To ship or not to ship: Software is never ready, but sometimes you have to ship it. This week Paul and Rich sit down to talk about the difficulties of shipping software. We share tips on how to deal with numerous stakeholders and engineers so that you can release software on time. We also talk about the importance of setting deadlines and draw some parallels between software and Las Vegas buffets.
Paul Ford People approach a buffet typically with a kind of like risk management portfolio based structure.
Rich Ziade Exactly.
PF I bet if you looked at buffet-based thinking, and bad investing in the marketplace, you would find the exact same mental pattern.
RZ Yes, absolutely.
PF Like, the housing crisis and what people do at a buffet in Vegas when they are treated to, I dunno, tiramisu. [Rich chuckling] Same set of principles and challenges, right? Like, “I’d better get more tiramisu.” Well, you don’t really actually want it, but it’s fancy [music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down].
PF Yeah, what’s up?
RZ I have a saying. I think [Paul sighs] it’s mine. I’m not sure if it’s mine. But I think it’s mine.
RZ So my saying goes: You don’t release software, you let it escape.
PF That’s pretty good.
RZ Do you get what I’m talking about there?
PF Well, that’s the thing, like, first of all, no one [music fades out] ever wants to ship or release anything. I’m four years late on a book.
RZ By ‘escape’ when I mean is it’s not ready; it’s never ready.
PF Let’s make a point, though: when is software done? Let’s bring up a few really popular pieces of software. Microsoft Excel. The Office 365. There’s the web version; there’s the Mac version; there’s the Windows version; there’s the Android version.
RZ The iOS apps are amazing now.
PF They’re wonderful! They’re really done and . . . in no way . . . could you say . . . that Excel is done. Although I couldn’t tell you what’s changed in the last, you know, ten years.
RZ Right. But Excel is not a fair comparison.
PF No, but I’m just saying: it’s not done.
RZ Excel’s not fair, Paul, because Excel—and I’ve heard this from others—apparently the, like, calculation engine in Excel hasn’t been touched in many, many, many, many years.
PF Why—math doesn’t change. [Rich laughs] Ok, let me throw—
RZ There is an engineer out there who wants to rewrite it so badly, so badly.
PF Oh yeah in like [Rich chuckling] some functional language where it’s all very pure, you know. Let me throw an acronym at you. Ready?
RZ What does that stand for?
PF Minimum Viable Product.
RZ It’s a popular term.
PF Because you’re supposed to ship your MVP and here’s what’s tricky: now, Product—I think we all agree, it’s something somebody can use.
PF Viable: ok, it has to do the thing you say it can do.
PF Minimum is where you get into trouble. That’s where—no one can agree on minimum.
PF Now, our clients come in and they say, “Minimum is roughly what Google or Microsoft would
PF And we say, “Minimum is one square that you can click on.” And then you gotta find a space in between.
RZ Get it out and learn!
PF Ok. What is this about? This is about two things. This is about the fact that software is really hard to just get into the world. There’s lots of little moving pieces, and you’re trying to do something new. The other thing it’s about is not wanting to look like an idiot. That’s a huge one.
RZ That’s ok, I think you should embrace looking like an idiot out of the gate.
PF First of all, unless you’re super, super famous or really a large company . . . at which point you kinda have a plan and you’re gonna spend a little extra money anyway. Nobody cares about anything! You drop something into the world—
RZ Oh! This is a terrible thing to say.
PF No, but this is real. You drop a truly minimum product in the world, and you’re like, “Oh my God, man, we haven’t—we’ve been able to keep this on lock. I’m gonna send out a press release, let people know it’s happening. Look, it doesn’t have the—we said we’d let people pick the color of the avatar and it doesn’t even do it.”
RZ More—more features. More stuff.
PF Exactly, I wanted more of that, and you release it and no one says or does anything because there are over two hundred trillion apps—I might be off a little bit—in The App Store right now.
RZ It’s very hard to stand out.
PF There’s 50 billion web pages on my desktop.
RZ That’s right.
PF It’s just [Rich clears his throat] there’s so much stuff! People still act like it was 20 years ago, where you could, like, put a hat on a hamster, put that on a webpage, and be like, “I’m a millionaire.”
RZ I mean I think you’re talking about getting it out into the world. Sometimes you’re just trying to get it out into your company. And that’s [mm hmm] even hard, right? Like, if you put yourself on like the radar—sonar—sonar.
PF Yeah, sonar. Sonar.
RZ There are a few blips you should [Paul makes a beeping sound, like sonar] look out for. One is, what I call the buffet problem. You ever eat at a buffet?
PF This is one of the tragedies of my life. [Rich laughs wheezily] The Vegas buffet problem.
RZ I will—I will highlight this by one of our early conversations with one of our important clients. They put about 15 stakeholders in the room.
RZ And I was just getting pelted with vegetables and fruit. And I’m taking all these notes down and it was 11 pages of requirements. And it’ll keep coming at you.
PF I mean, that’s—
RZ Essentially though they were piling on the shrimp because it was free and they just kept asking and asking and asking and asking.
PF Here’s what’s tricky, right? 15 people get in a room, the assumption is they kind of all want the same thing.
RZ Fundamentally they do.
PF They want [often] something to get built that will serve their customer.
RZ They’re tired of the old tool that takes three days to get back to a customer, they wanna get back within three hours. For example.
PF Everyone has a different roadmap to success.
RZ And a different, weird esoteric thing that’s defined by them and who they are and what they like.
PF And the thing that they hate the most is going to drive them.
PF And they all hate something a little different about the old system.
RZ That’s right. So blip . . . The requirement’s runaway train, right? Like if you keep piling those on, this thing’s never gonna make it out. Good product: . . . and good product leadership, defends the core. Great product leadership has somehow—makes you feel like you were listened to, even though you took 90% of the requirements and put them in a blender.
PF Oh, great product leadership—
RZ And made a smoothie out of it.
PF—is like, “This is wonderful but we have to go up the mountain, and the air is different up there. So stop breathing here. And get ready. [Rich chuckling] And, you know, you can’t bring anything with you.” Great product leadership—this is maybe why California leads in product development a lot because they’re so used to going up to the mountains and you have to travel really light.
PF Like California culture is like, you get a backpack and you get like five things in that backpack, you know, they like to have about two pounds of stuff with them, and then they’re like, “Look, I can live on the mountain.”
RZ Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
PF That’s how they think about product.
RZ That’s why everybody’s dead on the mountain.
PF That’s true—
RZ There’s just dead bodies everywhere.
PF—but you come to New York City, everybody’s like, “We’re gonna rent a car [chuckles]. We’re gonna get a house for our 12 friends.”
RZ The amount of like smoothies and like—packets of protein and—
PF I’m gonna bring my Bullet Blender to the house in the Catskills, right? [Yeah] That’s a New
York City mentality where we have to take the whole company, all 15 people in the room, we gotta put our whole company in the app or we’re gonna look like idiots.
RZ And that’s the danger, right? And so, how do you keep that core—
PF Well, the fundamental prob—
RZ—defending that requirements runaway train—against the requirements runaway train is a big one, right?
PF Well, so you know how every—There was a truism in the days of big corporate websites which, I mean, there still are a lot of corporate websites, which is that they would represent the internal structure of the firm.
PF Right, so you’d be like, “I don’t know what compliance is but I’m gonna click on it, I guess.” Like it would just be, “Why does compliance have a 40 page section?”
PF And it’d be because it had 200 employees.
RZ Exactly. So everybody’s gotta get their two cents in. So that’s—how do you keep it down to the core? Like, truly be minimal, right? As to your point. Now there’s another blip on the sonar . . . The engineers. God bless ‘em. First off: they’re the ones that are doing the building. Happiness for engineers is a funny thing. Contentment for engineers is a funny thing, right?
PF It’s more measured in things like the number of synthesizers they own.
PF Yeah. It’s also sometimes in like non—
PF It’s absences. Like, “I’m able to use an iPad from 1995 where there were no iPads.” [Chuckles]
PF “To do all of my work.” And sometimes they’re just the nicest, sweetest people who just get along.
RZ They are the nicest, sweetest people but the ones that care deeply about their craft and the quality of what they’re putting out, oftentimes have a hard time getting their heads around what MVP means from an engineering standpoint which is no, it’s not gonna be aimed at 11 million people. So scaling isn’t a challenge yet. And that’s shitty . . . I’m gonna use the words PHP right now . . . [mm hmm] to prototype for something. Or Python to prototype something. We just wanna get a thing out and we wanna learn and see if this even makes sense.
PF Yeah, but this won’t—You’re not doing it right.
RZ This is the thing. I learned to code over like a nine month period. Just for the purpose of an engineer sitting me down and telling me, “That’s gonna take six months.” When I understand that I just need to put four numbers in a box for persistence. And why would it take six months. Because sometimes I’m not looking to create the ultimate final thing.
PF Can I give you a little context here from my old world?
RZ Yes, and then I wanna ask you a question.
PF Ok. So, I used to work in media, right?
RZ You still do, Paul. Just a quick reminder.
PF No, but I used to work at a magazine.
PF And the magazine had to go out every month.
PF And the people in the organization were organized the magazine going out every single month. And there was a day. And if it wasn’t—
RZ Can you say the name of the magazine?
PF Harper’s Magazine. It was a monthly. It was a small team. So there was a Managing Editor who made sure that all the pieces were in. They didn’t run the whole magazine. They made sure all the pieces were in. They would come and stand at your door and say, “I need you to finish
editing that piece, so I can put it in the mag—I can move it along to the next step.”
RZ Yeah, “I need the thing.”
PF If you didn’t get the PDFs on the server in time. So you gotta get design done, art in, rights and permissions, so on and so forth. There’s contracts going on in the background. If you didn’t get the PDFs on the server, there was a large punitive cost. It cost—I don’t remember, it was like tens of thousands or twice as much to take it through the printing process which was a vast amount of money.
RZ Ok, for a little magazine.
PF For a little magazine. Like it was like—
RZ You’re talking about to get to paper magazine.
PF Cuz you had to put it on the FTP server and then they would print it and mail it out for you. . . put the labels on, all that stuff.
PF You can’t be late. So the entire organization, like the secret service in front of the President was organized around running in front of that date and taking the bullet. You know what happened the day after you sent it? You closed the magazine out and you sent it to the printer?
PF Start the next one.
PF It’s a little calm. Like it’s a little calm—
RZ But you have an advantage here! Right?
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And the advantage is you’ve got a real, tangible deadline that has real consequences if you don’t hit it.
PF And you have a form and a structure and a process that is organized around delivering the
same level of content every single month.
RZ “I would love to give that illustration another four days. It deserves another four days.”
PF “It doesn’t matter.”
RZ “It’s gotta go.”
PF “It doesn’t matter because I have to get—we have to do the next issue, too.”
RZ Can I tell you a dirty trick I use?
RZ Artificial deadlines are a thing.
PF Every manager. Every manager. You have no choice.
RZ You know what I do?
PF “Why can’t I have it by Wednesday?”
RZ “No, it’s a marketing meeting. The Labs. There’s like five Labs projects going on.”
PF Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
RZ And I say, “Put it on calendar.”
PF Oh! And it’s nuclear.
RZ And send the invite out. Everything starts to line up. It’s May 11th, 200 people are comin’, we’re gonna put all sorts of collateral out, the website’s gonna get a massive update. Guess what? Software just starts shipping.
PF You know what’s funny? People start sitting in a room and they’re talking about why things can’t happen and you say—and I’ve said it, too, like, “Let’s put the event on the calendar.” And it is like they’ve heard a talking dog [Rich laughs wheezily]. Like, “How are we gonna do that?!” And [Rich laughing] then you put the event on. You know, sometimes as a writer, cuz I still do a lot, when I work with editors, I need to stay accountable, cuz I got a couple of lives going at once, right?
PF And writing is something where it’s very easy to procrastinate. It’s—writers are legendary for it.
RZ They’re garbage. Garbage people.
PF [Chuckles] Exactly. I send a Google Invite to the Editor. I say, “Accountability check-in: Paul to have his draft done.” And if I never worked with them again, I would say it’s 100% of them going, “No one has ever done this before.”
RZ The invite?
PF The invite. None of them.
RZ To just self police and say—
PF Never—it just—[stammers]
RZ It looks like a lie.
PF People work hard to preserve ambiguity around delivery.
RZ Let’s be fair here: it’s not designers and engineers dicking around.
PF It’s not a good or bad thing. It’s just—
RZ They’re not lazy!
PF They’re just saying, “I can’t tell you for sure—”
RZ “I gotta get this right!”
PF “—that I will have delivered something of equality.” And what your job is, is both to advocate ultimately for quality, if you’re running the product or delivering the thing, like you gotta say like, “Ok, this can’t go out cuz it’s bad.”
PF Even though that hurts people’s feelings.
PF But you also have to say, “This can go out even though parts of it aren’t good.”
RZ I’ve had a designer sit me down and say—and I can tell they aren’t happy with what they’re about to show me—but I ask them to show me where they are. And I’ve got one eye looking at the date, and I’m thinking, “I gotta move—” I’m like, “This is good. This is good. Move on—”
PF Did you ever think that management would be you telling people what to do instead of them sitting you down and telling you what not to do? [Rich laughs] [Laughing] That is the—that is the lesson I learned, man! Ok, so a designer sits you down.
RZ And they’re asking me, “What do you think?” And I say, “This is not bad. This is—we can run with this.” [Paul sighs] And they look at me and they say, “You’re an animal.”
PF That’s right.
RZ I say, “We’re gonna go! This is good.” And they say, “How can you say that?” I’m like, “Why did you show this to me?” It’s like, “You asked to see where I am right now.” I was like, “This is good. Do these four things. Button it up. Put it in a box. And go.” And it’s painful. Engineering it’s, “I gotta redo it. Yeah, I know, Rich. The notifications are working but they’re working in such a garbage way that I’m ashamed of myself.”
PF “Yeah, I don’t wanna—we can’t launch—we can’t go live with this.”
RZ “No, I just did that so it could work for now.” [Laughing] That’s another one!
PF Let’s talk for a second, what are the things you truly can’t go live with? You cannot go live with bad, exposed security in-points. Like you can’t—that’s a real one.
RZ No, you can’t do the math wrong. Objective bug is a bug!
PF The core value has to be there. Yeah.
RZ And you can’t go out, right?
PF You know the dangerous one, though? And this is—the highest one is, “I’ve got a fricking supercomputer on my desk. It’s great. I’ve got Safari and Chrome. And no one can see this thing on Android. But it doesn’t matter cuz I don’t use an Android phone.”
PF You might’ve just lost 80% of your base. But it doesn’t matter to you.
RZ Who’s your target? Yeah.
PF Yeah, but you’ve made it look really good. You did your part. And that is, to me, the flipside, that’s the real danger where you’ve just forgotten all the people who live in a world of less money and pure resources.
RZ That’s a product target error!
RZ Just to go back to how do you enforce and keep it narrow and minimal: you’re saying there are certain things you just can’t compromise, right? Like are you hitting the right people? Is it secure? Are there real, like, obvious bugs where the quality level’s just not there?
PF It depends on the kind of release, right? Like, does it have to be truly secure if it’s behind a—I’ll just be technical—like a regular HTTP auth password that, you know, we know to be secure and there’s only a hundred people who have the password and they’re in—
RZ If your audience is small, you’re still testing, no.
PF And it’s behind like a kind of meta password and so they can’t get in and hack around and you know it’s not the people—And they can go in and hack around [music fades in] and what would go wrong? They’d be like, “I’ve found a bad bug.” [Music plays alone for four seconds, fades out.] Rich!
PF We gotta cut in here and just tell people that Postlight builds platforms, apps, mobile apps, web apps, all the stuff that you do with a computer, we can help you do it.
RZ We ship the stuff!
PF That’s right. We’ll get it in The App Store; we’ll get it up on the web; we’ll make it work inside your organization, whatever you need. What’s a good project for Postlight? What would you call us to do?
RZ [Sighs] That workflow system that you’ve been using for years and years and years needs to be rebuilt. It’s time.
PF That’s right, you’ve got 5,000 people across your organization tracking these projects and now, God, you just can’t do it this way anymore.
PF “Could you get me something that really works well that I can login with from my existing system and make it go?”
RZ That’s when you call us.
PF And for weird, one-off products that no one’s ever thought of before, that happens too.
RZ We also love to talk. So, if you have a question . . . people don’t know this, let’s just lay it out there, dude. We give free advice.
PF All the time.
RZ All the time. email@example.com. Email us.
PF We look forward to hearing from you [music fades in]. Now, let’s get back to our podcast, already in progress [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down].
RZ You know what’s a horrible [music fades out] feeling?
PF Many! Yeah, I got a lot of those [chuckles].
RZ What’s a horrible feeling is when a Product Manager’s starting to get anxious and trying to move things along, and the designers and the engineers think you don’t care.
PF Yeah! It is.
RZ They think you’re being careless and they think you aren’t thinking about the whole thing. And you’re just trying to push it through, and you just don’t care.
PF Let’s be clear here: a lot of this is about taste. They think that you’re being gauche. They think that you’re being tacky. And that you don’t—
RZ Or they think you’re being—
RZ And you don’t respect their discipline.
RZ Without a doubt.
PF When you are really committed to a discipline, you’re a snob! And what they’re saying to you is, “I’m gonna put something out, and I’m gonna embarrass you.”
RZ [Laughs] Fine. I mean we’re practically writing a job description of the ultimate Product Manager. That Product Manager that really fully goes ahead and understands and has a conversation with that designer engineer?
PF Mm hmm.
RZ As to why you’re moving. And that’s why you’ll get back to it . . . is also a real skill, right?
PF Well, also somebody who can say to the stakeholders on the other side, like, “Look: give this two more months. I know that hurts. But there are three or four things that we never thought about. You didn’t think about it; we didn’t think about. And if you give us a minute, we will get that for you and it’ll be a better launch for your kind of organization.” It’s easy to advocate for like, “Nah, to hell with it! Ship on the first day! Throw everything out there!”
PF But there’s other realities as well. Like, if you know it’s a very political environment and the timing is variable, and if you put something out that’s a little stupid but people have knives and would love to tell the CEO how bad this project has failed, you do have to button it up. Everything hues to a kind of weird, messy, human reality that is nothing like what you read about on Twitter or in books.
RZ Yup. The product person that is really, I mean, frankly, look at all the human management here, right? You’ve got the stakeholders are coming at you with a million things they want and you’re only gonna give ‘em five. You’ve got designers and engineers who can’t believe you’re not understanding where they’re coming from. It’s hard. I mean I’ve done it. And others have done it. Sometimes it’s like, “I’m hearing you. I get it. I don’t disagree with you. It’s gotta go. I’m sorry. Just take it forward. Forget that bit.” Sometimes, you know what pisses me off? The rambling on of edge-cases.
PF This is professional growth, right? As you are getting more and more senior in career, you go, “Yup, ok, let’s go.”
PF And I’ll tell you what: the people who hold onto those edge-cases fiercely . . . who are like, “Nah, can’t do it. Can’t do it.”
RZ It’s a fatal flaw for a PM.
PF It’s a fatal flaw ultimately for everyone. And it’s an incredibly dangerous razor, right? Because you do it because you gotta get it out there, but you need a strategy to get that quality back in after the initial shipping, right?
PF Like you need an iterative strategy to get stuff out because if you become the like, “Ah, to hell with it! Ship it!”-person then you don’t have a sense of quality and you’re kinda creating a mess.
RZ Are you willing to stay on top of it and continue to refine it and make it better, right? Like, that’s the question.
PF While also accepting that it’s gonna go in front of human beings who are gonna judge you and find you wanting, or who have no taste and think that this garbage is good!
RZ There’s a lot of garbage out there that makes a lot of money.
PF That’s right.
RZ So, there’s that.
PF And can you kind of like just release it and know that you’re gonna be able to do good work, it just won’t—you won’t have full control the whole way. Control is a big thing, right? Like it’s—
RZ Well, you’re gonna get most of it wrong out of the gate.
PF But also—
RZ Just learn. Go out and learn and iterate.
PF Why do people go out and do a career in technology? It’s because it gives them something that they can control and gain expertise in and sort of build their lives around.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF Nobody comes to Postlight to sell carpet. Like it’s not a generic interchangeable—
RZ No, it’s very craft-driven.
PF And the people here are very specific human beings who really, in general, love the field, right? And so you’re asking a lot of them, when you’re asking them to kind of let it go.
RZ Honestly, deep down, I respect and appreciate that person who’s really upset that the thing isn’t great.
PF Well, you get sat down a lot—
RZ I sympathize. I get sat down a lot. There are meetings that happen before my meeting, about how they’re gonna get me to agree that what I’m saying and what I’m asking for is completely wrong.
PF Here’s what’s tricky. [Rich laughs emphatically] I know [chuckles]. Here’s what’s tricky in the age of like everyone should have exactly the life they want under their own terms at all times, at their job, is that if you really want it, you kinda have to stay late sometimes. There’s really good quality but greatness tends to come at least—Like, the things that I’ve pushed over a line where I’ve been like, [exasperated] “Ok, we finally got it.” They have a terrible tendency to happen at around 10:30 pm on like a Thursday night.
PF You see it. It’s not obligatory and it’s not everything, it’s not all the time. That is a tricky and awful thing and I wish I could debug it and I wish that I could, you know, say, “Actually, everyone on Twitter, you’re totally right!”
PF “You only need to work 40 hours a week in order to achieve absolutely every dream you’ve ever had.”
PF But there’s something about going in with a dental pick and solving a problem after eating Chinese food at 10 pm in an office alone, where it’s dark.
RZ It’s a really sad picture.
PF It’s a sad picture but I swear to God, it’s pure—You got your own music on. You’re not even on headphones anymore.
PF You ever get to that point? And you’re like a little dirty. You’re not feeling good. You’re down to your t-shirt [Rich snort chuckles], you’re singing along.
RZ A little too much Chinese food sums it up.
PF Exactly. No, and you’re there, it’s been a couple of hours, you’re drinking at 10, and you go, “I got it. I unlocked it. I see it. I compiled it. It works.”
RZ That’s a good feeling?
PF It’s the best feeling in the world!
RZ It’s a good feeling. You put the time in. And you put the work in. And—
PF It’s why I’m in this business is that feeling.
PF We don’t put that pressure on people, you put that on yourself. You can’t make somebody be that way.
RZ We have people here that are like, “I see what you want; leave me alone.” And they’re gone for like 20 hours, and you can tell they didn’t sleep a lot.
PF That’s right. You can’t put that on them because it destroys their lives and it’s bad.
RZ Good stuff doesn’t come out of it when you force it.
PF No, and it can’t be all the time.
RZ I wanna close this with a counterargument. I wanna frame it as a question. Apple, which is, you know, for many of you is the pinnacle of great product.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ Right? Both in terms of software and hardware and what not. It’s just so polished, and clean,
and well done. It doesn’t do this! They don’t ship out crap. In fact, they sit on it, for a while, and they leave a lot on the floor, and they iterate, and they iterate, and they iterate. And they keep doing it. And, in fact, a lot of their reputation is based on the fact that things are so airtight when they go out, you know? And there is a view that Android is sort of a second-class level of quality when it comes to polish and predictability and quality and—So, are you a good PM for shovin’ shit out all the time?
PF First of all, let’s be clear: a lot of major endeavors? Yeah, that’s absolutely true. But how many times you get that little update coming from Apple, you know? “For security purposes.”
PF No, I mean, for real, like, they’re playing the same game. It’s plate tectonics. I mean, they’re like, “We gotta move very carefully here because whatever we do—”
RZ “Is big.”
PF Well, it’s also, “If I go one degree to the left, maybe I’ll find another trillion dollars.”
RZ Right. It’s a different, different sport altogether versus like internal tool for 300 people.
PF “I’m taking my time because I might an entire economy around!”
PF I’m sure the pace inside of Apple feels even more urgent. And also, sure, they take their time, but in that interim, how many thousands of people are just working and working and working to make that right? Cuz it’s also like everything has to be in 32 languages and everything has to be this and everything—Like—
RZ Also, not everything is great. Some of the stuff they do roll back.
RZ I mean some of it, you see it, and you’re like, “That was here a while ago.” You know at one point there was a store in my Facebook . . . and I could buy, like bananas.
PF Oh yeah.
RZ And then it was gone. And then it came back.
PF My favorite, the one I like to talk about—
RZ [Stammering and chuckling] It was just—I could buy bowling balls from a guy down the street.
PF Remember when Twitter just dropped a little TV on the left?
RZ [Laughing] They just try a thing!
PF Nobody remembers anymore.
RZ When they try a thing it’s a funny—cuz they sit there, they put the metrics in, so they can see how it goes, but for people it’s like, “How the hell am I shopping for bowling pins now?”
PF I’m like, “Oh, let me go to twitter.com website here on my computer at work.” And then on the left, I’m like, “Wow! Girls lacrosse. That’s [Rich laughing]—really surpri—I never expected to watch ten minutes of Bloomberg TV on Girls Lacrosse. I wonder what’s happening there!”
RZ Oh God.
PF And then one day it’s gone!
RZ One day it’s gone.
PF One day Twitter is a broadcast TV network.
RZ There’s gotta be a name for that where you [mm] essentially you ship a thing. You don’t really tell anyone, you see how it goes, and then if it doesn’t go well, you just get rid of it.
PF Don’t talk about it too much. “Well, we’ve made some changes in our video strategy here at Twitter.” PR like tells someone at Reuters News.
RZ It’s very odd. It’s very odd.
PF [Laughing] Well, it’s just so frickin’ weir—Especially with Twitter!
RZ Yeah, I think at that scale, you do that, right? You try the thing.
PF Yeah, or you roll it out to small groups. There’s all sorts of things happening. Like, you know, people roll things out to New Zealand.
RZ That’s a known thing, right? Like app builders—
RZ—can push it out to a region [that’s right]. So you can push your app to New Zealand. If anything is disastrous then you can keep going.
PF Cuz what happens if it’s New Zealand?
RZ I mean it’s like 11 people and nine sheep.
PF And four hobbits. It’s not that big a deal.
RZ Ok! So, let’s summarize. I think, you know, this was really kind of guidance for product but really I think it applies to everybody. The buffet challenge, right? Requirements just piled on top of each other.
PF Mm hmm!
RZ You hit those off without making people feel like their being ignored is really hard. How do you tell people, “Look, we’re gonna get something out now and learn a little bit and then get to your thing cuz I know your thing is necessary,” cuz sometimes they do have the business person who’s like, “No, you’re gonna put it in now.”
PF You know the real lesson here, ultimately? Every single one of these is different. Everybody will tell you there’s one answer. You know, they’ll be like, “Oh, you should be more agile! Or, “Designers you should use these tools to communicate your ideas.” “Hey, Product Managers—” It’s like, no. You need deadlines and you sit there with people and you listen to them and you listen—
RZ Plan the event.
PF Yeah, you plan the event. You get a big clock that counts down.
PF And you say, “Let’s get this done.”
PF And then you say, “Well, I know you’re going on vacation, can you just get everything
organized so that Sally can pick it up when you go?”
PF It’s just that every single day.
RZ Yeah, I mean, for me, more and more it’s human management as much as it is product management.
PF Just nothing happens without all of that.
PF If you think that you can set things up on a path, tell the client what’s gonna happen, put a Google Calendar date in [yup], and tell everybody how to get their stuff done, and then just check-in with a stand-up every week. It’s going to fall apart into 50,000 little pieces.
PF You gotta sit there and go like, “How’s this gonna break? Oh ok. Well, you know what? Dave can be a pain but I should go over there and talk to him.”
RZ Yup, yup.
PF “Because he’s gonna really wanna have his opinion.” And then you go listen, you write it down.
RZ A lot of writing.
PF A lot of writing, a lot of Google Docs. That Google Doc by the end of the project usually looks like something that’s been through World War II.
RZ Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah. And then you’ve got the designers and the engineers who want to make it better and wanna rewrite it, and wanna keep doing the thing. That’s hard too, right? Like you’re trying to also tell people, “You’re not compromising your craft, we’re just gonna go out and learn, and keep going and it’ll be great.”
PF And then the last bit there is when the entrepreneurs and leaders who are truly quality focused go away . . . and build their next thing and are like, “I’m gonna get it right this time.” It has an incredibly strong tendency not to ship.
RZ You can keep doing it, right? I just watched the documentary about General Magic.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And how they spun for like four years—
PF That’s right.
RZ—before the product came out.
PF Look, Steve Jobs, they finally yelled at him cuz he kept repainting equipment on the factory floor and he was just like, “I need that robot to look better.”
RZ There’s a lot going on there.
PF There is, right? Like he was doing it right. I mean they managed to [chuckles] extract it in an amazing business and it turns it into the future of Apple but yeah, General Magic is a good example. The palm-sized organizer space for years and years. Just everybody had—
RZ Tried to get it perfect. Yeah.
PF And especially cuz it was a consumer product and there was no way to update it. And then it would hit the market and it would often hit late and people would go like, [unimpressed] “Eh. Ok.”
RZ There’s something pretty glorious about the solo app person.
RZ Who just sells it for three bucks . . . cuz this whole podcast is about people. Is about interacting with people and negotiating with people and not making people feel like shit as you’re trying to move a thing along.
RZ But, you know, there are those—you’re doing it yourself. You wanna take another month. Fine. You don’t. Fine. It’s you. And you’re gonna design it, and you’re gonna create a little icon for it, and you’re gonna put it up in the store for three dollars, and all of that goes away, but obviously [music fades in] to build things at a real scale and that are big and ambitious, you need more than one person, and this is about people. The right thing is easy, unfortunately people are involved. I don’t who said that either.
PF Maybe it was you, maybe it was your law professor.
RZ Paul, this stuff’s hard. This stuff is really hard. But, you know, software’s amazing. I mean, once it goes out—I mean, we’ve had a bunch of Lab projects that came out of Postlight.
PF Oh! I love using software and not thinking about what goes into making it.
RZ But also when it goes out, it’s sad. We know there’s flaws. And we know there’s things we would’ve wanted to do. We had this thing called Tiny Sheet. It’s this little ten by two spreadsheet that just does some quick calculations. It’s really cool. It’s great. And then as soon as it went out, we were using it, and we were using it actively. And we’re like, “We need to do those five things.”
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And it’s real. It never really ends. But it’s still great. When it goes out and you see people using it.
PF It’s fun.
RZ It’s really fun. You could check out all the stuff we’ve done in the Labs, by the way.
PF That’s true. Just go to postlight.com and poke around, you’ll find everything you need.
RZ Yes. And we’d love to talk to you about this stuff.
RZ That’s the way to reach out to us. firstname.lastname@example.org
PF It’s really easy. It’s email. We love it.
RZ Thanks! Have a great week, everyone.
PF Alright, we’ll talk soon [music ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out to end].