Software as a Product, Part I

Software is a product that represents your brand. What do your customers think about your brand today?

As developers, one thing we do not do often enough is to step back and evaluate things from our user’s point of view. We see this from poor Ux design to lack of documentation to odd API method names. Quite simply, anything that winds up in the hands of your target audience should to be optimized for their needs and no one else.

Too often the software itself becomes the only point of an upgrade or new initiative; one might call it software for software’s sake, and most often this occurs due to a lack of strategic thinking when the team is engaged in tactically executing the day to day needed to complete a project on schedule.

Engineers will always be putting together platforms, installing software packages and writing complex business systems, but time and time again we see the “soft” components of any given undertaking as being the primary factor in determining that project’s success. What are these components and why do they matter?

Deployed software rarely is released and forgotten. Rather, applications are released as a product. It comes alive due to some business need, to solve some problem, to make some group of people more productive. Those users expect any bugs to be addressed, new features to be released, and the application to be kept relevant. Supporting an application in an ongoing cycle should change the way we think about releases and projects. The cycle that comes out of this is not unlike maintaining a long term product like BMW’s 3-series.

BMW has built and voraciously protected its brand by building cars that consistently win awards year after year. The 3-Series has been a Car and Driver 10 best for 18 years straight, the 5-Series for 6 years. There is little bad press that has tarnished the BMW name such as a recall or the like over its long history. BMW manages each of their products very closely. There is an obvious emphasis on the technology, performance and design that goes into their vehicles which they have built a solid brand around. However, what BMW sells most concisely is the experience. BMW is always selling BMW. This isn’t a car, this is the lifestyle.

The first hurdle one might face in approaching software in the same manner is that most applications are implemented or updated as a project, and this is probably necessary in order to manage schedule and budget concerns. It could however, cloud the long term thinking about what comes after the project closes and what direction an application should take over the next 6, 12, 18, and 24 months.

Another issue here is that because developers are rarely involved in the marketing efforts behind a piece of software, their conversation with the customer rarely develops. The case then is whether they are receiving valuable information from end users and whether they are able to contribute back.

Software as a product is far more than 1s and 0s. What exactly are we selling?