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3 lessons to learn from Amazon's Fire Phone

06 Feb 2015  | Eric Winquist

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Build a Pretotype: Savoia also outlines ways companies can avoid failure through product pretotyping—a process that allows engineers to ensure they are building the right product before they begin. By contrast, a traditional prototype can be a complex engineering feat onto itself, consuming valuable time and resources to create. A pretotype lives somewhere between an amorphous idea and a sophisticated prototype and can avoid slow and costly failure.

Palm used a pretotype to test the assumptions of its Pilot before deploying a team of engineers to the project. They first created a wooden block that approximated the Pilot and then carried it in their pockets for several weeks to see if the form factor was viable.

Focus on the Steel Thread: Let's face it, navigating the road from concept to delivery is astoundingly difficult. Engineering teams need to remain focused on the core business value and actual customer experience, rather than narrowing their focus on a discreet feature set. This is the Steel Thread that connects the shared vision for the product with each individual accountable to something bigger than a discrete task.

For example, developers can stop thinking "I am writing a few lines of code," and instead take the view "I am responsible for critical aspects, such as creating a positive user experience or driving customer adoption and measuring success."

Without a doubt, Amazon is an incredible company and few would argue that Bezos is one of the most visionary leaders of our time. It's amazing to reflect on their myriad of successes in so many disparate markets.

The problems with the Fire Phone are less a reflection of a company with a stellar track record than they are a reminder of the immense challenges we all face delivering game-changing innovation. In particular, technology products that marry the world of hardware and software development are extraordinarily complex.

Development teams need more modern approaches for managing complexity and fostering better collaboration. Technical complexity is only going to increase, but—using better product delivery tools and practices—it might just make the difference between a product that sparks a revolution and one that just flames out.


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