Focus is about saying “NO”

It has been a while since I have been in blogging and a lot has happened in the world during that timeframe. My idol Steve Jobs has passed, iPhone 4S is out, Gaddafi is dead, Greece has been in turmoil sending the financial markets on a dizzing roller coaster and the list could go on.

After Steve Jobs death, I have gone through many of his well known presentations of introducing the iPhone and the iPad and many other videos available on Youtube. There have been two videos that are my favorites – one of them is where he speaks about “Focus is about saying NO”. 3 minutes of your life spent watching it would be worthwhile. Watch it once, watch it twice, watch it until you keep repeating “Focus is about saying NO”.

As software product managers, every one of us is faced with the hundreds of things we could do and what others in the company want to do. But what will allow us to succeed is not by building something that does a half assed job for everyone (you will hear this being argued for under the name of flexibility) but by focusing on building something that does a kick ass job doing a few things very well. To do this however, you need organizational support – it needs to come all the way from the top – the CEO.

Thoughts? Do you agree? What have your experiences been?

6 thoughts on “Focus is about saying “NO””

  1. I’m a bit late to this thread, but am compelled to comment. I have to say, Gopal, you’ve hit the nail on the head for me – as have many of the comments from others. You ask, “What have your experiences been?”, and I tell you that on a Product Team for enterprise class, web based software products, the biggest challenge has been to focus on and determine the core functionality vs. ‘nice to haves’. It can be quite tricky, to say the least. I also agree completely with Vishal’s comment regarding ‘Organizational, Tactical and Strategic’ considerations – although I usually think of it as Strategic, Tactical and Operational. Keeping those objectives in balance depends on consistently considering all three areas during design, before basing action on one of them. Last but not least, and related to all of this, is the balance between the business need and the robustness of the product (a form of cost/benefit), with consideration to existing contracts and market trends / ability to be leveraged in business development – but that’s where it comes back to the beginning: if your product does well in a few key areas it will be attractive across the board!

  2. Gopal, I really agree with you. It’s a great mantra to keep in mind. Lately, I have been trying to focus my own work on relationships with my customers and constantly revisiting the problem I am solving. If you know who your customers are and have clarity on the problem you’re solving, I think that helps with saying “no”. I’ve also been reading a lot about Lean Startups–the validated learning method that Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and others evangelize is another great way to keep “yes” at bay.

  3. Hi Gopal,

    I have seen this speech before and I agree with you. We are essentially faced with 3 kinds of decisions in an organization: Organizational, Tactical and Strategic. We face these every day. A lot of companies get stuck in the trap of “taking on too much” when they don’t understand that saying “yes” too many times to satisfy the wishes of all stakeholders will create distractions from the core value products that a company delivers.

    As a product manager, you have to understand the kind of decision that needs to be taken (from the three categories above) and then evaluate it from an objective viewpoint to see if this ultimaltely falls in line with the company values and the strategy. And, most important of all, you have to be prepared to defend yourself when you say “no”.

  4. Gopal, this message is so easy to understand when you look at the distant competitors of the innovative Apple products Steve Jobs focused on. While the competition was adding more functions to their products, with more complicated controls for the cameras, video, music,and downloads, Apple gave their customers clean, elegant, easily adopted and adaptable technology that became indispensable. Apple took their time and added them when they had pared the controls and functions down to simple operational controls, making them a sought after feature, not an irritation.

    Advancing the state of the art is needed in so many industries, and the vision to reduce the complexity that exists requires cooperative examination from many perspectives. Too often I have seen a problem put on the table (so to speak) and heard that the development team knows how to fix it, when they are sitting with their backs to the table, looking in different directions without really understanding what the problem is. Focus, commitment, and being able to say no to the divergence that easily occurs in development is critical to successfully delivering the product that astounds users.

  5. Hi Gopal, good to see you writing again.

    You hit what I think is a defining reason why Apple and Steve have been so successful. People credit jobs for great design or great innovation. I think he couldn’t have done all of that on his own, but he was famous for sending his people back tot he drawing board over and over again until they got it right.

    Focus is about saying no. I’m repeating it to myself now…

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