Know Your Enemies

I've been considering two viewpoints in the context of products. The first is, "The enemy of the best is the good." The second is, "Perfect is the enemy of good."

At first glance, these statements appear somewhat at odds with each other. But I don't hold that opinion. My view is that, while related, they address considerations of what one should focus on in different product phases. Together, I believe they provide a cogent approach to strategy, prioritization, and execution.

"The enemy of the best is the good." Here the guidance relates to choice and direction - the what and the why. These are critical when deciding direction, strategy, and priorities. There are many good things that you could do, but a much smaller subset of great things you should do. Because we all have limited time and resources, the optimal approach is to prioritize the best and say no to the good, no matter how tempting. Besides, those "good" features can often lead to feature bloat that eventually requires pruning from the product.

“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” is concerned with how you execute the things you decided to prioritize. You will never achieve perfection. Pursuing that will delay or even prevent you from achieving your objectives. To be clear, I am not advocating delivering a less-than-stellar product. But, in the context of the original quote, I am taking “good” to mean a great (but not perfect) product. This pragmatic approach balances serving customers and business realities like resources, cost, and time to market & value.

Let's consider the example of developing a minimum viable product (MVP). Your product could do many good things, but focusing on solving the what and the why will hone the product to deliver the best solution for your customer's problem and do so in an optimal way. Your MVP needs to be sufficient to solve your customer's challenges, demonstrate value, and be salable. The MVP does not need to be perfect, but the customer experience must keep them engaged. At this stage, you most likely do not have a clear view of what perfection would be anyway. Enhancements can come later through iteration based on customer feedback from using the product. Throughout the product's life, the cycle repeats starting with identifying the next set of best things to pursue.

Originally published on Medium.