It's the transparency, stupid!
I have long said it's important to not give bile a permalink so don't take this as a post that's picking on a specific company. Nearly every company is guilty of withholding information for no apparent reason. Sometimes it's to protect shareholder value but most often it's motivated by fear, the unknown, and fear of the unknown. This is my opinion.
I really believe there's little reason to not be extremely transparent in business today. Especially when business means releasing software or hardware on a regular cadence. Apple is great about being secretive and announcing "one more thing" that no one expected, but that's not an easy culture to maintain.
I'm a fan of clear roadmaps. It's OK if the roadmap gets blurry long term, but at least tell me where the road is! The thing is, if you don't release a public roadmap, it'll get leaked or someone will make one up for you.
Also, if you aren't transparent with your customers you take a risk that the customer use your opaqueness against you.
- "They haven't said anything about Product X, I wonder if they themselves know what they're going to do!"
- "We've asked for Feature Y for the last 2 years and while they say it's coming, they won't say when or what's taking so long!"
The irony is that the customers who are pounding on you the most, demanding updates and status are your best customers. They care!
I'm not saying my Mom needs to know the technology roadmap or the release notes for her Universal Remote Control. I'm saying I do. Why? Because I'm an enthusiast and I've likely sold more of these remotes just by being a fan than Best Buy.
Here's a concrete example. I've got a TiVo (Digital Video Recorder) and I like it. Except when I hate it. It works great and then stops working, and this is a known issue. The TiVo Premiere I have has a dual core processor. Except it's slow because only one of the processors is enabled. It uses Flash for its UI and much of the UI is in HiDef with a 16x9 ratio. Except a bunch of the menus are NOT in HiDef. You move in an out of the menus with a jarring leap from HiDef to Standard Def and back. It's been like this for years, plural.
If you search the web or forums where TiVo enthusiasts hang out, you'll hear them complaining. Understand that these are folks that have a TiVo, sure, but they care enough to want the new features. They care enough to participate in an online forum. For every one customer who is complaining about you online, there are like 100 just like them complaining offline.
Online discontent is just the beginning. The spark of discontent can ignite into the fires of rebellion.
So why not just be straight with them? I'll pick on TiVo VP of User Experience Margret Schmidt for a moment. First, to be clear, she's exceedingly helpful on Twitter, positive, kind and has put herself out there as a public face for her company, so kudos and respect for her. I've asked her questions like "when will the second core be enabled" and "when will Flash stop hanging" and "when will all the menus be HD." Unfortunately it's clear that her hands are tied by some higher level mandate.
@tivodesign TiVo Margret Schmidt - @shanselman No updates I can share, but updates are coming. (Sorry, I know that isn't helpful.)
It's apparently company policy not to comment on new features or their roadmap, even when those features have been speculated about online for years. Nurture the community you have by entrusting them with your plans. They'll understand if you don't know exact dates. But don't hide the truth.
I would encourage TiVo, Microsoft (I work here and pushing for transparency is part of my job) and companies like them who release products on a regular cadence as well as existing products to just be transparent.
Think of the hundreds if not thousands of forum posts with anger that would be assuaged with a TiVo Release Notes blog post that said something like:
"We know our users have been waiting for an updated that enables the second core in your dual core TiVos. We've had some _______ problem with _____. It's been a sticky issue but our engineers tell me they've got it cracked. Look for an update in the next __ months that enables this exciting feature. Thanks for your patience and most of all, for your enthusiasm! Viva Tivo!"
It's not hard. Just say something.
Here's some examples of some technology roadmaps that are clear and organized:
- Xamarin's MonoTouch framework
- Telerik ASP.NET controls
- Intel Roadmap (they have a whole site for this!)
- Visual Studio Roadmap
- Logitech SqueezeBox Software Roadmap
- The Wikipedia article on Technology Roadmaps is excellent