Why product development is not that easy?

It is encouraging to see some quality product development technology startups in India forming up steadily. We have finally broken the IT services jinx and are looking beyond the outsourcing model. It is taking time for this wave of change to hit the shores, but it is worth the wait.

I have been directly (I work for one!) and in-directly involved with some technology startups. I do experience the pains of building a product development company on several occasions, especially in the Indian context. Here are some of the key pit-falls where we need to work harder.

1. Engineering is not a captive power plant: Product development startups must have engineering powerhouses and planning geniuses. A successful product development is like a symphony – the four movements of S&M, Innovation/Product Management, Engineering & Corporate Vision working continuously in tandem. The key here is tandem. Almost every organization plans for these pillars – what’s the big deal after all! The failure is in execution – the missing engineering finesse. Engineering in India is a heavily misunderstood concept. The inability to differentiate between engineering and IT can lead into archaic product development practices. It sometimes resembles running a captive power plant by the manufacturing industry. There is always a human side about software engineering – after all humans write programs. Two very inspiring sources for this school of thought are Bill Campbell (building an empowered engineering workforce) and Scott Rosenberg (why software is not like building a bridge).

2. Enabling change and innovation: This one comes straight from the gut. A startup meanders its way guided by user feedbacks, market response and continuously changing strategies. The workforce therefore has to be prepared for and throughly involved in this continuous change. They have to innovate to maintain the winning edge. With changing strategies and varying market responses, they need to react positively. The frequency with which an organization might have to recourse its actions and strategies, it is important that all engines fire the right way.

3. Small is beautiful: A traditional problem is how to continuously evolve the organization – how to hire the right folks and fire the wrong (my favorite on this guidance is Jack Welch). This policy may sound repelling and a tough one. It however keeps the organization lean, smart and on its toes.

4. Coaching: I have had several occasions when I had felt – I would rather do it myself than spend longer hours explaining this and getting it done by someone else. There are two ways to look at this and depending on when you feel this – it is wrong or right. When getting a team started and coaching, one has to be prepared to spend long hours and set the expectations lower. The bar must be raised steadily – the rate at which it is raised is a very subjective one. Once the individual is settled down, this changes and the expectations and evaluations have to set appropriately. Irrespective of whether it is a startup or a big organization, people take time to settle down and perform to the best of their abilities. After all, organizations succeed because there are several brains behind it; not one. Startups have faster delivery pressures, therefore posing a bigger challenge for the management to maintain the peace in the gang of geeks.
I am sure the list is longer than what is mentioned above. These are the kind of challenges which makes working for a startup full of fun. India is gearing up with all the right ingredients to succeed – the right talent, market, experience and attitude. Execution is going to win this last mile.

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