It’s been a tough week on the technical front, with a variety of products failing to perform their core functions for me. Which prompts a somewhat emotional question for those of us who oversee products (or services) for a living:
Does your product suck? Does it #fail to do the one thing that customers buy it for?

Here’s some background (a/k/a my tale of woe)…

First, the dishwasher

Our brand-new home has a brand-new kitchen, stacked with brand-new appliances. That includes a shiny, top-of-the-line Bosch dishwasher with dozens of settings and options and modes. What it lacks, unfortunately, is a reliable way to turn it on – to start the wash cycle. Of course, there is a START button, and the manual describes a very simple sequence to get the beast running. Frustratingly, that sequence rarely starts the spraying-of-water-and-cleaning-of-plates process. The washing of dishes.

Pilot error? Perhaps I’m not technical enough to follow the directions? Nope. A few calls to their support line yielded a RESET sequence not shown in the manual, which sometimes gets the wash cycle started. (Think control-alt-delete-rinse.) Sometimes nothing happens. Until we haul this Bosch away for trash and replace it, I’m trying various superstitious combinations of POWER OFF, POWER ON, RESET, change mode, close door, hope, wait, and repeat.

In short, this appliance sucks. The designers overloaded a few physical controls with too many modes/settings, created a wickedly complex state machine, and have failed to make sure it does its one primary job: washing dishes.

Next, the laptop

As an owner of a MacBook Pro, I’m automatically trendier than my Windows friends. It’s less important that the Mac’s business software is substandard: I run a virtual XP system for finance applications which never made it to the artistic side. Most apps are in the cloud, there’s a reasonable version of MS Office, and the Mac OS is better designed/more durable than Windows7.

This week’s issue was hardware, not software. An earlier hard drive failure had lost a few days, and now a memory failure cost me a few more. Probably a bad unit: can an Apple also be a lemon?

In fact, I’d double-prepared for this disaster. I run Apple’s TimeMachine backup product at home, and also pay for a cloud backup service. (This one is called SpiderOak.) That way, I can recover files wherever I am – borrowing another computer and instantly reaching into the cloud for valuable content. Unfortunately, the SpiderOak service delivered unreadable ZIP files and could not populate directories on the loaner machine. A few quick support emails confirmed this was not pilot error. So when it was most needed, the service failed to deliver the one thing I bought it for: file recovery. It sucked.

One pricy new laptop, an anti-lemon extended warranty, flawless execution by TimeMachine and one day later, I’m back in with the trendy crowd. Black turtleneck and jeans on order.

What’s the lesson?

As product managers and product champions, we can get caught up in marginal features and competitive matrices. It’s easy to forget that 80% of customers ignore options and preferences and non-default privacy settings. We need to make sure that our products do their one core function – what developers call the “happy path” – with a minimum of fiddling. Do dishes get washed when I press START?

So pay attention. Is Tech Support trying to get our attention? Does QA repeatedly confirm that products do their job? Can a customer get satisfaction with the least number of buttons or clicks? Ideally, you have a big green activator on the front of your device (or the top of your page) with the word GO. And when you push it, something obvious happens.

Sound Bytes

If you’re a product manager, make sure your product doesn’t suck. Fix it, move to a better product, or expect customers to blog about it.