I Built Something

To be honest, I’ve built or helped build quite a few products; but recently I completed a woodworking project in my garage and I was struck by the similarities that it had to building a product for the web… I’m not sure why that was such a shock.

A few years ago my wife found plans for a cheap, ‘DIY’ dining table that she sent to me, along with a few predictable quotes about how easy it was build. The first time I worked through the not-so-clear instructions I learned a lot… I mean a lot. One of those things was the fact that I actually really enjoyed the initial parts of the process. Selecting the wood, cutting the pieces, re-cutting the pieces correctly, and constructing the table was a very satisfying experience. It was incredible how quickly I could see the product take shape. Before the end of Day 1, I had a structure sitting in my garage that could realistically be called a table. Satisfied with my work, I called it a day and decided I would complete the ‘finish’ portions on Day 2.

As it turns out, building the structure was the easy part. Once the pieces were put together I began the process of sanding, staining, and finishing the wood to support the use it would receive from our family of 5. I quickly realized I had underestimated the poorly named ‘finish’ portions of the project. Sanding general construction lumber into a usable piece of furniture that your children can literally eat off of is its own experience and deserves its own post by someone more knowledgeable than myself. As the days stretched on while completing the ‘finish’ portion, it became clear that this phase was where the real work lay in creating a useful, valuable product. Each day I felt less and less like going back to work on it, and some days I hated that table and made no progress. There were high points (staining has immediate reward) that would bring back the original excitement, but mostly I was just trying to finish this stupid project. As much as it annoyed me, this is where the structure went from something that was simply usable, to something that I actually wanted in my house.

Building a usable product is an achievement itself and shouldn’t be ignored. However; for a product to truly become something that people desire to use, it is required that the team make pass after pass to refine the ‘thing’ so that its interface is smooth, easy to use, does what is expected of it, and does not fall apart or degrade over time.

This is where the work lies. The initial build is fun and exciting, and getting expected results in a new application creates excitement and keeps us coming back. But the days of sanding, filling gaps, re-sanding, testing and repeating to get the smoothest finished product is where success is determined. These aren’t the fun days, (think ‘character building’) but they are the days that are necessary.

*Written as a reminder to myself for next time…