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Working Backwards to the Technology

In 2014, I came across an article with this same title on Daring Fireball. That led me to this Steve Jobs video that I have gone back to umpteen times since.

The core message, which has profoundly affected the way I think about my work, boils down to:

One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.

While this sounds simple, I have found myself running into situations where we overlook this message. I have over time realised certain conditions lead to or are symptoms of a “start with the technology” behaviour. I list them here. This is not an exhaustive list. I will keep updating them as more conditions resonate along these lines.

  • Being bitten by solutions which now, in hindsight, appear like they were built one-off and do not scale to support new types of feature development.
  • Being keen to work with a new technology and build a platform with an aim to solve the previous hundred problems and more in one shot – which is, more often than not, a fallacy.
  • A lack of good articulation of “why” we are building something.
    • A good one tends to be closer to your user, and a not-so-good one tends to talk about particular pieces of technology as silver bullets.
    • Also be wary of articulations which sound good in theory but are actually levels of degrees detached from the actual work.
  • A reluctance to say “no” to the number of things the new solution would solve. Being open to unlimited scope-creep.
  • An MVP plan that takes months and months to reach fruition. By MVP here, I do mean having the result in the hands of your end users. Not just an internal prototype or proof-of-concept.
  • Plans that depend on too many other things falling into place. When programme management takes up more effort than product development, you know you are in trouble. This can easily make you forget the “why”.

Do you have more to add to this list? Let me know on Twitter below.

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