You don’t need to become the first
Does the following situation seem familiar?
In a hypothetical meeting room:
Boss: “I want to bring to your attention some shocking news I heard last night.”
The whole room becomes quiet and everyone locks eyes with each other. Somehow, you know it is not good news. The boss takes a deep breath and continues with a grave tone.
“Our competitor just launched a sleek looking, groundbreaking, super effective and extremely useful feature. Has anyone here tried it?”
Some nod while others frantically take out their phone and laptop to try the new feature.
The boss looks around the room, sighs and then continues onto another agenda. But the elephant is released and sitting nicely in the room.
Before the meeting is over, all lines of communication go crazy. Pings from your Whats App group, emails are sent left and right, several meeting invitations are circulated. Everyone is asking the same thing:
“Why didn’t we launch that feature first!!?”
While it may not be as dramatic as the illustration above, I have encountered similar situations several times in my short period as a Product Manager. When I try to look deeper, I find that this scenario actually makes sense.
Our community has always placed importance on becoming the first. You can easily find examples everywhere; the first in line will get served faster, the first in Billboard’s top chart means it the most popular one, the first in EPL table means they are this year’s champion and lots of other examples.
Equating the first with the best is something that is so deeply ingrained in our mind that in a competitive environment whenever we are not the first we automatically panic. We fear that by becoming the second, we won’t be able to survive.
Do we really need to become the first?
To give an illustration that may answer the question, I took three inventions that we used daily; Credit card, touch screen, and 4G LTE. Without opening google, could you name which company first implemented these inventions?
And the most important question:
Does it matter now?
Don’t get me wrong, being the first to launch a feature does give advantages (which I’ll try to cover in my next post) but that doesn’t mean being late is the end of everything. What’s important is to understand what you need to do when that happens.
The 4 C
After spending some time researching, meditating and banging my head against the wall, I formulated what I call the 4 C’s. This is not rocket science but more common sense.
Collect and analyze data
The very first step to do is take a deep breath and look at your competitor. Find everything you can and try to categorize it. I normally separate this data into fact, opinion and deduction.
One thing to notice is try not to use any data that your competitor published.
You don’t know how they calculated these number and it may have a different formula from what you normally use.
Also, remember that everyone wants to look pretty and it’s not a secret that public numbers are normally exaggerated. There is a big chance that their data already went through a makeover.
Now that you have the data you will need to make a decision; will you implement the feature or not? There is a lot of considerations that may impact the “go or no go” call but at least benefit, resources, maintenance, and priorities should be scrutinized before making the decision.
Here, the benefit of becoming the follower shines through. Since your “friend” has already deployed the feature first, you will have more details that can be used for consideration. Focus on finding pitfalls or hidden opportunities that can catapult you and leave your “friend” behind.
At this point, you will be tempted to just follow your competitor regardless of consideration, but don’t give in to the allure. Remember
just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Compare and design
Now the data has been analyzed and the results seem great, you present the data to the Big boss and (s)he comes to the decision: “OK, the feature seems solid, now move and build it. I want it done yesterday.”
So, you gather the designer, developer, user and other “-er” and go back to the drawing board. Now here’s the problem, most of the time we are too focused on the design part (the look and feel) and don’t give more attention to the basic flow.
Design can and will change but the basics should stay as is so make sure that you have it solid. Once the design is drafted, try to compare it with what your competitor did for a fresh new angle. Keep asking
“Why do they do it like that? Is ours better?”
Now I will contradict myself and say don’t hesitate to copy your competitor if you think they do things better. At this stage, you already decided that you will build this feature so “stealing” is recommended and even highly encouraged. Just make sure that you steal the idea and not the design.
This is the step that gets dropped the most. Many ideas that are planned, compared and designed won’t go live. There are several reasons on why ideas get dropped, but most of the time it will go down to one reason: resource.
The resource can be manpower, budget, time, even priority value.
That’s why all the three steps above are extremely important for you to fight out the resource.
I won’t touch a lot on the execution since each company will have a different approach.
To close this article I’m just gonna put this quote here
“The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse get the cheese”