June 13, 2013

Just in Time Product Development

“If you ain’t first, you’re last”

In today’s economy, everyone is looking to be the first-to-market, because the general thought is, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

While I agree that first-to-market is important, it is what the product is comprised of that makes or breaks it. More often than not, first-to-market for many new products means a product inclusive of the bells and whistles, and not what is minimally needed for product launch. Better said, in the software development world, you cannot be first-to-market if you are constantly developing your product and never releasing it.

This might seem like common sense; however, you would be surprised by the number of products that have strived to have a full fledged product for their first release, and failed.

The following examples will outline where the product with the most features and functionality does not necessarily equate to product success.

Just In Time Product Development

When it comes to developing products, we at 3Pillar prefer to adhere to an underlying principle to develop and release a product that allows for shortened time to market, to quickly and efficiently obtain user feedback, and to incorporate improvements into the next release.

This principle I call a Just In Time (JIT) product (better known in the software development world as a minimum viable product), which usually lends itself to releasing a product with less functionality and complexity. This leads to more frequent feedback from actual end users for incorporation into the next release. This feedback allows us to strategically and effectively address current functionality and items in the product roadmap, by putting resources and funds towards functionality that has been tested and accepted by end users, rather than spending those same resources and funds blindly.

Imagine that product development is like running a marathon. The first step to completing any marathon is training. You run a few miles the first day and assess where you are. Then the next week you run a bit more, and you continue this until you know you are ready to run the marathon.

A JIT Product is essentially the training portion of a marathon. You never go into a marathon not having trained (at least I hope not). You start with a smaller set of functionality, develop it, test it out on end users, assess, and move from there.

Where Do I Start?

Unfortunately, there is no formula you can apply to determine a JIT product. The best way to approach one is to think about your product and its end users.

  • Who and what is the make up my early adopters?
  • Does my JIT product contain enough functionality for them to buy and use it?
  • Do I have a development process in place to obtain feedback and incorporate into my next release?

The answers are just the beginning to identifying your JIT product. They should help identify the minimum set of features and functionality to release to end users to obtain feedback and incorporate into the next release.

That being said, this article is not intended to help you create your JIT product, but the benefits to developing (and understanding) a JIT product versus taking longer time to market with a full fledged product.

The examples below provide the evidence for the argument for a JIT product, including the success stories of a JIT product (iPhone and Evernote) and the failures of fully fledged products (Webvan).


It was not too long ago that Motorola released their revolutionary RAZR flip phone. It was the phone everyone had to have. It was shiny and thin, something not common for flip phones of that era. Then, a few years later (in 2007), Apple released their game-changing iPhone.

We all have a smartphone of some sort in our possession, and chances are you are holding an iPhone or an Android device. Phones these days are more computers than they are phones, but they were not always so great.

Remember the first generation iPhone? It was unable to search for contacts like it can now. Did that stop Steve Jobs from releasing the most innovative, generation changing product? They launched and obtained feedback from the first generation iPhone users and made updates to their next generation iPhone.

Even now, we are at the 6th generation iPhone (iPhone 5) with a 7th generation coming in the summer of 2013. Apple was still able to succeed by releasing an iPhone that was incomplete (relative to today’s iPhone), by focusing on the core functionality of the iPhone (a JIT product of sorts).

“Time to Take Note”

Evernote, a cloud-based note-taking application, launched in June of 2008 and has enjoyed a healthy share of the market.

That being said, Evernote did something no other cloud-based note taking site did. They focused on a single application focusing on one main purpose. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, said one of the keys to Evernote’s success was that Evernote applications performed only one main action.

Today you will find that Evernote is broken down into several different cloud-based note-taking applications and each application is focused on a different function; Evernote, Skitch, Penultimate, Web Clipper, Hello, Food, Clearly, and Peek.

Phil Libin essentially created several JIT products, gathered user feedback, and made the necessary upgrades in the following releases.

Where is Evernote now? Evernote is the number one cloud-based note-taking application with over 10 million users and is valued over one billion dollars as of May 2012. Furthermore, they are constantly creating new applications for Evernote while improving the existing ones.

“Shop ‘Till You Drop…Out of the Market”

In “4 Steps to an Epiphany,” Steven Blank uses an example of a company called, Webvan. Webvan was a grocery delivery company that had much promise, but never met expectations. Long story short, instead of strategically phasing the growth of the company, Webvan exploded by building out an entire delivery infrastructure across the United States, hired an entire marketing and sales team; all without really knowing how well the public was going to react.

In the end, Webvan went belly up quickly after it expanded. Webvan decided to go “all-in” on its business plan for grocery delivery and failed. Had Webvan tried to branch out slowly (by first starting locally and expanding to other regions), they might have been able to adjust their product and adapt.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last”

As I was writing this, I was able to come across several examples of how being first-to-market equated to success and failure. The key difference that I found was that those products that were first-to-market and succeeded did so by following the JIT product principle.

Remember, it’s all about the strategy behind the launch of a product. A JIT product allows you to obtain feedback, react, and respond. We at 3Pillar Global strongly believe in the product mindset of developing through iterations for quicker feedback and improved functionality. We work hand-in-hand with our clients as product partners, not development vendors, to deliver a successful JIT product to their end users. We do not believe in first-to-market, but best-in-market, and best-in-market does not happen overnight, it evolves through end user feedback and development iterations.