How to cope with the emotions of shipping an imperfect product

My products are never as perfect as this photo. And that’s ok.

I was recently asked an amazing question about the emotions involved during the building of a product.

To be totally candid, I’ve never given that any real reflection. So I wondered, what are the emotions I contend with when building something?

Like most product managers, I am human and therefore wrangle my emotions — whether or not I think about them explicitly. After considering the question for a couple days, I realized that I clearly experience the full gamut of emotions while building things: 😁, 😨, 😔, 🤩, 😡, 😇, 🤪, 😫, and 😳.

Huh, damn good question!

This particular question was about coping with the emotions when your product isn’t as perfect as you — or others — want it to be before you ship.

Hi Tom, am currently in the middle of reading your post about product scope and I’m learning so much already.
I absolutely agree about constraints helping with creativity. And I also liked how you say we should deliver value instead of completeness.
I struggle with that last bit every time. There is always the need to go out perfectly.
Aside from doing the stages you mentioned, how do you cope with the emotions?
Sometimes it’s easy to rationalise these but there’s also the human side of ourselves that normally gets in the way.
What has worked for you?

This is a really great question, and one I struggle with personally quite a bit.

I have a hard time shipping things that are not pixel perfect in every edge case, but the reality is that my designer and I probably feel this pain the most — our customers often don’t need these things to get the value. I’d probably categorize this emotion as frustration or pride (or lack thereof).

Especially with B2B products, the little delightful details are simply unimportant relative to the value the tool delivers. B2C is different: those details are part of making an experience lovable, and a great experience might even be your innovation or competitive advantage. But with B2B: 90% of the delight comes from getting the job done reliably, intuitively and efficiently.

To combat urges for perfection, and reign in my frustration and pride of the issue, I often remind myself that I’m not building this for me. Our customers are finding relief, satisfaction and real value in my non-perfect product. My customers’ happiness grounds my desire for perfection.

And if I were building a consumer app, I’d be looking to achieve a lot more “perfection”, since the details and polish contribute more directly to the experience. In this world, you can reduce functionality but can’t skip on the nice.

Back to my current product: ultimately, seeing my customers finally obtain relief through efficient tooling is enough to keep me from delaying launch due to the nice-to-haves (we’re in the social analytics space).

I’ve found that in the very early days, you must be very real with yourself about what’s actually valuable and what’s just your quest for awesome pixels.

But as your product matures and its survival becomes slightly more likely, you can breathe a little and include some of your perfect pixels during regular development cycles.

We waited for a year before adding this hover state

For example, the product I’m building didn’t have hover/active states on interactive components like buttons and dropdowns for almost a year. While it drove me a little crazy every day, I needed our engineers working on must-have functionality since we didn’t even know if what were building was the right thing.

We just recently got 100 customers, and finally added hover states, and it’s awesome. We have a little more breathing room now and I look forward to peppering in these polish items along the way. Over time, these will also pay dividends, but dividends don’t matter if the thing you’re building doesn’t solve a key problem in the first place.

Thoughts? Questions? Puns? Get in touch with me on Twitter @redman :)