What Are You Doing to Obsolete Your Product?

A story from my interview process at Cisco. I asked “what are you doing to obsolete your product?”

What Are You Doing to Obsolete Your Product?

What Are You Doing to Obsolete Your Product?When I was interviewing to get hired at Cisco in July of 1990 my last interview was with John Morgridge, then CEO.  I recall the interview not going particularly well and I realized that I needed to do something make a  strong positive impression.

As we were wrapping up he asked,  “Any final questions for me?”

This prompted me to reply: “Yes. I don’t understand what you are doing to obsolete your own products.”

Cisco was newly public and already a hot company so he was a little taken aback. We talked about user interface complexity (which only got worse while I was there) and the level of hardware integration (which got much better).  It was a good discussion and I was offered the CAE Manager job.

I was reminded of this sitting in a R&D roadmap planning session with one of our clients.  Which prompted me to ask “What are we going to do to obsolete the current product in the next 18 months before one of our competitors does?”

It led to a good discussion.

Like cayenne pepper, it’s a useful question but a little goes a long way. Here are some companion questions as you consider your plans for 2011:

  • What can we stop doing to give us more time, budget, and focus on the things that our customers view as the most valuable or more differentiating aspects of our offering?
  • What have we learned in 2010 that we can apply to make us more effective in 2011?
  • What tools can we build to amplify our capacities or give us unique capabilities. 
    focus your tool making (or methodology making, or intellectual property creation) on the core of your product. Avoid the amoeba like instincts of a large company product team to absorb peripheral requirements into the product as you encounter them.  See also my notes on  “Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

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