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The Art of ‘Ware (V 2.0, maxim 2:2): delayed release

March 25, 2008 0 Comments

[From The Art of ‘Ware (Version 2.0) by Bruce F. Webster (forthcoming), Chapter 2, “Supporting Development”]

When you release a product, if success is slow in coming, you’ll face diminishing returns on product development and exhaustion among your engineers and marketers.

It is enough of a challenge to sustain energy and excitement through the process of actually getting the product out the door. If returns are slow and small, people can get discouraged and start looking for the door themselves.

When your developers are burned out, your technology aging, your resources diminished, and your advantages gone, then others will take advantage of your weaknesses and cut into your market. Even expensive consultants and new CEOs won’t be able to turn things around.

Few technology companies manage to keep themselves in a lead position for more than five years. At that point, they usually become victims of their own success. The visionaries who founded the company are either gone or given emeritus status. Market focus is on adding yet more features to old, bloated products; no one is willing to risk coming up with new products and technologies that might cannibalize existing ones. And so they start on the long (or, sometimes, not so long) glide downwards, shedding products and people, sometimes merging with other firms on the downward slope. Some companies manage to level off, or at least to slow the rate of descent, but they rarely regain their former status; their place in the market has been filled by other companies with newer products and technologies.

There have been product releases that were poorly done but quickly successful, but there have been few that were well executed and that took a long time to succeed. No company has benefited from a prolonged competition.

There are three dangers in a prolonged competition. First, it consumes resources that could be applied to new markets and products. Second, it narrows your profit margin, further limiting resources that could be applied elsewhere. Third, it tends to lock you in on your current products, blocking development of new ones and leaving you vulnerable to new competitors.

Note, though, that success is relative. In established markets, there are typically two to four major players who between them own 90% of the market. In such a case, gaining even a few percentage points of market share is cause for celebration; witness the fierce battles between Pepsi and Coca-Cola for mere fractions of a point of market share.

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Compare suntzu pingfa (Chapter 2: “Doing Battle”):

When doing battle, seek a quick victory.

A protracted battle will blunt weapons and dampen ardor.

If troops lay siege to a walled city, their strength will be exhausted.

If the army is exposed to a prolonged campaign, the nation’s resources will not suffice.

When weapons are blunted, and ardor dampened, strength exhausted, and resources depleted, the neighboring rulers will take advantage of these complications.

Then even the wisest of counsels would not be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Therefore, I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted.

Therefore, if one is not fully cognizant of the dangers inherent in doing battle, one cannot fully know the benefits of doing battle. (Sonshi 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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