Startups need to move fast. Often it’s to beat competition. Sometimes it’s to take advantage of an opportunity. Moving fast, breaking things, learning, iterating — all concepts we’ve come to embrace as methods of innovation.
But this can result in compromising the ideal experience for one that ships quickly. It forces us to look the other way on some of the details with the promise of revisiting them once there’s more time, or when the next round of funding comes in, or when we hire that next designer.
The reality is that customers don’t know this. They don’t have a picture of the product roadmap in their heads. And they certainly don’t share the justifications that went into the compromises.
Some define this behavior as “scrappy”. It’s a way of encouraging quick thinking with little resources. When done right, minimal viable products and prototypes yield information that informs product decisions. When done wrong, poorly designed products ship because shortcuts were taken and follow through was never intended.
There’s no such thing as minimal viable quality. Each product iteration must stem from a principled approach of creating great experiences regardless of scale or milestone. If it’s a mockup, the level of fidelity typically indicates the level of “doneness”. If it’s a prototype, the level of detail needs to be appropriately matched to the sophistication of the hypothesis you’re testing. If it’s an MVP, the quality put into the product must be at a level that results in the maximum learning for that stage of development. The quality of product you finally ship reflects the caliber of your company and is a measure of the respect you have for your customer.
I love the cupcake-birthday cake-wedding cake model of product thinking. A cupcake is simply a small cake, it is still a complete experience. It has everything you need to call it a product and has all the attention to detail that a larger wedding cake deserves. As your product grows, you can level up to a birthday cake or wedding cake. Again, each of them is a distinct and complete experience. No quality was sacrificed to ship the first product. The product was appropriately sized to the situation at the time.
Scrappiness and iteration are powerful tools for exploration. They can produce a volume of results that inform fantastic product experiences. But no one gets into the product business to ship scrappy. We need to remember that followthrough is the companion to scrappy. The passion and excitement that drives those great early ideas must also fuel great development and quality design.