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Product Development and Deliver Cycle
Understanding innovation

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

To understand the industry, and what goes on, you need to study the history of product development cycles (especially around software development) -- how do the products get made and when do they get delivered. While this article makes Apple look good, we must remember that this is an over-generalization meant to represent the norm -- not every case. Apple has had some major flops to be sure -- but just as surely this is pretty generous towards Microsoft which has had much bigger flops, much longer delays, and my examples assume the products where Microsoft was competitive in development (there are many many products or technologies that Microsoft was years or decades behind).

A not too atypical product development and deliver cycle for an OS technology (or Application) might look like this:

Apple (or another company) does Research and Development on something for a while. Eventually it builds enough momentum (internally) that the company decides it is important. They pour more money into it, announce the product (for developers) and set a target (quality and date). Of course the last few percent of quality and features start to take the most amount of time -- so progress seems to slow down (despite far more effort being expended). Time goes by, and Apple misses the date and quality target by a little -- but often soon has a patch or revision that exceeds the target quality, and it is usually designed and implemented pretty well. See the graph below (the orange area is the "miss" and is what we want to avoid -- it costs companies a lot if they are counting on something and don't get it).


Microsoft's development would look more like this.

The company hears that Apple (or some other company) is working on a technology, and they may have talked about it in a meeting or something but haven't done anything real yet. They react by announcing their super-ultra-deluxe version of the same thing. Sometimes they even beat the other company to the announcement (it used to be an industry joke, not completely humorous, that Microsoft has spies everywhere). If the company was stealthy enough, then the Microsoft announcement is usually immediately after the other company. The other companies emminent release is the motivation for Microsoft to to start work on that technology, or to actually put some funding behind one employees previously part time effort. Microsoft sets an target that is higher than any other company, and dates are much sooner. They miss that target by a huge amount of time for 1.0, and 1.0 fails to deliver on anywhere near the features or quality -- but they knew that was going to happen (they are fighting with hype, not facts). Sometimes they beat the other company to market, usually not. Microsoft starts pounding on 2.0 (and actually promise more than 1.0). After far more time goes by, they release 2.0 and it usually hasn't even met the target quality (features) that were promised for 1.0 (but it is usually getting close, has a few more features -- but is often still missing other critical ones). Microsoft then starts work on 3.0, and so on -- unless the other company has given up or been bankrupted, in which case Microsoft halts further development and goes on to something else. Usually after 2.0, their products are starting to achieve close to the same features that other companies (like Apple) got out of their 1.0 products -- but Microsoft does so at a higher bug rate and lower quality (and of course those other companies aren't standing still either). See the graph below (the orange area is the "miss" between target and only achieving what the competitors promised -- not even their more agressive promises).

The point of all this is that users often don't know quality or understand the relative differences between Microsofts promises and the other guys. Microsoft promises "X" as their target, and when they ship 1.0, people think that they achieved all the pomises (or got "close enough"). Or these people assume that other companies are as bad, and so on. Either way there is a lot of hype about the "new" Microsoft innovation, when there is usually nothing new about it. Often Microsoft just borrowed ideas from the other company, or used the more common off-the-shelf solutions -- while other companies may have actually tried to create something new. But again, users don't often know the difference (or want to) -- the Pro-PC types assume what they have is "the best" or "as good". The press reports vary from deluded praise, to watered-down attacks -- but it is still all positive hype, and they usually help minimalize what Microsoft did bad, and sensationalize the little good.


The point is that all companies miss goals -- but Microsoft misses by more. Far more. Sometimes they beat other companies to the market with those other companies ideas -- that is an amazing accomplishement -- but it seldom reflects a quality approach to the problem. In fact, sometimes the Microsoft solution is so lousy that people are turned off by the whole concepts and don't get "what all the hype was about". They think the competitors implementations are as bad, and think the whole idea was just silly. The reality may be otherwise.

What Microsoft doesn't develop themselves (which is a very large amount of things) they buy. In fact most technologies I know of that people credit to Microsoft are "bought". Then Usually they buy another company or technology to get a jump start, and hack the rest on. (At the speed they go, you often don't have time to do something right and engineer).

Microsoft used to hang out at Macintosh developers conferences, and post announce everything that Apple would. They called Apple "R&D south", because that is where most of their ideas were coming from. But certainly Apple is not the only company they borrowed from -- NeXT, UNIX (X-Windows), DEC VAX, Digital Research, Novell,and others have felt the sting of Microsofts copying. It wouldn't be as bad if Microsoft actually could improve things along the way -- but usually the rip-offs are such shallow immitations that the functions are near useless. This gives people the improper perception that the whole concept is useless -- when often it was just a bad implementation that they tried.

What is really annoying is the FUD and misinformation. From the day Microsoft announces, many of the Pro-Microsoft types are running around talking about the target. They act like Microsoft has already delivered, and achieved all expectations. They pretend that because the target is first, that Microsoft achieved the following things:

  1. Innovated First
  2. Delivered First
  3. Got things working First.

The truth is usually the exact opposite on all three. They are often following the market, but using their size to win anyway. They usually don't get near their goals. And in all this I am being very generous (Historically) -- often I am allowing "features" to be included in the quality measurement -- not absolute quality. Microsoft products are usually feature rich, but bug ridden packages. Many of the "comprable" features they have are usually very shallow imitations and of dubious value (especially in the first few versions) -- but they sell software and that's what counts, right?

Created: 01/01/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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