What kind of product are you making?

First know everything, then you can automate it! Also, if you can express your problem in numbers, I can tell you if they’re going up or down.

A freeform exploration product attempts to enable a customer to achieve understanding and express the problem in numbers. Features may include user-editable schema (traditional database and ETL products) or schema on the fly (Splunk or Elastic), loose typing, and a “unix is user friendly” workflow experience. In some markets this sort of product can be so far beyond usability that it is more of a platform for partners to build products on. Many products rightfully do not expose their use of MS-SQL, Oracle, Mongo, or Redis to their users. 

Those products can be thought of as market-targeted solutions. They come to the customer with an opinion about what problem is being solved and how that solution should work. They notably have predefined schema and strict typing (good for performance and safety). One should expect a polished wizards-n-workflows experience with no unnecessary options.

So, as a development team with a project starting up, you might need to ask yourself: which one of those supports the business outcome this project is looking for?

Unless you are starting a company from scratch, the first approach of solving hard, general problems is probably not what you want to tackle. And even when you are starting from scratch to build a new platform… there’s a lot of reasons why most startups fail. Time lost to analysis paralysis at general problems is one. Inability to describe your value add to the market of customers with problems is an ever bigger one. If I’m trying to reduce theft in my supply chain, I probably don’t want to start with defining schemas in a raw data management tool.

And if you’re in a team at an existing company, chances are extremely slim that your charter includes solving general problems. Much more likely is a charter to deliver a solution which maximally leverages your existing platform to capture entry in a new market.

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