Frameworks As End States Versus Next States

You don't have to look very hard to find some vitriol toward SAFe within the agile/Scrum community. I have my problems with SAFe (mostly Scaled Agile Inc. really) myself. I've never understood the venom directed at SAFe though.

I do remember having some antipathy toward Scrum when I first learned about it. My feelings toward Scrum are complex, much of which has to do with my preferences and personality, but it took some time to work that out. (I see its value these days.)

I think both cases had a common underlying issue however.

People tend to see a framework as a complete end state to implement. How you react to that depends heavily on where you're coming from.

If you've already internalized the agile mindset and principles, a framework like SAFe is going to look very regressive. There are significant elements of it that will feel like major steps backward, that feel less agile than what you're currently doing. In some important ways, you'd be right.

If you're just starting your agile journey, you view that same framework very differently. You see that framework as current best practice that, once implemented, will solve all of your problems. You see significant improvements over the way you're currently working (which generally includes no clear priorities, no dedicated teams, and no alignment). In some important ways, you'd be right.

Everyone would be better served viewing any proposed framework as a potential next state. Would adopting this framework, or elements of it, get us closer to our goal than we are today? Is it a reasonable place we can get to next, that we can then build off of to get to a new, better next state? If the answer is yes, the framework is something worth looking into. If not, then the framework isn't for you. If it isn't helpful to you, consider that it could be helpful to someone else.

If you view a framework as a potential end state, all you'll see are its flaws. If you view it instead as a potential next state, you'll see its virtues.

The Internal Consultant's Superpowers

If you work as an internal consultant for a company, I'm sure you're familiar with the superpowers possessed by external consultants. They're well known, usually envied, and often frustrating to those of us who are employees.

What I don't hear much about are the superpowers possessed by the internal consultant. While less talked about, they are no less real, and no less powerful. I want to bring some attention to these superpowers so internal consultants better understand where their power lies, and how it should change your approach.

You Care Deeply About the Company

You are an employee of the company. You joined the company because you believed in its mission and values. Your continued employment depends on the continued existence of the company.

No external consultant can come close to your level of concern. Yes, they care about their customers, the way every company cares about the customers they serve. This, though, is different. This is the caring you have for your community. It is deeper and stronger than the caring you have for your customers, no matter how customer focused you may be.

This passion for your company is very powerful in convincing those who may be skeptical of what you're trying to do. People see that what you're trying to help them with comes from a place of concern for the company, not (just) your chosen field. You can clearly and powerfully communicate how what you do will help create a better future for everyone in the company. This matters.

You Know the Company

You know the company on a level that an external consultant can never know. You know the company's culture. You know the company's fears, its neuroses. You know what words matter, and which ones don't. You know the history of past efforts, what has worked and what has failed. You know what suggestions will get you kicked out of the room. You know what motivates people. You know where the bodies are buried.

You know.

External consultants have a tendency to minimize the differences between companies. This is for good reason: In many ways, companies really aren't that different from one another. External consultants should push back on those in the company who insist things "can't be done that way here" for one reason or another. They are usually right.


Sometimes a company really is different. Sometimes, as an employee, you know in your gut that something is unique about your company.

Hear your external consultants out. Assume they are right until proven otherwise.

Except when you know. Then, trust your gut, stand your ground, and find an approach that will work.

You Can Afford to Be Patient

By virtue of being an employee, you are not tied to short term contracts. If the company is committed enough to what you do to hire internal consultants, they are committed enough to provide time for results to appear. You aren't required to show immediate financial returns on every action you take. You can wait for the payoff.

This is by far the most impactful superpower. It should be a consideration in everything you do.

It means that you can teach differently to achieve harder goals. It means you can wait out a leader who demands to see results before committing to your approach. It means you can try multiple times to help someone you're coaching see the light before moving on to more fertile ground. It means you can plant the seeds of ideas knowing you won't be able to harvest that crop for months, if not years.

Understand that the approaches your external consultants bring will necessarily be tuned for short term results. If they don't show immediate gains, they don't get paid for very long.

You aren't under that constraint. Make sure you don't just blindly accept the short term approach. Understand how a different, long term approach might be more impactful. Play the long game.

This is your ultimate superpower.

The Best Way to Teach Scrum

Recently I've seen some debate over the best way to teach Scrum. The "traditional" approach is to teach the Scrum framework to the team, then let the forcing functions in Scrum lead the team to agile software development techniques. A second approach gaining support is to teach core agile development techniques (such as ATDD/BTDD, agile architecture, etc.) and then teach just enough Scrum to support those techniques.

Which is the best approach?

We need to first answer a predecessor question: Why are we teaching Scrum?

The typical answer is something like, "We want to be more agile." When I start poking on that question, I often find what they're really saying is, "I want to get the team to the current state-of-the-art software development practices as quickly and cheaply as possible." If this is your goal, I think it does make more sense to teach agile practices first. It will get you to this end state much quicker than forcing the team to figure it out one practice at a time, which is what a Scrum-first approach can lead to.

I answer the question differently, however: "I want people to think about how they work as something they can control, and something that should be studied and improved." My goal is to teach a new way of thinking. I want the team to consider how they work, and how they could work better. I want them to learn to constantly be looking for new techniques and how they might be integrated with how they currently work. I want them to learn to adapt what works and change what doesn't, even if the result looks different than the book answer.

With this view, the traditional Scrum approach holds a certain appeal. I'm not convinced it's the best approach, however. Just teaching the framework often leads to a state where the team simply gets stuck, frustrated with the framework but with no way forward. I am convinced, however, that the technique-led approach will work against this goal. That effectively does the research and implemention of best practices for them, which they will struggle to transcend.

So which is the best approach? What's your goal?

Certification and Simplification

Al Shalloway asks why people get pushed into using simplified solutions that have certifications when more powerful and useful approaches exist. I don’t know, but have some ideas based on what I’ve seen.

It should go without saying, but: This is my view of some of the reasons from behavior I have observed. I believe there are companies and people who view matters quite differently, but I also don’t think they fall into the trap Al is asking about. I simply think this is a useful way to start the conversation based on my experiences.


A huge element of the push for certifications comes down to signaling in the economic sense. 

From the company’s perspective, there is huge value in relying on credentailing: It significantly reduces the time and effort needed to vet potential consultants. When a consultant is, say, SPC4 certified, that one signal immediately conveys a lot of information about what the person knows, the amount of effort the person had to go through to get the certification, what the person’s interests are, what philosophies and approaches the person aligns with, etc.

This similarly benefits the consultant. It provides a shorthand for what they know and who they agree with. It makes their job of selling their services easier because they can point to an industry trend and say, “I can help you do that.”

In the absence of credentialing, it requires much more effort and cost to match company and consultant. 

There is also value to the people inside the company that will be trained to carry out much of the work of implementing the chosen solution. Most approaches first train and certify the internal trainers/consultants. Since the company usually funds this effort (cost of the certifications as well as the time needed), the internal employees get a certification and its benefits on someone else’s dime.


It is easier to define the return on investment (ROI) for an approach with clearly defined boundaries and few options. If you can only do it one way, there is only one set of results you have to calculate and sell.

Further, the less there is to learn in an approach, the quicker it is to train and certify people. This keeps the initial expenses manageable, but also, critically, enables companies to see a “return” on that investment sooner.

Combined, this helps improve the ROI. This matters when selling the approach to companies who are generally under pressure to “make the numbers” and operating on annual budgets. The faster an approach can contribute to the bottom line, the easier it is to sell to the budget people.


Most of the frameworks I’ve seen won’t actually work exactly as defined anywhere. (I said “most.”) None of those take into account the real world environment they’ll be operating in, nor the fact that every implementation is trying to solve for different goals and different problems. They can’t: The real world is too messy and complex to address every possible situation in advance. 

However, following an industry standard approach is a very safe decision. It’s the modern equivalent of, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” It allows the decision makers to say they just tried what everyone else does, so the risk was entirely reasonable, regardless of outcome.

The executive that was responsible for starting the program will blame limitations of the approach for any failure to achieve the benefits promised. Instead, they’ll point to the gains made and say they made the best of the situation they reasonably could, then move on to their next effort.

The consultants will blame the company for not changing as radically as needed, or that the company simply needs more experience to get the benefits desired. The consultant will be gone long before it becomes clear the approach would never work as defined.

No one goes in with the intent of blaming others, of course. Everyone goes in optimistic that this time will be different, this time it will really work right. Still, people are very good at finding ways to avoid blame. This setup allows them to shift the blame if the need arises.

Stakeholder Interests Align

You'll notice here that all of the key stakeholders get to align on the use and value of simple approaches with credentialing. Everyone is (more or less) happy!

Left out of this, of course, are the poor people who have to work within the environments the decision makers are creating. But they don’t make the decisions or pay the bills, so their voices aren’t heard.

No one is approaching this with malicious intent. Much of this is simply a result of the system companies and consultants operate in. Companies need advice; consultants want to provide it; both sides need to find a way to meet their goals while making money. The system pushes people toward these behaviors.

Everyone involved is acting rationally based on their mental models and the system they’re in. It would be fascinating to build out a better model of the system and see how it could be changed for the better.

Overcast and the Future of Podcasting

Samantha Bielefeld wrote a piece a few weeks ago titled "The Elephant in the Room". She raised many points, but there is one in particular that I hadn't considered before:

What impact does a free Overcast have on the podcast client market?

Marco's stated objective is to protect podcasts from "Big Money". From his post “Pragmatic app pricing”:

“Podcasts are hot right now. Big Money is coming.


“They’re coming with shitty apps and fantastic business deals to dominate the market, lock down this open medium into proprietary “technology”, and build empires of middlemen to control distribution and take a cut of everyone’s revenue.

“That’s how you make Big Money. And it usually works.

“[…] I don’t know if Overcast stands a chance of preventing the Facebookization of podcasting, but I know I’m increasing the odds if my app is free without restrictions.”

Marco believes that by making Overcast free, he has a chance of getting a critical mass of podcast listeners, thereby preventing a takeover by Big Money.

Is he right? If so, is it worth the potential collateral damage to the rest of the podcast client ecosystem?

That depends on what you think the future of podcasting is.

A Status-Quo Podcasting Future

The assumption in Marco's attempt to protect podcasting is that it continues to develop much as it has. Podcasts will continue to be between 30 minutes and three hours (with some exceptions). They will primarily be ad-sponsored, not based on subscriptions. More people will continue to produce them and look for distribution.

The largest threat to podcasting is a Big Money-backed walled garden. One client gets large enough to entice all producers to not only make their shows available within it, but to so dominate the space that there's no need to distribute outside of it. Keeping Overcast free with a substantial user base will incent producers to maintain public feeds and prevent this future.

But what if this isn't how the future plays out?

Music: A Partial History

To understand how podcasting might evolve, let's start by look at the relatively recent history of recorded music.

We begin with the album, first vinyl, then tape, and finally compact disc. These were all fundamentally the same: They sold a package of songs that were related in some way for a single price. No matter how many songs you were interested in or liked, you had to buy the whole collection (with minor exceptions that don't matter for this discussion).

Then came digitization and the internet. Suddenly, if you wanted music, you no longer had to buy a whole collection. You could get just the song you want. First, you would just torrent it; later, you would buy it through iTunes.

Further, the playing field was leveled. Anyone (practically) could publish their music and sell it. Just about anyone could get in iTunes, and they could sell direct through their own site. Any MP3 player could play any song. iTunes dominated thanks to the iPod, but it was a fundamentally open system that ensured access to most.

The album had been unbundled.

Then the streaming services rose up. They provided tremendous convenience: All (practically) of the music in the world for a monthly fee. Storage space on your device was no longer an issue. Algorithms in addition to humans started providing suggestions, helping you find music you otherwise wouldn't have heard.

Suddenly, there are walled gardens. Getting rights to all the music in the world is a large and costly undertaking. As usage picked up, you increasingly have to be in those systems to be relevant (with a few extremely popular exceptions). Getting in is harder, and there are fewer options to bypass it. Convenience has trumped openness.

Music has been re-bundled, but in a completely new way with completely new benefits.

TV: A Partial History

I'm going to talk about one aspect of television I don't hear much discussion about, but I think is very relevant: Late night talk shows.

Of the late night talk show hosts, Conan O'Brien is the only one I've ever really enjoyed. That show is actually a variety of shorter bits and segments, bundled together in a single episode. To watch it, I've had to watch, and eventually record, his entire show.

Then came the rise of streaming video. Shows like Conan were streamed whole through the network's website so you could watch when and where you wanted. The rise of YouTube led to the breakup of the show into its component bits and segments. Suddenly, you could watch only those parts of the show that interested you.

Here's the dirty little secret: I only like the monologue and bits portions of the show. The interviews and musical guests have never done anything for me. I'm guessing most people are similar. They like parts of the show, but probably not all of it.

If I went through the effort of finding a way to watch the whole show, inertia would cause me to watch the whole show. YouTube changed that equation. I have my choice of streaming the whole show or just bits of it. It is now easier just to watch the parts of the show I find interesting. In fact, I don't even watch the whole monologue anymore, just the jokes that pop as the funniest ones. Everyone can watch just the parts of the show they enjoy most.

The show itself became unbundled.

Neil Cybart talks frequently of the re-bundling that is yet to come, providing personalized video recommendations based on viewer interests. It's easy to see a future in which the unbundled segment of shows like late night talk shows are recommended, much like music is now, alongside other shows that can be broken into pieces, full-length television shows and movies. That day is not yet here, however.

An Alternate Possible Podcasting Future

If we apply these lessons to podcasting, what might an alternate future look like?

Podcasts are much like late night talk shows: They're a collection of segments, often loosely related. Even in shows I very much enjoy, often only some segments are of interest to me. A system (let's call it PodRadio) has been created that breaks podcasts apart into its various segments and understands who is in those segments, what they discuss and how long they run. I can listen to just the segments that interest me.

Podcast shows are unbundled.

PodRadio has another feature though: It allows me to design "stations" or "shows" based on what I want to hear. "Give me all product reviews by John Siracusa." "Play all discussions of the Packers' last game." "Give me all discussions including John Gruber in the last week I haven't already listened to." "Give me all of Christina Warren's discussions about yesterday's Apple event." "Give me details about the latest agile conference."

PodRadio also incorporates a streaming music service. The one I listen to most plays Frank Sinatra, but for about five minutes every hour, it drops in a John Siracusa segment (Robot or Not? is perfect for this format). It gives me a chance to get up and stretch and give my mind a break. My second favorite is a Top 10 station that follows the song with the artist discussing it.

The convenience of this eliminates my time spent listening to podcasts outside of PodRadio. I pay a monthly subscription, and the revenue is shared among the music artists and podcasters based on what I listen to. All audio content of any relevance is on PodRadio, and I listen to more than ever.

Podcast shows are re-bundled, but in a completely new way with completely new benefits.

Overcast's Impact

Back to our original question: What impact does a free Overcast have on the podcast client market? It depends on which future comes to pass.

If the status quo prevails, Overcast will likely have a nice chunk of the premium market. I suspect it will strongly damage the paid premium client market. How could it not? Marco's own stats show that 80% of his users went with the free version of his crippled app. If you can get a fully-featured premium client for free, how many people will really pay for a client?

Marco might still achieve his primary goal though: He will likely get enough of the market to prevent any Big Money player from dominating, protecting podcasting as it exists.

But what if my alternate future comes to pass? As I was writing this, Google announced podcasts are coming to Google Play Music. The initial announcement sounds like steps in the direction I outlined (I wish I'd finished this piece sooner!). I think there's a good chance my vision of the future is close to the mark.

In that case, the impact of Overcast is likely muted but more damaging.

Podcasts and podcast clients as they exist today will likely continue to exist, they will simply be eclipsed by this new model (just as albums and MP3 players - software-based - still exist today, but are increasingly eclipsed by streaming singles and the software to support it).  However, since the market for a traditional podcast client doesn't grow substantially, a free Overcast likely significantly damages a small and minimally growing market.

Meanwhile, Big Money is likely to create PodRadio. Some day the algorithms, AI, and streaming music catalog will be broadly available to allow indies to attempt something like this (maybe). In the short term, though, this will take money. Big Money. That will need to build a walled garden to make this work.

Google is an obvious candidate that has already started, and Apple certainly could take a run at this. I wouldn't rule out Spotify making a play here either. People were confused when they added podcasts to the app recently. It makes more sense if you look at it in terms of a PodRadio-like future.

This is a future an indie is not likely to be able to create or stop. Not even one giving away their software.

Marco's right. Big Money is coming, and it will likely win. Overcast is likely to be the WinAmp of podcast clients.

Why the Apple Watch Introduction Was So Different, and Other Event Observations

There’s been quite a bit of skepticism about the Apple Watch since the unveiling event. Much of this centers around the way it was introduced. Ben Thompson neatly sums up the key issues as:

  • There was no focus on the “jobs to be done” of the Apple Watch - why does the Watch need to exist?
  • The Apple Watch seems to do “too much” - it should have focused on two or three use cases that it could do better than any other device

I believe both of these points are valid, but directly related to one another and to the market Apple is trying to address.

In a subsequent discussion, Thompson argues with himself over the “too much” criticism, eventually coming to believe the Apple Watch is the iPhone to the iPod-iPhone evolution. In other words, Apple skipped the iPod iteration of the wearable and jumped straight to the iPhone. I think this is spot-on, but I think he misses the key reason why. Thompson believes Apple did this because they could. I think they did this because they had to.

During the event, Apple repeatedly positioned the Apple Watch as a fashion item and their “most personal device yet.” This is the key to understanding the introduction.

Before talking about Apple’s wearable, let’s start with a different wearable: Clothing.

Consider SCOTTeVEST. It was introduced primarily as clothing with a utilitarian purpose, namely carrying more gear around easily. The clothes may be fashionable, but no one buys SCOTTeVEST products primarily for their fashion; they buy them for their utility.

Let’s now look at a Gucci suit. This is a pure fashion item. People do not consider the utility of a Gucci suit when making a purchase; the utility is entirely secondary. No one asks why a Gucci suit exists. It has a very different, self-evident job to be done.

SCOTTeVEST is positioned as a utilitarian item. Gucci suits are positioned as fashion items.

This, I believe, explains both of the objections to the introduction. Had Apple focused on the jobs to be done, it would have been positioning the Apple Watch as primarily a utilitarian item. This is also why Apple didn’t start with an intermediate product. Had Apple introduced a wearable under a different name that only did two or three tasks, it again becomes a utilitarian item. Even a subsequent rebranding to Watch couldn’t shake that initial impression of Apple wearables.

Further, this ability to do much more than expected is required for the device to be the most “personal” product yet. The industrial design will only get Apple so far. While the Apple Watch already has far more appearance options than any other Apple product ever, it’s still a fraction of the options available in the wider watch market. To make it truly personal, the functionality needs to be unique. Each person will want something different from an Apple Watch and the device will need to support it. If the wearable only does the same two or three things for everyone, it isn't all that personal. Further, by offering the promise of doing nearly anything from the start, the utility again becomes a secondary concern: Worry about the fashion and trust that it will do what you want.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. That impression fundamentally shapes how consumers view a product. Apple wants the first impression of the Watch to be that of a fashion item. That means utility needs to take subordinate place to design, and extreme personalization is required. It’s a fashion item that happens to be a technology product that can do just about anything I want. From this perspective, Apple’s introduction makes much more sense.

Other random thoughts from the event:

  • I would be extremely surprised if Apple didn’t allow third-party watch faces for the personalization reasons I outlined above. This would be a massive mindset shift for Apple. They’ve never before allowed anyone else to replace the key user experience of a product. It’s effectively the same as granting third parties the ability to build new lock screens on the iPhone. Inconceivable in that context, but a necessity for the Watch.
  • The Apple Watch OS looks visually like the next generation of the iOS 7 aesthetic. I hope some of that design language makes its way back to iOS.
  • Speaking of the iPhone, I’ve had the 6 (not the Plus) for four full days now, and I’m still not convinced on the size. It’s larger than the initial reviews led me to believe, and I still haven’t found a way to use it one-handed comfortably. I know that isn’t a priority for everyone (perhaps not even most), but in the last four days, I’ve become acutely aware of how much I use my phone one-handed. I had to buy one to test my app, but I’m starting to hope Apple makes a smaller new iPhone in the future. It feels like this form factor but with a 4.2” screen would’ve been ideal. Check back in a month to see if I've changed my mind.
  • Keeping the entry-level iPhones at 16 GB while bumping the remaining configurations was a stroke of genius. It will help the ASP of the phone line. I’ve purchased the 32 GB model for a long time and intended to again. Had the entry level model been 32 GB, I would’ve saved myself $100. Since it’s instead only 16 GB, I stuck with the mid-size offering.
  • An interesting effect to watch: I now wonder if I’ll be “stuck” with “needing” the 64 GB model from here on out. I fear I’ll get used to the extra space and be very reluctant to give it up. To be clear, I don’t believe this was Apple’s intent (though if next year’s models still start at 16 GB and only goes up to 32 GB a year later…).
  • When introducing Apple Pay, Apple stated their goal was to replace the wallet and they needed to “start” with the credit card. Curious, since I thought Apple started with Passbook. Given they now have a solution for loyalty, gift and credit cards, I wonder what’s left? Licenses?
  • Inexplicably, I saw some online giving “scarf guy” grief. I only wish I had a personal style I was so secure in that I’d wear it in an Apple keynote.
  • It feels like Apple events have become increasingly video heavy. Given the keynotes are real-time marketing events these days, I understand why. Still, it feels like the events have lost something with so much pre-produced content.

Finally, at the end, Apple stated the pillars the company was built on: Mac, iPhone, iPad, and now Apple Watch. I find it telling that iPad was called out specifically. Despite some recent hand-wringing from outside, it’s clear Apple feels it is still a key product with a bright future.

Notable by its absence is the iPod. This isn’t surprising, especially considering the iPod Classic was discontinued after the event. Still, I think this is the moment where we can definitively say the iPod Era ended. It felt like a big moment to me given how much the iPod meant to Apple.

Also interesting, and which I’ve heard no one else remark on, is the absence of Beats in any form. No mention of the streaming service or the headphone line as a key pillar. For anyone still wondering, it seems like Apple just clearly stated the Beats acquisition was really a talent acquisition that happened to bring along a really profitable business that will pay for itself.

Starting by Quitting

I've been struggling for three years now to get my company off the ground. I've wanted to develop apps for iOS for some time and finally had the idea I wanted to work on. I formed an LLC, got a domain name, and joined the Apple iOS Developer Program. I started prototyping the app I wanted to build and made some progress. I even started playing around with basic animation to see what I could do. 

Then I did nothing for a long time. 

WWDC rolled around, new developer videos were posted, and I got excited again. I picked up the code and started fleshing out more features. I even managed to get it running on my iPhone and found and resolved my first significant performance issue.

Then I did nothing for a long time. Again. 

Again, another WWDC rolled around, new developer videos were posted, and I got excited again. I started clean: The prototype code was bad (even to a beginner it was obviously bad), so I needed a fresh slate. I started over. I decided to take advantage of ARC and Auto Layout this time. I experimented with animation using Auto Layout, which proved more challenging than I expected. I was confident enough in my ability to build out the features I was interested in that I started to focus on properly designing the app, sketching options and thinking through how I wanted the app to work.

Then I did nothing for a long time. Yet again. 

Why? Why do I keep stopping every time it seems like significant progress is being made? 

Back to Work

At the same time, my joby-job has been going really well of late. I got promoted and a raise. I ended up in a position I like. The company has a major IT-wide effort that I fully support, feel like I can make contributions to, crosses projects, and seems to have the upper-level support necessary to let me make those contributions. I've finally gotten into the GTD methodology and feel like I'm on top of things. Based on what others tell me, I've got a pretty good handle on how to do my job, and am really growing into the roll. For a corporate stooge job, things aren't too bad.

In that area of my life, at least, I'm capable of making progress. Clearly it isn't a matter of ability (though, admittedly, the skills I use at work have limited carryover to an app business).

Expectational Debt

Over the last year or so, I've really started to "get" Back to Work

I didn't at first. I could get my joby-job work done without much of a problem. I wasn't as organized or efficient as I might have liked, but it wasn't significantly holding my career back. I had a side effort I was interested in, it was just that my interest waned at various times for good reasons: I met my now-wife; I got married. 

It was only really with this last collapse in ambition that I began to realize something else was at work. I didn't know what, but it was clearly more than changing life circumstances. What was holding me back?

I remember when it all clicked for me. It was about two weeks before my first child was born. Work had settled down enough that I had time to consider broader matters than just the next thing that needs to be done. The breathing room let me think, and one phrase kept running through my head:

Fear of success. 

This is a phrase Dan and Merlin have used repeatedly. It sounded like an absurd concept when I first heard of it. You wouldn't try to do something unless you wanted to succeed. I listened to them explain it and still didn't understand how this could actually hold anyone back. 

Now I realize that is exactly what has happened to me. I'm afraid of successfully building an app that I sell. I've built up all these expectations about the demands on my time if I succeed: I'll have customers to support, which means I'll need to deal with email, Twitter, ADN, etc. There will inevitably be bugs which need to be fixed, some of which will likely cause people to be upset at me. I could ship a "bug fix" that ends up wiping out customers' data, which would be a Really Bad Thing. There is no vacation from support (at least not if you want to be an excellent company). Simply maintaining the app will take time, and working on the next version of the app will take even more time. Once money is coming in I'll have to start worrying about paying taxes on it, which will take more time to manage.

With a wife and a new child, do I really want to give up that time? 

Those are just the reasonable expectations.  Then there are the "nice problem to have" concerns that are already weighing on me without justification: If this becomes successful and it becomes clear I can't manage the business and my job, would I really be willing to take the risk of quitting to work on the business full-time? If not, could I really sustain the business as a side-effort for any real period of time? To get the app to where I eventually want it, I'll have to build a bunch of new skills I've never had before. Will I have the time to learn what I need to?

All of these questions, doubts, and unjustified fears (for the time being) have paralyzed me. Whenever I've made enough progress to see possible success, the weight of what might happen shuts me down to ensure I never have to deal with those issues.

Ready to Quit!

I think I've figured out how to get over this fear and get moving again. Marco Arment has a great deal to do with it, indirectly.

In the last month or so, Marco has sold everything he does. Instapaper? Sold. The Magazine? Gone. Tumblr? Not really his and he hasn't been involved in years, but still gone.

In the case of Instapaper and The Magazine, Marco was very clear that the reason he sold them is because, effectively, he didn't want to handle their success. They'd both grown to the point where he would have to confront the problems of success which would require him to do things he has no desire to do. His solution was to sell off the products, making the successes someone else's "problem". 

The key lesson is one can always walk away.  Gracefully, hopefully.

I think the key for me getting started is knowing I'm not permanently committing to anything. If I fail, well then I don't have a problem. If I succeed and things go really well, either I build a real business out of it and quit my day job, or try to sell it to someone who can. If I can't sell it...well, I'll figure that out if I get there.

Knowing there is an "exit strategy" no matter what happens is oddly liberating. I feel like I'm ready to get going again. If I'm right about what I've written here, you'll be seeing my first app in a few months. With some luck, you'll see it when iOS 7 ships. 

I'm ready to begin because I finally understand I can always quit. 


The One-Handed iPhone is for Parents (Among Others)

Several people, most prominently and recently Andy Ihnatko, feel Apple over-emphasizes designing the iPhone for one-handed use. The general argument is there are only a handful of scenarios where one-handed use is necessary, whereas much of the rest of the time a larger screen would be more valuable.

This is a very seductive argument, one which I felt was intuitively wrong, but which I couldn't logically argue against. Most of the time one-handed usage is convenient, but not necessary. So why does Apple emphasize this feature so much?

Then my world changed a month ago with the birth of my first child and I'm reminded once again that context matters. Now I know.

When you have an infant child, having a light, thin phone you can hold and operate in your other hand is a godsend. The scenarios are endless.

Baby only wants to sleep in your arms? Are you holding baby with one arm and she makes a cute face and you want to snap a quick picture? Do you have to carry an infant car seat around while trying to contact your spouse to figure out where you're meeting? Carrying baby supplies in one arm while trying to respond to a work email? Are you trying to FaceTime grandparents by yourself?

Play this forward a few years and the scenarios will change, but the need won't. The toddler will simply be holding your hand while you walk, or you'll be holding him in your arm, just a bit differently than as an infant.

Without a young child, I had difficulty coming up with many cases where one-handed operation of a phone was truly necessary. Now I run into them every day.

I can't believe I'm the first to make this point, but I never hear it. Let me know what I've missed.

Context Matters, Even for Cleaning Services

I fired our cleaning company yesterday.

I don't get angry easily (seriously - I think I've been shaking angry like I was yesterday three other times in my life, maybe), but I was furious. Sadly, had the cleaning company understood the context in which I was hiring their service, they'd probably still be cleaning our house and taking my money.

Right Context, Happy Customer

Four years ago when I was single and lived alone, I had hired this same cleaning company for a long time. I was a very happy customer, and when I moved I was disappointed to learn they didn't service where I moved to.

Why was I a happy customer then? Consider my context at the time:

I was a single guy living in a very old apartment complex. I despise cleaning enough to be willing to pay someone else to do it, as long as they do a decent job. I had the disposable income, and my schedule was very flexible.

At the time, this cleaning company was a perfect fit. They did a good job in an old apartment (in other words, it wasn't exactly in pristine condition to start). The cost was reasonable. While they quoted a time at which they'd arrive, my schedule was flexible enough that occasionally missing that target wasn't a problem.

In short, I had low standards. I simply needed my apartment presentable enough not to scare guests off, and everything else was secondary. In retrospect, this cleaning company fits this context perfectly.

Wrong Context, Angry Customer

Fast forward four years. My context has now shifted considerably:

I'm married with a newborn child (our first) who was just born. We live in a reasonably nice condo with reasonably nice possessions. With a newborn around, cleanliness is very important to me. Cost is important, but time is even more important, particularly right now.

In short, my standards are much higher. I now demand a much more thorough clean. When you need to line up your day to ensure your exhausted wife and newborn daughter are ready for a cleaning crew to come through, sticking to the expected schedule is critical.

The reality of the service I received: Once left to their own devices (with no one watching over their shoulder), they took significant shortcuts with their cleaning. They never arrived at the time they said they would, even if that quoted time was only one hour from then. Then the coup de grace: Three days after returning from the hospital, they arrive at our home nearly three hours prior to their expected arrival, entered without even ringing the doorbell, and we found out they were in the house in a less-than-ideal way.

That was the end of the relationship.

Adapting to Customers' Contexts

So what went wrong?

My initial reaction was that the company's service had slipped badly. I think there is some truth to this. The shortcuts they took on a recent clean shouldn't be acceptable to any company that advertises themselves as a cleaning service. However, this is correctable. They came back the next day and re-cleaned, and the subsequent time they did what we expected. Once expectations are set, everyone is happier.

Because of this, however, there had to be more. I've realized it's that my context changed, and the company didn't adapt.

Timeliness has become a huge issue for me, and this company was unable or unwilling to keep their own schedule. Even with the re-clean they missed the time they said they'd arrive three times, and the first of those times was only an hour after I first spoke with them. With a newborn child and exhausted parents, arriving early can cause chaos. What was intended as a way to ease our burden instead added to it. 

This situation could have been averted. If the company had checked in with me to see what my priorities were, and why I was hiring them, they could have adjusted to serve me better.

Instead, they likely never even considered why I was hiring them. They are a cleaning service; all I want is my house clean. That is probably true in most cases. It wasn't in mine. That was an opportunity lost, simply because the company didn't think about why we were hiring them to clean.

Managing WWDC Demand or Tipping Their Hand

This year Apple made a change to how they sell tickets to WWDC: They pre-announced the sale date.

At the same time, they also announced session videos would be available during the conference. Historically, they've been available after the event, but increasingly quickly of late.

The natural assumption most seem to be making is that Apple announced this in an attempt to mitigate demand for WWDC tickets. The hope by many seemed to be this change would make WWDC tickets a little bit easier to get.

If that was the plan, it failed.

The more I think about it, though, the more convinced I am WWDC demand had nothing to do with it.

Why WWDC Demand Wasn't the Motivation

Everything Apple does is in Apple's best interest. So what is Apple's interest in WWDC?

  • Teach developers the new technologies Apple is introducing and will be focusing on in the next year
  • Provide an environment for developers to get access to key Apple engineers so developers can get answers to tricky questions
  • Build a developer community that is engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to developing Apple software

All of this, of course, is in service of selling more Apple hardware.

So how does reducing demand for WWDC tickets address any of these objectives?

Indeed, I only see one positive Apple gains: They score some points with developers that are now able to attend. This seems to me to be a fairly minor PR victory, and since when has developer sentiment been the primary driver of any action Apple has taken?

Better yet, what would happen if Apple did manage to lower demand for WWDC tickets? Apple would be crucified in some corners of the press if WWDC didn't sell out quicker this year than last. I can almost see the WSJ headline now: "WWDC fails to sell out faster than last year; indicates dropping enthusiasm for iOS platform".

Setting aside the press, Apple wouldn't be able to achieve two of the three objectives for WWDC if fewer developers attend. Developers that aren't present can't ask engineers questions. The fewer developers that attend, the less the community is strengthened and the less excitement is generated.

With few benefits and many potential downsides, I'm not convinced reducing demand was the primary motivation. At best, I think it was a secondary concern.

How Apple Tipped Its Hand

If reducing demand for WWDC tickets wasn't Apple's motivation for announcing rapid availability of event videos, what is?

Let's return to the first interest I identified Apple having in WWDC:

  • Teach developers the new technologies Apple is introducing and will be focusing on in the next year

This is the one interest that can be served, to some extent, by videos alone.

In recent years the videos have become available increasingly quickly after WWDC. This has coincided with an increased pace of change in the Apple ecosystem. OS X is now on an annual release schedule. iOS has become the hot new thing, and it also is on an annual release schedule. Apple has, and will continue to, enter new markets with new devices.

Therefore, the best explanation in my mind is that Apple has so much to announce, with so many additions and changes they want developers to react to, that they feel they need to get the information in developers hands as soon as possible. Any delay is considered unacceptable. To keep pushing Apple's ecosystem as far and as fast as possible, every developer needs to get on board as quickly as possible. Every week, every day is critical.

Apple tipped its hand. You may have thought past years were big. You haven't seen anything yet.