Hitting the right note with your product is hard

Product Management Dec 1, 2019

Building a product has more in common with playing the violin than playing the piano

Piano players have it easy. Either you play the right note or you don’t. It’s hit or miss.

Compare this with playing the violin. It may take a violinist many years of practice just to learn how to hit the right note.

You first need to learn how to listen to your violin before you can even conceive producing the right note.

This is why violinists quit playing more often than pianists. It takes a lot of time, patience and dedication before you can play something that sounds half decent.

Violinists however, can adjust notes that are slightly off after playing them. A pianist never has this option. A pianist can only go for hitting the right note next time.

Most companies believe that building a product resembles playing the piano. You try to hit the right note and move on to the next one. There is no option to make it right after the fact.

Companies build a feature and move on to the next big thing. There is no removing or polishing what was already delivered.

I believe building a product resembles playing the violin more than playing the piano.

You won’t get it right first time. You need to listen to your customers after delivering a feature. You must dig deep in your data and evaluate whether you achieved the expected result.

You need to rework everything you deliver. Expect what you’ve built to suck. Make it better and only then move on.

Think of the product you are working on. When is the last time you removed a feature? How much time do you spend fine-tuning features after delivering them?

Nobody learned how to play the violin by blindly going from one note to the next. Without listening and reflecting on the tones they produced, it would impossible to improve their playing with practice. They would remain on the same level forever.

You only make great music by hitting the right notes and having them flow smoothly over into each other with just the right amount of silence in between. It’s something you learn over time. You never get it right the first time you play a piece.

Also, one occasional stunning note is not enough for a beautiful piece. Just like one killer feature is not enough for a great product.

You can only make a great product if you pay enough attention to all the individual features, including how they blend together.

Building a great product is all about listening and then removing, editing and adjusting.

An empirical approach is essential. Seize the opportunity revisit features and you improve your chances of building a great product.