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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 8/3/2006

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!

eN-060803:


You Only Get One Chance To Make A Good First Impression!

  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]


You and your team are working very hard to complete product development on a critical project.  You’re getting closer, but you’re not there yet.  A senior manager walks in and says, “The trade show is only a month away and we’ve got to announce and show the product at the show!  Ready or not, here we come!”  These or similar words are often expressed as the pressure to get “something” out the door by a “magic” date grows.  The pressure is very real.  The demand for the product may be very real.  The problem with the senior manager’s expression is with the “or not”.  If you’re not really ready to release a product, if it hasn’t truly been thoroughly tested and validated, then the decision to get “something” out there, ready or not”, is NOT a sound strategy.  [See eN-060706 – If You Want It Bad, You’ll Get It . . . Bad!]  The old familiar saying, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression” is right.  Customers will long remember that what was delivered to them had real problems that caused real headaches far more than they will remember whether it was delivered in May or August.  A bad first impression will cause your reputation as a company to suffer, perhaps irreparably, and while it takes a long time to build a solid reputation, it can take just one bad experience to permanently damage that reputation.

Of course, given that the “magic” date is generally known well in advance, the aim should be to be ready to deliver a fully tested and validated product by that date.  This means ensuring that product requirements are fully ready, that an effective project plan has been prepared, implemented, tracked, and met, and that all of the proper product development methodology and execution steps have been followed.  In a perfect world, the product development would proceed in an orderly fashion, the project execution would unfold exactly according to the project plan, and a fully tested and validated product would be ready well in advance of the “magic” date.  Further, the product would be exactly what the market wanted, demand would be well above expectations, and revenues would grow beyond the wildest dreams.  OK, time for a reality check.  Sadly, the world is not perfect, and problems arise that prevent the achievement of perfection (see eN-050303 – Project Management: When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects).

While you want to make sure your product is truly ready for release, don’t wait for perfection.  Perfection will never come, and if you wait for it, you will never reach the point where you even can make a first impression.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that things have, by and large, been done the right way, but that as the time for public release of the product nears (the “magic” date), it is clear that there are problems remaining, and that the product is not ready to be made publicly available.  What do you do?  This is not a simple decision.  There are financial considerations.  The company’s reputation is on the line.  There are customer and market expectations. What are your options, and what are their impacts? 

Some companies set as their standard that they will not announce a product until quantities of product are available to begin shipping immediately.  Apple is an example of such a company.  When it announced the iPod® Nano, their pipeline was full and people could immediately purchase product, from Apple stores, from retail stores, online, and elsewhere.  Apple is a different kind of company.  They keep their new products very secret and avoid leaks.  When Apple announced the Nano, they “bet the company” by simultaneously discontinuing their best selling iPod, the iPod Mini.  Apple also doesn’t release a product until it is fully baked.  The don’t release a “Rev 1” version of a product, knowing that “Rev 2” or even “Rev 3” will be needed before the product is really ready (sound familiar for Microsoft users?).  There are few companies who follow this model, and this is a strong differentiator in the market.  It is now an expectation of how Apple announces products.  For the imaginary product we’re talking about here, following this model, the product would be delayed and nothing about the product or its release date would have been said or “leaked” to even let people know there was a delay.  It would be released only after it is truly ready.

Some companies set as their standard that product must begin shipping within "X" months of product announcement.  Some examples of this approach include Microsoft’s announcement of the X-Box 360™ in May of 2004 with availability slated for November 2004 (which they met), or Sony’s announcement of their PlayStation®3 at that same show with availability slated for a year later; Sony subsequently announced a delay of an additional 6 months on their product.  Announcing product a year in advance is stretching things to the extreme, and then announcing a further ½ year delay on that is quite disappointing, but not as disappointing as it would be to release a product that wasn’t really ready.  Typically companies will announce a product with availability within 3 to 6 months.  This approach can provide some time to fully complete the development to have a fully ready product, but this is not really a lot of time, so the product must be “close” to being ready when the announcement is made.

Often companies that announce products in advance of full product availability will try to have something at the time of announcement to show what the product will look like, what it will do, and how it will do it to demonstrate the product, even if it is just renderings and/or screen shots.  Preferably, they would like to have a “demo” product to demonstrate (even if it is not fully functional). If this can be done with minimal disruption to the product development, this is fine and can be encouraged.  However, when special efforts must be made to get the “demo” product ready, beware of the full impact of such a decision.  The “demo” product often becomes an entirely separate project, and the work on the “demo” product often comes at the expense of the real product, further delaying that real product availability.  An honest appraisal of the impact of having a “demo” product must be made, recognizing the real impact of this “demo” product on the actual product and fully accepting the consequences.

Some companies set as their standard that they will announce a “beta” release of their product (typically for software products), where interested potential customers can get this “beta” pre-release (often not fully a featured version of a product) to try it out and provide feedback to the company.  For products where a substantial demand is predicted, the can be a way for a company to get useful real-world feedback.  Examples include Microsoft for its new Windows® OS releases (e.g. Windows Vista™) or the latest Mozilla Firefox® web browser version.  This approach is not without risks, however, as a bad reception to a “beta” release can damage the prospects for the final product.


It is critical to do all you can to deliver products on time.  Your company’s existence may depend upon this.  However, when it comes to a choice of delivering “something” on time that may not be fully ready, or delivering the right product with high quality but doing so a bit later, opt for the right product but later.  Pick one of the approaches described above.  Remember,
you only get one chance to make a good first impression – make it a great one!


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Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved

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