Today I want to talk about one of the highest quality products I have encountered over the last years. Unfortunately (really?) it is not a software product. But still, there is a lot to learn from it.
The product I am talking about is a pair of shoes. I want to talk specifically about this pair:
Initially I bought this pair in summer 2014, when I was coming to work in flip flops every day. However, the company I worked for in in those days was in the sharp focus of the German administration (due to some previous violations of the working law). Anyways, by law, in Germany, you are not allowed to wear flip flops at work. Normally, no one cares. But we had to follow all regulations incredibly strict. So I was not allowed to wear them any more.
At the same time, I found this interesting pair of shoes in the internet. I was really curious, as I enjoy walking barefoot a lot. Being not allowed to wear flip flops any more they seemed like a good compromise. And this is where the story could end. I bought a pair of shoes for work. They are made for the special purpose of feeling more barefoot while giving a minimum sole and thus security. I knew their use case for me and I bought them for this purpose.
Then I went sailing for summer vacation. And at some times its very beneficial to have a protective layer around your foot on a boat. Turns out that those shoes were perfect for the purpose: they dry quickly. Ok, to admit, it does not even matter if those shoes are wet or not, you barely notice (in summer). They do not need much space in the small cabin of the boat. And they provide perfect grip. While I bought the shoes for a very different purpose, they proved to be of great value in a very different setup.
Then I went climbing. On an active volcano. The shoes turned out to provide an extremely good feeling for the underground. I had good grip on the (loose) rocks and an easier climb than many other people around.
Then I went in the mountains. What I had only read about, but understood in this moment was, that with those shoes you have ~20% more blood circulation in your feet – that keeps you warm. I mentioned before, that wet shoes do not really bother you. So again, those shoes were perfect for my activity. Did you ever climb a glacier in shorts and shoes that you bought for a flip-flop use case?
Then I went on an under ground exploration, where we visited a small river, that went in some caves underground. As this was in the backyard of a farmer, this was not a tourist attraction. It was bare nature and I was very happy to have – you guess it – good grip and perfect footwear for this endeavor.
Then I ran a marathon. Of course not right away. I trained a lot and ran hundreds of kilometers. Still in that same pair of shoes! To improve my experience I bought something like an add-on: the fitting socks. Both together were my running gear for the marathon. Half a year later I ran a half-marathon (still with the same pair).
Now, while I was training for the second marathon, the shoes were too worn off to go for more long training runs. They did not break! But after way more than 1,000 km they were simply run off. I bought them for one reason. But I found them to be useful in so many different things – I could not have imagined.
Why do I write about this?
Certainly, I do not want to make any advertisement here. And I do not want to share free time experiences. The point is: I was very impressed by the quality and the value the shoes provided – in many different situations.
When we design software, we often talk about the “MVP” – the minimum viable product. And we focus very much to bring one specific value for one specific use case. This is often referred to as “happy path” + some “edge cases”. If we have covered those scenarios we usually pat ourselves on the back and celebrate another success in software development.
But when was the last time we were able to build a product, that was so robust and resistent, that it did not have a single purpose? Every startup focuses on only one tiny thing to achieve. We are so focused to focus. Of course, we learned the hard way, that you cannot build a one-software-to-rule-them-all-product. But sometimes I have the feeling, that we did not find a good balance to deal with it. Contrary, I believe we are achieving the opposite: one use-case only with no robustness. With no flexibility in our product to allow any other use case than the intended one.
Maybe its somehow our (IT-) nature to look at things black and white. Like 0 and 1. But as usual, the truth will probably lie somewhere in between. I will keep that in mind on my next project.
I will embrace this thought. On the one hand to build software with one specific – one single – use case in mind. Just to stay focused. But on the other hand, at the same time I will also acknowledge, that there may be some people around, that apply an add-on and can make use of the product in many ways. And probably also in ways that I could never have imagined.
It is not only that we should amaze our users. Let them amaze us, too.