Attention To Detail

I bought a wi-fi printer recently. Setting it up, with all the network connectivity required, was quite complex, yet the process worked flawlessly and the instructions were clear and well written. At the end of the exercise, with my printer fully operational, I found myself being really surprised that nothing had gone wrong and I had not been required at any stage to utter an expletive. But why was I surprised?

Business has always been a dichotomy between creating a ‘thing’ that will be wanted by lots of people and will get a return (and hopefully profit) on your investment as quickly as possible, and making sure that you take enough time in its creation and testing to ensure that it works and will not result in customers complaining or returning the ‘thing’. Speed to market vs robust design and manufacture, with the sword of cost hanging over the whole equation.  All pretty obvious and probably didn’t need me to write it down.

But what can get missed is that this applies not just to the original product, but subsequent tweaks and ‘improvements’ after it has been launched. How many times do you see a well-loved phone app ruined by an upgrade with thousands of dismayed customer reviews asking ‘why did you do this? It was perfect before and now you have made it unusable!’ (actual quote). Often the company feels it knows better than its customers and whatever functionality changes they now come up with will be received with rapturous delight because they are on a roll. Big mistake! Or maybe they had a too-small budget for testing and a misplaced confidence in the expertise of their developers because nothing major went wrong last time, or perhaps a ‘set in stone’ delivery date to meet a manager’s bonus target which took no account of the work involved. All these things are not unusual.

So what little mantra could remind everyone of how to be successful in business? As we all love (ok, hate) acronyms how about ATD – Attention To Detail. It’s obvious, yes, but so often sacrificed on the altar of ‘agility’ and delivery. I have lost count of the number of times I have logged on to a website or used a piece of software that has such basic errors – telling you to proceed to a page that doesn’t exist, or presenting you with a confirmation button that doesn’t work, for example – that you have to wonder if they even did so much as one testing run-through before rushing to market with dollar signs in their eyes.

ATD requires three things: good routines and processes, people who are good at it and want to do it, and time. I suspect that some companies think that if their processes are good, they are covered. But  no – they need to attend to all three. So if all companies focused on ATD, everything in the world, like my printer, would work first time! Now there’s a target to aim for…..

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