Thursday, October 23, 2008
Good People make good products, great people make great products
One of the things that I have been interested in most of my life is design, but I have always taken a different interest than the traditional design interest of talking about design as a beautiful or well designed chairs or glasses, products of an individual. My interest was initially in Industrial Design, but it seemed a bit narrow, so I moved my interest into Design Management. I read all the books on the topic in the early 90’s and met the community and I was left a bit empty. I finally wrote my thesis on the economics of design, of which at the time there was hardly nothing written. This gradually led me to product development, I had a wonderful Japanese Professor, Kiyonori Sakakibara, at London Business School, where I did some research on dominant design, Utterback and Abernathy based. He shaped my life in a fundamental way by kindly encouraging me out of academia and into product development. My professor was of the opinion I made too bold assumptions for a young academic, I guess I was too impatient. I applied for a job at Nokia as a product manager for user interfaces. This started a long learning journey. I was very fortunate to work alongside product managers and later as more senior to program managers. Program managers are the CEO’s of the activity that makes a product, they are, I guess, much like the Directors and Producers of a movie fused into one person. Steve Jobs has been heralded as the world’s best product maker, he tops my list. I have been fortunate to worked with several extraordinary product makers at Nokia and Yahoo. Product makers are in my opinion the renaissance men of modern times, particularly if the product is a sophisticated one, like a mobile phone. The knowledge these people sit on is incredible.
This post is really a tribute to the headline and to all the anonymous product makers. In most cases you shape the world, but never get the glory, the best might not need the glory, the creation is all the satisfaction they need.
This post was triggered by one product, the Nokia E71. Being outside of Nokia, I see them in a different light and I gotten a bit worried that they stopped caring about their products, getting sloppy. When I first saw the E71, I said, that looks dammned good, when I touched it, I said this looks & feels great. It will be one of the biggest sellers in the Nokia range coming 12M.
Now to the headline, great people make great products. It was completely clear that this product was done by one of the great product makers in Nokia. I had to find out who. Now I know. If you would have put me on the spot and forced a guess out of me, I might have arrived both at the R&D center and the person, at least I would like to think I would have been able to do it. This person masters, SW, HW, Operating systems and User Experience and most importantly the skill to get the people to do the extra mm, cm, meter and mile when it counts. The perverted thing is if you remove him and drop the person at a different company, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything would come out. This is what makes product making so darn fascinating. The E71 is the effort of several hundred people working probably more than 12-16M and thousands of people contributing to it. But in the end it really comes down to one person or a very small team.
Now if you are an analyst bumping into this story, I would think hard what judgements you make of RIM, as the E71 is real threat to them. What is my substantiation? It is my global focus group of two: one my product manager friends and colleague saying, after having used the iPhone for a while and getting the E71, "I had forgotten how good a phone the E71 is" and an old friend, female, caressing it and saying how much "she loves this device". That is all the market research I need to make my blink judgement: E71 will be a device shaping the mobile business in coming 12M.
To the guys who made it, thank you and keep on doing what you do, the world will be just a bit better if we get more beautiful products like the E71.
I find myself using the browser and apps on the E71 rather than the web versions of the same just so that I could have an excuse to take it out of my pocket.
I feel like a bloody Apple fanatic with it ;-)
Posted by: Janne Jalkanen at Oct 23, 2008 2:38:06 PM
Thank you for illuminating the impact special people have on making world class mobile devices.
Posted by: Bill Geiser at Oct 28, 2008 4:10:23 PM
The E71 is definitely a very nice handset; feels great, looks great. Good job Nokia. While I just got an Android, I am planing on getting an E71 as well...
Posted by: C. Enrique Ortiz at Oct 28, 2008 9:32:03 PM
Very true - shows that even with basically the same building blocks and resources, one team/leader can come up with the E71... and one with the N96. Very similar on paper, a whole world of difference in the user experience...
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