If you listen to the voices out there in our industry, organizations must release software at a breakneck pace if they want to survive in this consumerized, instant-gratification world of applications. Heaven forbid a competitor develops a new feature before you do. If that happens, you’re told, you might as well shut down your business and go fishing, which probably suits your pace better anyway!
Certainly, that is the case in some situations. Anyone remember MySpace? They got to market around the same time (or even a bit before, if memory serves) as Facebook, and lost that battle, as Facebook developed advertising tools and a more engaging user interface that captured people’s imaginations. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but destroyed the competition by building out an entire (again) advertising platform and a whole lot of productivity software.
(Related: Stop collecting useless business metrics)
But the hyperbole thrown around today about speed to market, and lost opportunities, seems, as Bob Uecker might say, juuust a bit over the top!
If you have a retail application that is slow to load, or crashes during checkout, that creates a bad user experience. But is it the end of your world? I do plenty of shopping online, at websites of retailers that I have long relationships with, and whose products I enjoy using. If their app fails while I’m checking out, I’m not going to find another website and shop there. I’m not in that much of a hurry to get my Derek Stepan jersey, or a pair of new water shoes for my wetsuit. I’ll just come back later, because I know the situation is temporary, and I like the company’s quality and service.
I remember something I heard from my brother-in-law years ago that stuck with me because I thought it funny, but it still rings true today, albeit in a different industry.
He is a mortgage broker, and I remember him describing the loan process. The application is taken, the bank approves the application, an appraiser sets the value of the house, the lawyers draw up paperwork, the title company makes sure the house is unencumbered, and they’re ready to close the loan. There’s only one problem. The borrower decides at the last minute he wants to think about it some more, and cancels the closing. My brother-in-law’s comment: “We could do so many more loans if it weren’t for those darn borrowers!”
That’s how it feels in the software industry today. A marketing department sees a sales opportunity. Designers create a new interstitial for the website, and developers make it happen with workflows and links back to fulfillment. Meanwhile, analytics pipelines are created and each step by every visitor to the website is tracked. Performance metrics are studied. Behaviors are noted. Yet, so many website visits end in “no sale.”
It’s not that the company failed to execute. They did everything correctly. And you know what? Online retailers could do so much more business if it weren’t for those darn customers!
The point is, there’s a human element to all of this. People are just not predictable. Some are loyal to a brand, and, like me, will forgive a one-off poor experience. Others have no patience. Some buy on a whim. Others shop an item around, and read up on features, before pulling the trigger on a purchase. It’s unpredictable behavior that renders all that resource planning, Continuous Delivery and analysis almost useless. There’s a reason that “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” is a saying.
(There is an answer, and it’s found in Creepytown: “Hey we saw you put an item in your cart but failed to purchase. Can you tell us why, so we can get your money next time?”)
So, is it imperative that companies race to deliver software that hasn’t been thoroughly tested, for the possibility of cashing in on an opportunity that may or may not even exist?
To me (and the Ford Motor Company), quality should be now and forever Job One. Give your customers an excellent (fill in the blank) experience, and they will remain loyal customers. You won’t have to forgive a glitch, or a page that takes that little bit longer to load, or any of the other fallout from rushing an application into the world too soon.