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When a Meltdown Is Worth Having
 

If your product isn't ready, throwing a tantrum might be a good option.

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In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder and legendary perfectionist Steve Jobs, he describes how just before the launch of the first iMac, the one with the blue shell on the back, Jobs discovered a major problem.

The disc drive on the machine was one that popped out like a drawer, unlike later versions where you could just slide the disc inside. Jobs, as he was wont to do, had a screaming, crying meltdown. He found the design clunky and was so distraught he almost cancelled the launch.

Convinced otherwise, the iMac obviously went on to become an icon.

It was an interesting case study on what to do when you have a product that’s not quite up to your standards. Do you release it or hold it back? The answer is it really depends on the risks. Sometimes great is the enemy of good, and the quest for perfection can actually slow your business down. On the other hand, if a faulty product or service is going to be detrimental, you have to seriously consider pausing the project.

We’ve been watching the latter play out on the national stage with the release of HealthCare.gov, the website at the center of President Obama’s health care reform. From what we’ve heard, it sounds as if the warning signs were there that this was a product not ready for primetime. And in this case, the consequences could be substantial when you’re talking about someone’s ability to get health insurance coverage.

When it comes to your own business, you have to ask yourself the following questions:

• How critical is what you’re releasing to your customers and the success of your business? If it’s something that will greatly impact your customers’ productivity or safety and there are problems, don’t release it. If it has the potential to set back your business and damage your reputation, don’t release it.

However, if it’s merely a small design flaw or an aesthetic issue, delaying may be more harmful than it would be beneficial to make it perfect.

• What are you telling the world you’re going to deliver and what are you delivering? If you have an online service that’s supposed to be supplemented with easy to use mobile apps, and they’re filled wiht bugs and glitches, this could cause you pain in the way of complaints and lost customers.

These are by no means easy decisions to make. The world is filled with companies that floundered in the beginning and went on to become hugely successful, but on the other hand, there are a lot that have flopped.

Personally, I always err on the side of releasing when you know it works for the majority of your customers. Then you can manage the exceptions. If it’s the other way around, a Steve Jobs-like meltdown may be in order.

IMAGE: YouTube screenshot
Last updated: Nov 20, 2013

MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University.
@michaelalter




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