I thought a long time before deciding to write something about it.
Why is it so difficult for me to write about successful products? Well, mostly because I spent most of my professional life working at project-oriented companies. Most of the projects I participated in were one-time shots and I don’t know what happened to those products – if they were ever used or if they were successful. And I can say that most of the companies operating in Bulgaria are outsourcing companies working this way. It is not their responsibility to care about the product. They only care about the current project – to be delivered on time, within the budget and within the defined scope.
I have also worked in some product-oriented companies but they were so small and so poorly managed that most of them soon bankrupted. I know about only one of them which still functions.
So it was a really big challenge to think of some example of a successful product and one of the most important questions I asked myself was “What is the definition of a successful product?” I think the only answer to this question should be “a product that makes the customer’s life easier and is used for a long time”. So, I finally decided to tell you about one of my experimental works with my own company. It is a “successful product” because it was developed almost ten years ago and is still in use and is of great help to the people who work with it.
The story started in the beginning of 1998. There was a need of a software product that calculates the debt of some companies that had taken a loan from a government agency. The problem was that the rules of calculating the interests were very complex and it was not easy to be done with common tools like a calculator or even a spreadsheet. So I wrote the program. Well, I didn’t do it alone – I had a small team of partners who comprised the development team over the years.
At the beginning it was a simple program, then the customer added more functionality, then it was branched into several product for the needs of different kinds of users, and so on. I managed all the changes to happen as different projects so I didn’t suffer a scope creep. On the contrary – it was a perfect example of well-developed developer-customer relationship.
These days a major change happened – the customer decided that a serious change in the algorithms is needed and having in mind the age of the initial product we decided that we should develop a new version using a new technology and a new architecture. So we started a new project and I am currently working on it. It is close to completion and the users are already using its beta version and are very happy because they have a good tool that helps them significantly improve their performance and saves them a lot of time.
Why it turned to be such a success? Well, I think it’s primarily because I paid a lot of attention to my customer’s worries. I was very patient to listen to them although it sometimes wasted a lot of my time but they build their trust on me and once they knew that I was the only person who understands their business they started to consider me not as a servant but as a partner and as a friend. I never had problems with sign-offs and with payments and for me the only explanation for this is the trust we build in each other. We always thought that this relationship is a win-win kind of relationship and that notion made it possible to conduct all our projects successfully and finally to get a successful product.
Unfortunately, this one of the very few examples I have of successful products. In many other cases we delivered the product to the customer and then closed the relationship with them. Building a long-term relationship based on trust and accountability is a very difficult thing and few companies succeed in that but only they later become the market leaders. I think this is the only way to succeed in the business.
I don’t want to tag other people. I read some people’s blogs on software project management but Craig has already tagged them. So I would like to invite anyone who reads my blog and has a good story of a successful software product to share it in his or her blog and to link it to this post and to Craig’s post. Good success stories are much fewer than the examples of failure so it is important for us all to know them. Just to improve our belief that success is possible – you just have to think about it!