The Simple Software Cycle

Software Cycle

I’ve always wanted to write a post about the similarities between writing software and riding a bike. Not because I think they’re particularly interlinked or I feel they have a lot in common but because they’re two things in my life that I have a passion for.

Since moving house last month I’ve been cycling into work most of the time. It’s a five mile cycle which takes about 20 minutes. I skip past the cars in the traffic jams, whizz down the canal, take a quick short cut through Ringsend and cross over the Liffey at the East Link bridge. It’s great exercise and I’m saving about €30 on petrol a week in the process. But the good news doesn’t stop there, the ride is pretty therapeutic too, it helps me de-stress, relax and takes my mind off all my worries. In short, it gives me time to think.

Whilst whizzing in and out of work I’ve noticed a similarity between the design of a bicycle and the design of desktop software. It might sound like a bit of a stretch, but honestly it’s not. They have both become a victim of the age old product lifecycle. With each new iteration comes a new set of enhanced features and upgraded technologies. Many of which aren’t really necessary.

Feature Creep to Beat the Competition

My racer has 14 gears, yet I can’t remember the last time I actually used them all on one ride. In fact, for my spin into work I don’t even change gear once! This got me thinking about how necessary gears are for a bike that’s used simply to bring me in and out of work.

In this sort of scenario the gears could easily be seen as an unnecessary extra, and as one of the most complicated parts on any bike, they can be fairly problematic and also increase the price of the bicycle.

Similarly, desktop software and its many features have fallen into the same trap. Each new version includes new extra features that for the most part are unwanted and unnecessary yet form the basis for aggressive marketing campaigns encouraging consumers to purchase new editions with all the fluffy features we don’t need. The additional features are also prone to bugs.

For example, about 80% of Microsoft Office customers use only 20% of the supplied features. This is exactly what I’m talking about. I bet most of those features weren’t added because users needed them, they were added because the marketers needed something to promote in the next release.

I suspect that the ever increasing number of bicycle gears and their increasingly sophisticated designs have originated from the same motivation, to have a new product slightly better then the previous one.

The SaaS Bicycle

Maybe the cycling industry and others like it would benefit by taking a leaf out of the software as a service industry and focus on generating recurring revenue and developing a great product with features that people really need instead of relying on the next ‘bells and whistles’ release to boost revenues.

There will always be a proportion of customers that will push the limits of whatever it is you’re selling, but for the majority, they’ll mostly use its core function. Whether that’s cycling, driving, making music or saving lives, never loose sight of the core purpose of your product. Everything else is just hot air.

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