Saturday, March 03, 2012

There's always a compromise

Andrew Chen has written a great blog post about a recent visit he made to Pixar's Emeryville headquarters. Matt Silas of Pixar invited him to tour the facility, and at the end of the tour, Chen asked Silas what his favorite Pixar film is. Here's how Silas replied:
“This is such a tough question, because they are all good. And yet at the same time, it can be hard to watch one that you’ve worked on, because you spend so many hours on it. You know all the little choices you made, and all the shortcuts that were taken. And you remember the riskier things you could have tried but ended up not, because you couldn’t risk the schedule. And so when you are watching the movie, you can see all the flaws, and it isn’t until you see the faces of your friends and family that you start to forget them.”
The lesson that Chen drew is that developers will always think that their product is s**t, no matter how good it actually is. The lesson I take is that every product, every service, every work of art, is a compromise. Pixar is arguably the most successful movie studio of the last 30 years--with the exception of the recent "Cars 2", Pixar has had a nearly unbroken streak of both critically and financially successful motion pictures, starting with the original "Toy Story". And yet, even Pixar has to compromise in the production of its films. Team members sometimes have to take shortcuts and avoid changes that might have improved the films in order to stay on schedule.

"Supercar" manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Bentley like to say that they build "no compromise" automobiles, yet of course there are compromises: Their cars can cost upwards of $300,000 and get eight miles to the gallon. The compromise for their "no compromises" cars is to spend a huge amount of money when you buy, drive and service them (not to mention buy insurance for them). Buyers and reviewers regularly complain about the compromises made in the design of DSLRs and camcorders: Why is the imager's resolution so low (or so high)? Why doesn't it have a 1080P/60 mode? Why does it have a limited slow-motion capability (or none at all)? Why did they use a HDMI interface instead of SDI?

Every manufacturer has to make compromises in its products. Some are made because they have to keep the price of the product under a certain amount. Some are made to protect the profits from other product lines. (For example, if a new $10,000 camcorder is just as good and does everything that the company's $30,000 camcorder does, customers would be crazy to buy the $30,000 model.) And some impose compromises on the buyer: For example, if you want a true cinema lens, you'll need to spend several times as much for it as for a lens designed for still photography.

Product developers know that there's never enough time or money to make their products perfect. They work to make their products the best they can under the constraints that they have to live with. Even with software and services that can be continuously modified, they have to ship at some point. They may ship with a minimum viable product and then improve it from there, but they have to ship. That's why there are always compromises.
Enhanced by Zemanta
Post a Comment