Successful Products & Services Do One Thing

What have you learned today?

Me? A successful product or service does one thing.

Asking my son’s a similar question after their first day of school on Wednesday, I felt it might be appropriate to begin asking this of myself – and to note the answers. Perhaps just for posterity … Perhaps because they will make more sense over time … Perhaps, well, just because.

So, what did I learn?

I learned that a successful product or service does one thing. That’s it. Just one thing.

This isn’t a net new learning. Rather, this is knowledge that has been continually reinforced on a daily basis. For a number of reasons – yesterday was a really strong and positive reinforcement of this lesson.

What makes the web and ultimately mobile so unique is that the ability to connect dozens (or hundreds) of “just one thing” products is easily within our grasp. This enables the “best of the best” to serve their role while ancillary noise can be eliminated.

The ability to use APIs, plugins, etc. to connect these focused products is one of the most powerful aspects of the web and mobile today. The simple example of this is login – use your FB or Google login to access other services. This empowers the product team to “skip” the login and authentication step and focus their efforts on the core feature of the product or service … what will make it “must use” again and again.

In theory, this model of API-based application design should create significantly stronger applications as the ability to focus on core capabilities is unimpeded. In practice, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sitting on my desktop right now are (literally) hundreds of screenshots for a client’s project. Each image illustrates just one of a dizzying number of states the platform will present to and manage for customers. The depth and complexity of the features and functions is astounding. The time, attention to detail, everything that has gone into this platform has focused on addressing every conceivable state the customer may encounter. Very few I’s are left undotted or T’s uncrossed.

The depth of functionality is quite literally exhaustive.

As I’m working through the details on this complex product, I reflected back on the almost dozen products that I’ve helped clients launch this year … and they all have one thing in common – Incredible complexity.

Obviously this isn’t a unique state.

I tend to be introspective in these areas so I had to stop myself and ask a very difficult question, “Am I the cause of this complexity?”

This type of introspection isn’t easy – and it wasn’t easy this time.

Looking back at where each of this year’s projects began (at concept) and ended (at launch), it was clear that the complexity of vision and execution arrived before I did. Thankfully, the end product / service has become significantly more concise at launch than at concept.

This should hold true, I guess. We’ve all heard the axiom, “I’m sorry I have written such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” We’ve also all been faced with the prospect of doing something simple and ending up with pages and pages of stuff. Being precise and focused takes a considerable amount of time – time that most early stage organizations (and products) don’t have the luxury of wasting.

Instead of investing time in more, invest the same amount of time in less – if not in significantly less. The rewards of less will far outweigh the benefits of more – in the eyes of your customers, partners, employees and investors / shareholders.

… and now back to the product pruning shears …