Fear of Letting Go

Companies find all kind of excuses to not ship software products. The main reason is typically fear that the product is not ready for prime time. Guess what – if you don’t expose it to real users it never will be. With new versions of existing products, it usually goes like this: “customers won’t like it. The new version is not differentiated enough / too differentiated from the existing one”.  The argument is similar when dealing with new products: “customers won’t like it. Compared to the competition, the product is not differentiated enough / so different that it’s probably bad”.

Cloud based software provides the luxury of continuous, selective deployment of incremental versions to a subset of users, occasionally rolling them back if things go wrong. This about-face has an operational cost, of course, so clear criteria have to be developed to minimize retraction rate. Not all products are a natural fit for continuous deployment, however – especially when regulations and compliance are at play.

Many factors lead product managers to hesitate before pushing the “Ship” button. Steve Jobs famously stated that “real artists ship”, and this from a man who was the consummate perfectionist. If he could ship anything, so can mere mortals like you and me. So what stands in our way? Fear. Fear for our company, for our job, for our future. Nobody wants to be associated with a flop.

If you don’t have enough data to decide which features to build, build data collection and analysis into the process. Holding off on releasing the product is not the solution as it will result in even less data being collected. If anything, hold off on releasing the product until data collection and analysis are an integral part of it, then release immediately. If you think the code is not stable enough, build better testing into the process. Not letting the code out of the building will make bug tacking longer. If anything, hold off on releasing the product while building automated and manual testing procedures, then let it out the door immediately.

Releasing your baby product is much like letting your child go her own way. Separation anxiety is a powerful force, capable of paralyzing you. If you wait until your kids are ready, they never will be. You have to instill this ability in them through a long bring-up process. Many of the actions you make as a parent seem unrelated, but at the end of the day most of them are geared toward fostering successful independence, making your kids the pride of your later years. Same with products – your real goal should be to let go and have the product support itself, becoming the shining star of your P&L.

Joel Gascoigne suggests turning fear of shipping into fear of not shipping. Brilliant idea. Mark Zukerberg recently posted a picture of his desktop with a sign saying “Stay Focused and Keep Shipping”.  I couldn’t think of a better way to capture the sentiment.

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