The longer LexBlog has maintained a product discipline, the more disciplined I’ve tried to become in evaluating new ideas and business. This often puts me in the place of saying “No”, which, contrary to some popular beliefs, is not a word that I personally enjoy saying. I find it unlikely that anyone enjoys telling someone else that their idea is not worthy of working on immediately (or ever), but it’s a necessary part of running a product.

A product is (hopefully) not a compilation of random ideas. It is the final result of days, months, or years of hard work. It is rarely the thing you thought it would be when you first started building. While many beautiful products started as offshoots of a larger product and eventually became the product (think Instagram), even these are carefully defined as the team behind the product learns and responds to it’s users.

Products are unsuccessful for reasons that are often far outside of the control of the team engaged in building the product. I can not understate the value of marketing and sales. However, when the product team allows their systems to grow unruly in scope and size, it’s nearly impossible for the product to succeed. This process of maintaining focus and delivering the largest value to the widest group of people is just that, a process, and it requires intense focus.

It feels a bit trite, as a product manager, to quote Steve Jobs, but this quote from the co-founder of Apple rings especially true as I think about the process of working on a product:

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.