Monday, February 2, 2009

Time = Quality + Features

A recent article about Microsoft's process and thoughts behind the release cycle of Windows 7, brought to mind the above equation. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have a partner, Yuval, who is as quietly wise (especially on matters dealing with technology), as he is gentle. Over hot chocolate one evening, he explained to me a stunningly simple equation that brought the tie between Product Management and company culture into sharp focus. For him it was as obvious; sort of like Einstein just knowing there was a relationship between the square of speed of light, energy and mass. Let me explain his equation:

Time= The date when your product/service will really be introduced to its customers
Quality= The customer experience (e.g. how many bugs/maximum pain to be inflicted)
Features= How much 'stuff' will be packed into the release

Yuval explained that each company has its own DNA, market pressures, and competitive dynamics that will cause them to interpret the above equation uniquely. For example, Intuit must hold (T) constant for its TurboTax product line, even at the risk of excluding 'killer' features, as it would be a death defying act for them to release a tax product on April 16th. On the other hand, Microsoft, was well known for its mantra to win all reviews. Knowing that breadth of features was essential to securing the coveted 'editors choice' (T) and (Q) often lagged customer expectations.

Lastly, a proud organization, such as IBM, was logically obsessed with product quality. As a consequence, they often shipped a superior quality product too late (OS/2) to have a market impact, or one that lacked feature depth to really differentiate themselves in a crowded ecosystem. Nonetheless, their core constituency, Enterprise customers, appreciated the reliability of the IBM brand.

The Internet, and more specifically the fast evolving SaaS universe, reinforces the validity of the equation. The now common practice, eponymous with Google, of releasing low/no cost permacheap 'beta' products may change user expectations at the core of Yuval's theorem, but it does not alter the DNA, or market pressures, that inevitably lead companies to make the 'best' in character decisions. To everything there is a season.

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