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The Art of ‘Ware (V 2.0, maxim 1:1): product development

February 25, 2008 0 Comments

[From The Art of ‘Ware (Version 2.0) by Bruce F. Webster (forthcoming), Chapter 1, “Starting Out”]

Product development is vital to the company: it defines the landscape of success and failure, the road to growth or collapse. It must be thoroughly studied.1

Every company has a product: that which it produces, sells, or exchanges. The product may be something physical, some form of information, some service, or a combination of the three. Product development, then, includes the entire cycle of conception, design, and production of a finished product; in its most general sense, it also includes marketing and selling the product.

So what is success? I’m tempted to paraphrase an old quote: I may not be able to define it, but I know when I see it. The same is true with failure.

The closest working definition I’ve come up with for success is achieving the goals of your company, its employees, and its investors (and stockholders, if any). Of course there may be a lot of different and even incompatible goals in that group. That’s why success is relative. In the view of shareholders, former General Dynamics CEO William Anders helped achieve tremendous success back in the early 1990s, because General Dynamic’s stock increased dramatically in value. On the other hand, many former GD employees felt angry and betrayed because tens of thousands of them were laid off as Anders sold off, scaled back, or closed down entire divisions, earning for himself tens of millions of dollars in bonuses linked to stock performance. In their view, General Dynamics had failed. Both viewpoints are defensible; it all depends on where you sit.

Since the mid-1990s, the Web 1.0 and 2.0 business waves (or, if you will, bubbles) have redefined the concept of “product” to mean the company itself. In other words, many of these businesses don’t have the underlying products and fundamentals (such as earnings/share) to support their valuation; nevertheless, many of these companies have been snatched up for breathtaking sums of money. It’s hard to point to many examples where the purchase price, or even the acquisition itself, ended up being justified a year or two later; it’s a lot easier to point to examples where it did not.

This may all seem self-evident; a review of Econ 101 mixed in with the latest issue of Forbes. But it’s so hard to succeed and so easy to fail. I know: I’ve been on both sides. All things considered, I prefer to succeed, and I prefer as many people involved as possible to succeed.
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1 Compare Suntzu pingfa (Chapter 1, “Calculations”): Warfare is a great matter to a nation; it is the ground of death and of life; it is the way of survival and of destruction, and must be examined. (Sonshi online translation)

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About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at bwebster@bfwa.com.

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