Ship It or Revise It?

Yesterday we started an “Ask a question” form. Today, I’ll answer the first question that someone submitted. 

The Question (From a reader)

I’m struggling with the tension of “ship it” vs revise. I have something I have written that is pretty much done, but yesterday got an idea how I should overhaul it. Do I ship it or revise? How do I know if I’m just caught in a cycle of not delivering, particularly since I don’t have a deadline either internally or externally?

My Answer

You should ship it today. 

Here are some criteria that you can use to determine whether you should ship something, or wait a while longer:

  1. Will shipping this product cause harm to myself or someone else? Harm can include: 
  • Physical injury – Using your product could result in physical damage to a person.
  • Reputational harm – The harm that would occur if someone trusts you and advocates for your product, and your product doesn’t deliver what it promises.
  • Psychological harm – you gave half-baked information, or you draw conclusions that aren’t supported by evidence. 

If your product doesn’t cause harm, you should ship it. 

  1. Does this release of this product need to be absolutely perfect? Or will my current version of the product provide value to someone? Some products need to be perfect when they are released. No one wants a mostly-good pacemaker. It must be 100% reliable, or you don’t want it at all. On the other hand, publishers, software companies, and accountants release work all the time that aren’t perfect, but offer value to the customer. Typos, bugs, and immaterial accounting errors are encountered every day. But you still get way more value from a buggy piece of software that saves you 10 hours a week, than not having the software at all. 

If your product offers value even if it isn’t perfect, you should ship it. 

If you ship your product today, even though you have a better idea, you will be further ahead than if you wait for the second version. The feedback that you gather from releasing your current version will be valuable in shaping the next version. Eric Reis describes a minimum viable product as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” If you were to release what you have today, you would learn from the customers to whom you ship it. That learning, along with your new ideas, could form an excellent second version. If you waited until your ‘updated’ version to ship, you have cheated yourself out of valuable customer feedback that could have made your product better. (In fact, you could almost argue that by not shipping, you are not giving your customers the chance to provide you with feedback, making the second version less valuable than if you co-created it using the user’s responses.) 

The Question Shouldn’t Be “Ship It Or Revise It?”

The question should be, how do I ship it, and revise it? Unless every single person in the world is going to buy your product, and they only need to buy it once, you should ship what you have, and then update it. And ship it again. You can sell the next version to the customers that have already bought (just like a second edition for a book, or remastered movie.) And for those people who didn’t buy on the first time around, you now have customer feedback and a better product that you can put in front of them. The first version of the product might not have been valuable to them, but the second version might be. 

We often fall into a trap where we think that once we ship something, we shouldn’t revise it and update it. This is the wrong way to think. If something is good enough to add value to people’s lives, we should ship it today. But if we have an idea of how we can provide more value, we should create that improvement, and ship that too. If we don’t, we are depriving the customer of the value that we can give and that they want. 

How Can I Be Sure? 

How can I be sure that shipping a valuable, but the not-perfect product is better than waiting for the perfect product? I can use the “Ask A Question” concept as an example. As everyone can see, the form isn’t the most interesting: It could have a bigger text area, and it could draw the user in to be more interactive. It could look nicer, like a Facebook or Twitter interface. But the thing about the “Ask A Question” initiative is that it was conceived and executed on the morning of April 22, 2020. I was late in writing my blog post yesterday, and as I was out for my morning run, a thought popped into my mind, “I should do an ask-a-question initiative.” I was going to write a blog post about a ‘coming soon’ feature. But instead of just ‘coming soon,’ as I wrote, I decided that I could post the form at the same time, and I could start taking questions immediately. 

If had waited for a better interface, more market research, or to improve the idea, it never would have happened. But because it happened, we can start answering questions right away.

Here’s what I know:
  1. Posting the form and writing the blog post isn’t going to do anyone harm.
  2. The product doesn’t need to be perfect to launch it. I can add value today and make it better for tomorrow. 
  3. And I can improve “Ask a Question” moving forward. What I learn from today’s questions can inform how I continue to build it. 

To summarize:

Ship today.

Continue to revise, and ship tomorrow also.