During one of my gigs as a product manager, an executive in our company was overjoyed to have a US Defense Department client. He was eager to land a reference customer, but he fundamentally misunderstood how easy it would be to get a military organization to join the ranks of success stories. He wrongly assumed, in this very hierarchical organization, successful adoption of our collaboration tool was the simple process of (1) the general in charge ordering people to use it, followed by (2) people under his command dutifully using it. The military doesn't work that way, in large part because, when faced with a bad order that might kill them, military professionals learn how to wriggle out of these diktats. (Which is why there's a fine line between initiative and insubordination.)
Even if our executive's assumptions about how the military operated were correct, that formula might spell doom for the project. What happens when the general in charge moves on to another post? No assignment is forever, and the next officer in charge might have a far lower opinion of our product. The crisis might happen earlier, if the current general got impatient with the progress of the project. Fearful of these potential outcomes, this executive bet the entire project on maintaining good relations with the general and his immediate subordinates, including the irascible project lead, whose view of technology adoption was summarized in his comment during a meeting with us: "Users are stupid, so they don't know what they want."
[For earlier posts in this series, click here and here.]
Imagine that you're dining at a new Italian restaurant that just opened in your neighborhood. You've heard that the chef is well known and widely respected, so you're expecting a great first experience.
You sit down, and the waiter hands you a menu. Actually, it's not a menu, but a listing of all the top-quality ingredients in the restaurant's refrigerator. Some ingredients suggest the kind of recipes that the chef might prepare: For example, the veal shank might be destined to become Osso Bucco. Since you're not an expert in Italian cuisine, it's hard to guess what kind of recipe might require some of the other ingredients (rabbit, goat, boar, etc.).
The waiter is no help. He'll dutifully return to the kitchen with the ingredients you tell him the chef should prepare, but he won't tell you if that combination will transform into a delicious meal or an indigestible lump.
In this scenario, chances are slim that you'll get the sort of dining experience you expected. If you were hoping for an experience you've never had before, the kind that a world-class chef could provide, the odds are even worse.
Sadly, this is exactly the way in which technology companies have pitched their products. Rather than explaining the experience you should have, they leave it up to you to figure out what experience might be possible, given the ingredients (features and functions) available in the product. This approach has two pernicious consequences: