I posted the following comment on Sean's blog post about whether you are Company Centric or Customer Centric. http://communitygrouptherapy.com/2008/05/17/community-strategy-are-you-company-centric-or-customer-centric/ . Along with my thoughts below, I think honestly answering Sean's question is a very challenging one.
“Within our company, what is the #1 thing we celebrate?”
I know that we definitely answer that question with ship date. I think collectively, all of our product teams on the WSSG do and so does everyone else at Micosoft. However, there are A LOT of people within Microsoft who don't really celebrate this date. I know for one, I don't. Becasue of the points that Sean pointed out as well as the examples I laid out below. I often wonder a lot when we hit our date and ship the product, "is this release going to resonate with our customers and community?" "Are they simply feeling let down or are they freaking jazzed about what we accomplished? "
I know as a past support professional for over 12 years of my career, I dreaded the release date. You know why? I got to find out what the product missed. I got all of the calls on; what didn't get fixed, what features we promised that we didn't deliver on, I got to respond to the newsgroups posts that were basically flame thrower threads etc... We (support) were the glue that held the product together. In some cases, past companies included this was more true than in other cases.
With Windows Home Server, I really think we really did deliver something genuinely great. For the first time, I really was pumped to get out there and meet with our customers and tell them everything there was to say about our product. We had an open beta, we had our conversations with our community in public on the web forums (we didn't hide out in a beta newsgroup). we exposed customer feedback and our responses on MS Connect and continue to be open to feedback to this day on MS Connect. However, we found a bug that has eroded a lot of customer confidence. I think that our saving grace is that our community feels a part of this product. When we get this fix out there, I think we will get a lot of that customer love back. I just hope that the team can keep their customer-centric focus and not be blinded by release dates. A release date is important, but it cannot be the only goal.
Thanks for the inspiration to talk more about this Sean.
My Comment on Sean's blog:
I think you bring up some great points Sean. When you hear Steve B say at the MVP Summit, "Vista, a work in progress", where did he get that opinion from. He certainly would not have said that if he based the success of Vista on the launch date being hit. Clearly, we did not achieve an unwritten objective, win the hearts and minds of our customers. Instead, there is actually a community back lash movement where our community are advocating one of two things; upgrade to XP or go with brand X (Apple, Linux, or something else). http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/15/1944206 and from Dell's own support forums, http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=vista&message.id=50277
I think Vista is a perfect case study for where hitting an ship date was not the right goal. I think we at Microsoft need to look inside and think of way to capitalize on some other goal(s). Maybe we still can keep our first goal to ship, but the dependent goal(s) is that we get a 4 out of 5 or higher rating from our Community Buzz analysis and/ or we have/give members of our community (Self nominated) sign off on our product.
These members of our community could be self selected via some random drawing and they are given the authority to sign off on our product. So, if they collectively say no this product is not ready, then we slip and incorporate their suggestions, bugs, etc.. until they feel that the product has met the customer quality bar.
I would argue that some product teams think that they are doing the above via their beta feedback programs and it is tied to the ship date. The term ZBB comes to mind. ZBB means Zero Bug Bounce. A ZBB milestone is a best practice and used by just about every team at MS. It is a best practice because it works to force teams to get very serious about shipping. A team can declare they have reached ZBB if there are zero active code change bugs older than 24 hours.
I think that feedback programs (Betas) can have a major flaw. Coming from me, that is scary since I run betas for a lot of Microsoft products. Not to say that I do not think that betas are great way to get community feedback, but they lack something. That je ne sais qua. How can a feedback program translate to seriously, overwhelming, historical community buy in and achieve? Did we build a strong word of mouth brand? I think in most cases, the people who are on your beta, already have bought into your technology and will sing your praises anyway, but I bet you if you pressed them on it, they would say that they have mixed emotions about your release. Becasue of a number of factors that they were exposed to during the beta. One would be the transparency of the decisions we made in order to meet our ship dates. It probably left at least some of them at the altar. I know in the cases of SBS 2008 and Windows Home Server PP1, I think some people are pretty ticked that some features did not make or have been annouced are not making the final cut and we haven't even shipped yet.
I have a feeling that if we changed our model to really identify these (seems like) little things that probably we may have a better chance of achieving or exceeding on the goal of building a strong word of mouth brand.
Just my thoughts.