“Half of the battle is having the right tool on the job and knowing how to use it properly!” said my friend who is a professional electronics installer. That quote keeps resonating with me as a product professional. How do we expect our product teams to do their best work without equipping them with the right tools?
1,000 units. It was a small production run…and we were a small company. Unfortunately, every one of them needed a small “fix”. It was a BIG problem. Seeing your first production run in the warehouse in person is like Christmas morning for a product manager. And here I stood, looking at 1,000 units of bright, shiny, absolutely unsellable products.
My hardware lead explained the issue to me: when this product was installed near the top of an equipment rack (as it often was), the weight of the power cord could cause it to “back out” occasionally. The solution was to add a simple bracket that “locked” the cord in place. It was a common practice that was cheap, effective and easy to implement. But it was none of those things after the product was built.
So, here we were with 1,000 units of a product that needed to be unpacked, retrofitted and repacked. We estimated that it would take about 20 minutes per unit…or 334 hours. When we added up the cost of the labor, the cost of the parts, and the cost of the lost time it turned out the small production run was going to add up to even smaller profit. We blew it!
By now, you’ve guessed the point of this story - If we had conducted a better beta test, we would have discovered this long ago and avoided the problem. But we WERE beta testing. So what went wrong?
The truth is, conducting a GOOD beta test is hard. Recruiting testers, shipping them products, sending them requests, collecting and analyzing their feedback…all while trying to keep your testers engaged via personal emails, phone calls and gentle prodding. While tracking ad-hoc conversations, following up on shipping issues, and reminding testers to sign their NDA. While combining Word docs, disjointed emails, notebooks, post-its and text exchanges into a report. It’s chaos. And with all the chaos we missed a clear feedback from one of our testers running into the exact issue.
We don’t ask our UX team to work without collaboration software. We don’t ask accountants to forgo spreadsheets. Our sales team organizes activities in a CRM platform and the marketing team has a full suite of specialized software to support their work. If you can’t imagine how these teams can function without their tools, ask yourself: does your team have the right tool on the job? Is this the best way for them to spend their time in a beta cycle? If the answer is no, check us out. We would love to partner with you.