP approach could have changed the outcome for Newton.

So we always have a choice to invest time upfront to do a product development launch right the first time. Sometimes that choice means implementing an iterative design approach and delivering an MVP to early adopters to progressively build a great product for the  early majority. And as Apple has demonstrated, being first to market isn’t the only strategy in town. (see my article: Is First Mover the Best Strategy or Is It Easier to Run From Behind?)

All great strategies are based on context and making the best choice for a given circumstance, which evolve over time. Sometimes quite dynamically. The measurement of product development success isn’t time-to-market but rather capturing the maximum product life-cycle profits by shortening the time-to-profit.

Do it fast, but not so fast that you compromise your number one objective: developing and launching products customer want and will buy – while achieving maximum product life-cycle profits!


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