Your Digital Product is a Ukulele, it only works because of the song



Producing great digital products is hard to do. These are complex systems delivering value in a highly dynamic environment. So it’s very important to make sure you don’t get distracted by things that don’t really help you.

Having a clear digital strategy and using that strategy to improve your digital products keeps the very hard work of actually building, delivering and improving digital products aligned. This is an important point and one that I’m going to take a few minutes to explain.

Why do others find your digital product valuable?

In product development, you have to create something simple, reliable and intuitive, but none of that matters if it doesn’t help each person do something  valuable.

There is not a royal road to finding the balance between simple, reliable and intuitive digital products. This is patient work that is incredibly important and needs constant attention. But the balance you strike with these three elements, is not important if it we confuse metrics that measure the tactical value of the product with progress on strategic value. Creating a product that delivers a ‘wow’ moment of value is a product that succeeds on a strategic level. That is the reason you committed your time and talent to developing your product in the first place.

There are all sorts of management-speak ways to talk about this, but let’s use an analogy.

I enjoy music, specifically songs, a great deal and I’ve discovered over the years one simple truth. Songwriting is very hard to do well, sort of like creating great digital products. There are tricks and techniques used to garnish poorly written songs so they sound fun and well, ‘goodish’. If you want to know if a song is very well written, truly great songcraft, look for a cover of the song on the Ukulele.

The Ukulele is the great leveler

Let’s take a moment and enjoy how the ukulele shows us that the Ramone’s song “Blitzkreig Bop” is incredibly well written.

This is a very basic string instrument, that is very easy to learn and rewards the player by allowing them to sing any song they want. Sound familiar? It’s simple, reliable and intuitive.

So what is the song you want to sing with it? It better be a very well-written song. I’m not talking about the lyrics here, though lyrics are very important, I’m talking about the entire song as a product. The ukulele offers no place to hide parts of your song that aren’t working. If your song has any weaknesses you’re done.

What it does give you is four strings a short fret board plus it fits in your bag so you can take it anywhere, requires no electricity and is easy to tune. It gets out-of-the-way and stays out-of-the-way. If your song sounds bad, you will not get very far blaming the ukulele. You can’t do anything but try to skip the bad parts of the song next time, or rewrite it or just play Blitzkrieg Bop. Everybody knows without being told; the ukulele doesn’t care.

Your digital products is a great leveler too

Most people understand the simple truth: to make great products, understand the world in which your product exist and simplify it in a valuable way. This is why many of us start learning how to code, so we can understand the medium (software) in which we build digital products. While we strive to master our software medium, we can also become distracted by the complexities of the medium. When we do we stop being product developers. When this happens we erroneously, often without realizing it, decide that by implementing an automated way to do something we will create great strategic value. That digital products are great product simply because they are digital.

You have to know the answer to the question: What is strategically valuable about your product? And each time you begin your product development work, the first thing you must do is look at your product and remind yourself what value your product delivers for people. Say to yourself: “People don’t love this product just because it’s easy to use, or reliable, they love it because …” .

The value your product creates is the well written song you play on the ukulele. If you lose focus on the value the product is delivering, it’s like trying to play a poorly written song on the ukulele. Nobody blames the product, because the product doesn’t care, they may believe you if you blame the brand, the technology, the device they are using or even the software developers.. but what they are really saying is “that product is bad”.

Perhaps more importantly, when your product delivers, no one ever attributes that success to the brand, the technology, the device they are using and especially not the software developers. They take the credit themselves because it’s an automated system so there is no one around to thank.. but what they are really saying is “that product is good”.

If it sounds good, it is good

You will get feedback because you have to ask for it. You want it. You can’t learn without it. If your product has any promise at all you will get lots and lots, really too much feedback. As a product developer you have to be very thick-skinned with this feedback. People like to criticize things, or talk about how they could do it better, or just plain aren’t receptive to the value you are trying to create. That’s OK. You are trying to create something that’s very valuable for many people, even as it does that in such a (seemingly) simple and intuitive way that it’s taken for granted.

So look deeper into criticism and complaints about your product and consider first how to improve the value your product delivers. If you aren’t sure you are on the right path for delivering value, you need to get that fixed before you start worrying about simplicity, reliability and ease of use. If you immediately start changing the way your digital product works because of each complaint or add each and every suggested new feature, you will degrade, or even completely break the strategic value your digital product creates. You can’t improve the song by electrifying the ukulele.

If you stop and think about what is really of strategic value, about what would really make your digital product deliver that wow moment. Well now your working on the song. In the words of The Ramone’s: “Hey, ho, let’s go!”