On December 7th, 2013, I have the honor of participating as a judge at UCLA’s Global Access Program (GAP) finale. Several companies will be presenting their business models and plans for review in this event. The event will be closed to the general public but anyone who is in the area is welcome to reach out to me to grab a cup of coffee.
Having grown up in La Jolla, California, I have fond memories of bike riding with my friends down to the beach during summer break. I remember that during the summer of my 12th year that an ice cream truck broke down about a quarter of a mile from the beach and the ice cream man was selling all the ice cream for 75% off to anyone who would buy it. The problem was that the refrigerator on the truck was also broken and everything was going to melt. The only thing he could do was to sell to people who happened to walk by his truck.
Looking back at that day, I realized that my neighborhood ice cream man did not have a back up plan. He did not have an answer for two essential questions:
1) What can I do if I cannot get to the beach with my ice cream?
2) What can I do (in an age prior to cell phones) if my truck breaks down?
He did not have a good plan for the “Last Mile” of his delivery.
Every business should have a plan that addresses how a product is delivered to its target audience. That plan should also account for what can go wrong as well and what the response will be.
It is a difficult thing to react to a problem when your feet are to the fire and you have to find a way to deliver. However, prior to that moment, when you are not under the intense pressure of a delivery, it is easier to put together a comprehensive plan.
Here is what everyone should consider regardless of the product you are trying to deliver.
Understand what it means to miss a deadline. Have a back-up plan should your delivery fail and be prepared to follow it. If your engineering team is late to deliver a product. Know what adjustments you will make to sales and marketing and how you will deliver the news to your existing or potential customers. All too often, a company will slip a delivery date and not communicate the issue with their customers which ultimately leads to a crisis of confidence.
If you look at Apple Computer’s announcement of the iPad Mini in 2013, it was clear that they were having a delivery issue. To address it, they announced the product in anticipation of the holidays and provided a new, accurate release date. Detaching the shipments of iPad Minis from the shipments of the iPad Air likely caused some logistical challenges but those costs were far outweighed by their maintaining consumer confidence.
Postpone the launches that can kill you. If the product is not what it should be and will likely undermine consumer confidence in the company, postpone the launch until the problem can be corrected. If you look carefully at the majority of the mishaps in the marketplace with respect to product launches, most of them could have been avoided if the companies had not held fast to their delivery dates.
Not to pick on Apple, but they have one of the more infamous examples of this problem. Apple Maps was launched with significant quality control issues. It curtailed the growth of the platform and ended up costing the jobs of several of the key individuals involved. In addition, hundreds of news articles were released condemning the release. Certainly a problem to be avoided.
I have been in the position several times of having to make the difficult decision to sacrifice the launch date for product quality. As a general rule, I tend to favor quality above most other areas of the delivery.
Prepare for what will likely and unlikely go wrong. Plans often go as far as delivering a product to the customer but what happens next is often a surprise.
Case in point, Nikon produced the D600 Full Frame SLR Camera in 2012. The product is extremely competitive and by all accounts, one of the best performing cameras on the market. But, it was not perfect. Soon after shipping, it was found that the camera sensor was showing oil spots and an excessive amount of dust. Consumers started to complain but the company did not have an adequate plan to address the problem. The problem got worse and was exacerbated by the fact that the company chose not to publically acknowledge the flaw. The result was the loss of consumer confidence and a large number of customers changing allegiances to Nikon’s rival Canon.
Formulate a plan for how to make the customer experience a palatable one. Work out what you will do if the unthinkable does happen, and understand that the last mile of delivery is critical to the success of any product. Good product people understand this problem and make sure that the outcome of a product launch is as predictable as possible.