The development of any great product begins with the desire to find a solution to a problem. Researchers and developers will look to prove why a solution is the right approach to solve a problem, with the belief that the resulting product will be substantially better than alternatives, both in what it offers at launch and how it will adapt over its lifetime.
Take file data storage, for example. The amount of data being generated today was largely unforeseen ten years ago. Data is growing more rapidly every year and storage systems built a decade ago were architected for a completely different scale both in terms of total capacity and number of files in a system. With that in mind, forward-thinking IT leaders need to drastically simplify the way they manage file data.
However, when it comes to actually building a great technology product or solution, the art of simplicity is often overlooked. Complex products and licensing schemes have dominated the landscape for decades, and this complexity has helped vendors extract more dollars from their customers and keep selling products.
Two tectonic shifts changed the rules of the game: the internet and the cloud. The internet allowed customers around the world to share their experiences, and the cloud made it easy to try a new application or service and compare it to others without a major commitment. As a result, technology customers could discover better options and are now less willing to accept needlessly complex solutions.
So what does this mean? Technology companies need to embrace radical simplicity.
In general, I’ve found that radically simple products share three qualities: they are capable, affordable, and delightful. Simple products need to have the features and performance necessary to make a customer workflow work, which includes having reliability, security, interoperability, interactivity, and management. If a product is simple, it should not require special budget justification and should be integrated into how organizations normally approach paying for technology. And of course, simple products surprise customers with how well they get things done. Simple products make it easier to get started, complete a task, expand, or even shut down.
When it comes to creating a simple product for the challenge of file data storage, the product needs to be incredibly powerful and capable, while also friendly, approachable, and intuitive. Its features have to work consistently on every infrastructure platform, designed for and tested under a wide array of conditions and then stress-tested some more to ensure it works as expected, no matter what. Ensuring simplicity, it should abstract customers from needless decision-making, maintenance, babysitting, or worry.
Of course, developing a workable simplified solution is easier said than done. How can you deliver a product that delivers the capabilities customers require, at an affordable total cost, and with a delightful experience that makes customers’ lives easier every day? This is something we strive to meet every day at Qumulo, and over time we have learned how to make great products with powerful capabilities that our customers want, and build simplicity into the product from the very core.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned in achieving simplicity for our customers:
Iterate every two weeks
Surround the product with a talented group of customer success, engineering, and product management professionals who identify the places within the product that cause customer friction, and relentlessly prioritize those problems. This will help to empower those teams to rework systems constantly, closing those gaps as fast as they can.
Do the hard right thing
“Do the hard, right thing” is a principle that has guided us from our very beginning. It is what encourages us to say no to the easy path in lieu of the path that, at some point in the future we will be glad we took. It offers a complete solution to a problem that handles both the main use cases and the edge-cases, too. It helps to deliver a clever implementation that completely removes the need for settings or manual intervention of any kind, and in the process removes the need for our customers to question their actions.
Navigate and learn from the details
Products live and die in the details. It’s the infinite list of refinements, changes, additions, and optimizations across various product releases and the way they are implemented that largely determines a product’s fate. If you are lucky enough to have customers depending on your product, you will learn of new use-cases and new ways your product could work to serve them better. Listen closely to what they have to say – the key to achieving simplicity will ultimately lie with what your customers want.
Avoid unnecessary knobs
When it comes to system choices, implement user-defined options only where necessary. We aimed to follow this rule when it came to our intelligent caching and prefetching feature that identifies the best algorithm for customer workloads. Getting the user involved only when necessary makes the product more user-friendly, keeps everything flowing smoothly, and reduces headaches and frustration from the customer.
Ensure simplicity is at the core
Perhaps the most important lesson is to make sure anything you do is done around the overall idea of simplicity. Your focus should always be centered on the customer’s problems, and your motivations will be driven by how you believe you can help them achieve more with the product.
Bring these lessons to the product development process. Simplicity requires constant attention and, oddly enough, constant dissatisfaction in the status quo. Taking that dissatisfaction as motivation allows us to understand that our product may not be simple enough yet, and demands we lower our costs, expand our capabilities, or simply make the customer’s experience a little more delightful.
The Art of Simplicity – Driving Customer Success with Simplified File Data Solutions was published on Geekwire in April.
Breaking Customer Satisfaction Records with Success
Qumulo Core — Manage Petabytes of File Data with Radical Simplicity
The 5 Beliefs — File Data Management Should Be Radially Simple
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Ben Gitenstein runs Product at Qumulo. He and his team of product managers and data scientists have conducted nearly 1,000 interviews with storage users and analyzed millions of data points to understand customer needs and the direction of the storage market. Prior to working at Qumulo, Ben spent five years at Microsoft, where he split his time between Corporate Strategy and Product Planning.