Friday, February 12, 2010

Enterprise Software Design: Is 4 a crowd?

Feb 12, 2010

In consumer products, with the success of Apple and Google, the thesis that is gaining credence is that for a (revolutionary) new product - "Pick three key attributes or features, get those things very, very right, and then forget about everything else." Does the same apply to *revolutionary* new products in enterprise software? I think it does, though whether three is the right number and four or a similar small number is a crowd is open for discussion.

I came across a piece by Paul Buchheit, of the gmail fame, titled "If your product is Great, it doesn't need to be Good." I think he meant "if your product is great, it doesn't have to be complete" but then the title wouldn't be so catchy :)

Paul refers to the slashdot review of apple ipod "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."and points out that ""more features = better" mindset is the reason why so many otherwise smart people are bad at product design." He recommends that the three attributes that you pick should define the fundamental essence and value of the product -- the rest is noise.

As a disclaimer he states that "This advice probably only applies to consumer products (ones where the purchaser is also the user -- this includes some business products). For markets that have purchasing processes with long lists of feature requirements, you should probably just crank out as many features as possible and not waste time on simplicity or usability."

I agree that for enterprise software that requires a purchasing process, if the solution is evolutionary, then cranking out as many features could be important. On the other hand, I believe that for revolutionary new products, even in enterprise software, picking a few (really few) attributes and getting them "very, very right" is the way to success.

A revolutionary product, that creates an uncontested market space, has to have three characteristics - focus, divergence, and compelling tagline. The focus is needed to create exceptional buyer utility at the right strategic price. This can be done only by consciously doing less or none of some and doing more of some. Let us look at what Michael Bloomberg did to create a huge success with his system. He focused on the trader. He focused on three things and did them exceptionally well. Those three were (1) easy access to data, (2) push button (quick) and built-in analytic capability, and (3) services to enhance the personal lives of the traders.  He did barely enough to satisfy the IT organization of these brokerage and investment companies. He did not try to reproduce all the capabilities that the established players like Reuters and Telerate had.

Of course, enterprise software, in most cases, has the challenge of having to be sold to a corporate purchasing agent (procurement / IT) and functional users (Line of business / IT) that are distinct entities. Revolutionary new enterprise software is going to be focused on early adopters. In those sales cycles, the influence of "corporate purchasing agent" is not going to be significant. Laser like focus on the group that it is targeted is acceptable and required. SAP succeeded early by delighting the IT organization and satisfying the functional user. Bloomberg succeeded early by delighting the functional user and satisfying the IT organization. Pick your path but don't try to delight everybody.

Picking four attributes might not be a crowd in enterprise software, but focusing on a very small number of attributes and doing them  "very, very right" is necessary, in my mind for a introductory product focused on creating an uncontested market space. Other attributes will become later on as the product evolves and reaches mainstream.

Do you agree?


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