The harsh reality of delivering products (not projects) in 10 points

Photo by Devin Edwards on Unsplash

There is great difference between working in a company that delivers outsourced services / projects versus one that delivers its own products. In the former case, you deliver according to contract and aim to keep the customer happy, so that future work keeps coming in. In the latter, you need to worry about things like price strategies (even dumping prices), critical release dates and the James Bond sounding like: industrial espionage prevention.

Many years ago I worked for a company that was delivering true innovation on a daily basis through image algorithms (think face detection, feature recognition, gestures, etc). Due to NDA clauses, I can’t name the clients and we also couldn’t put our name on any of the components delivered, but I can assure you that if you’ve used a phone or a camera in the last 10 years, we’ve made you happy. Working there has taught me a few valuable industry lessons.

1.     The Chinese challenge. “The world is made in China” people use to joke. Chinese products are cheap and very often low quality, but the cost of a replacement is sometimes so low that people don’t mind. So when you’re getting paid based on royalties and you’re negotiating literally cents / item sold, quality is your only win card. A substantial difference in quality, to make brands stay with you just to protect their image. It’s a short life in the commercial consumer sector as in the end patents expire, technology gets infringed or simply stolen. So after a couple of years, you need to aim for other sectors that can’t afford to go for cheap: fintech, security, industry, life protection.

2.     When you’re innovating, you can only guarantee an improvement in percentages. We’re talking about something that did not exist before, so you can’t promise to deliver a 94.5% efficiency, but you have to commit to an improvement compared to previous release of your product (2%, 4%, 5% etc).

3.     Industrial espionage is real and you have to defend. I’m not just talking about secure coding guidelines. When you work with prototypes, you can’t just leave them around on a table and go home. When you have customer visits, you really need to lock your screen and clean your desk.

4.     Patent infringement is a constant battle and you need a solid Legal department. Believe it or not, EU and US have pretty good laws that prevent copyright breaches and disloyal competition. A lawsuit of this type can take years and you have to be able to take the hit resulting from loss in sales.

5.     Knowing your competition is mandatory (aka grey-box testing their products). It literally means that you apply the same test suite to your competitor’s products. You take them to the lab and you don’t cosmeticize the results. You have to admit your weak spots if you want to improve.

6.     Real life events are not negotiable. Christmas is on the same day every year; you can’t negotiate to expand the timeline. A product aiming for Christmas sales has to be out in the shops by November. That means ordering and producing marketing materials in October. That means client QA passed successfully in September. That means you’ve packed and shipped everything at the end of August.

7.     You don’t sell, you don’t live. But you may transform. Innovation companies usually don’t die. They get bought, sold, rebranded. Same work, it’s just the brand on the door that changes.

8.     People lie, therefore so does competition. Legal prevention measures can be easily bypassed. “Outstanding results on 99% of the subjects” and in small letters “Test performed internally in May 2018”. Have you seen this in ads? Does it tell you anything about the test conditions, accuracy or size of the test data set? Even if they would, nobody takes the time to read it.

9.     Your clients will do negative testing to lower your price and while at it, they might not be fair. Real life example: a client tried to bring down the price by presenting their test results in percentages. Fortunately, the fail percentage between our tests and their was too big not to draw attention. After investigating, the truth surfaced: their test was on less than 100 instances, our tests were on 200 000+ instances. Their test method was purposely vitiated and outstandingly inaccurate versus our laser precision measurements (yes, real laser).

10.  Marketing is the battleground and QA Department is the army. It isn’t so obvious, is it? How can you promote your strong points, your differentiators if you don’t know your competition? This implies that QA Dep studies both and produces instruments and presentations, even data sets for Marketing, that they can further quote or use in their ads.

Have you worked in product development? What is your experience? I would love to learn from you!