Notes from the book – Getting Real

Here, I will post the notes from the book Getting Real by 37Signals. You can download the copy on their website Getting Real.

Entire book can be summarized in the fact that you build a simple software and then add features. Do not complicate initial design and release. Get it done and ship it.

  • When there’s too many people involved, nothing gets done. The leaner you are, the faster – and better – things get done.
  • Getting real is a low-risk, low investment way to test new concepts.
  • Build less
    • Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave hairy, difficult, nasty problems to everyone else. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.
    • When you solve your own problem, you create a tool that you’re passionate about. And passion is key. Passion means you’ll truly use it and care about it. And that’s the best way to get others to feel passionate about it too.
    • Outside money is plan B. Fund your own innovation and your ideas. Constraints drive innovation. If you’re creating software just to make a quick buck, it will show. Truth is a quick payout is pretty unlikely. So focus on building a quality tool that you and your customers can live with for a long time.
    • Launching something great that’s a little smaller in scope than planned is better than launching something mediocre and full of holes because you had to hit some magical time, budget and scope window.
    • Setting expectation is key.
    • The ability to change is key. Having everything fixed makes it touch to change. Injecting scope flexibility will introduce options based on your real experience building the product. Flexibility is your friend. Scope down. It’s better to make half a product than a half-assed product.
  • One bonus you get from having an enemy is a very clear marketing message. People are stroked by conflict. And they also understand a product by comparing it to others. With a chosen enemy, you’re feeding people a story they want to hear.
  • Your passion – or lack of – will shine through. The less your app is a chore to build, the better it will be. Keep it small and managable so you can actually enjoy the process.
  • When it comes to web technology, change must be easy and cheap. If you can’t change on the fly, you’ll lose ground to someone who can.
  • For first version of your app, start with only three people. That’s the magic number that will give you enough manpower yet allow you to stay streamlined and agile. Start with a developer, a designer and a sweeper.
  • Embrace the constraints, let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.
  • Details reveal themselves as you use what you’re building. You’ll see what needs more attention. You’ll feel what’s missing.
  • Don’t sweat stuff until you actually must. Don’t overbuild. Increase hardware and system software as necessary. If you’re slow for a week or two it’s not the end of the world. Just be honest to your customers, explain them you are experiencing some growing pains.
  • The customer is not always right. The truth is you have to sort out who’s right and who’s wrong for your app. The good news is that the internet makes finding the right people easier than ever.
  • In the beginning, make building a solid core product your priority instead of obsessing over scalability and server farms. Create a great app and then worry about what to do once it’s wildly successful.
  • The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they’re not just looking for features, they are looking for an approach. Decide what your vision is and run with it.
  • What you really want to do is to build half a product that kicks ass.
  • The secret to building half a product instead of a half-ass product is saying no. Each time you are saying yes to a feature, you are adopting a child. The initial response is “not now”. If a request for a feature keeps coming back, that’s when we know it’s time to take a deeper look.
  • Build products and offer services you can manage. It’s easy to make promises. It’s much harder to keep them.
  • Don’t force conventions on people. Instead make your software general so everyone can find their own solution.
  • Just because x number of people request something, doesn’t mean you have to include it. Sometimes it’s better to just say no and maintain your vision for the product.
  • More isn’t the answer. Sometimes the biggest favor you can do for customers is to leave something out.
  • Running software is the best way to build momentum, rally your team, and flush out ideas that don’t work. It should be your number one priority from day one. Real things lead to real reactions. And that’s how you get to the truth.
  • Don’t expect to get it right for first time. Let the app grow and speak to you. Let it morph and evolve. With web-based software there’s no need to ship perfection. Design screens, use them, analyze them, and then start over again.
  • From Idea to implementation
    • Big questions – What does the app need to do? How will we know when it’s useful?  What exactly are we going to make? This is about high level ideas, not pixel-level details.
    • Get your ideas out of your head onto the paper. Sketches are quick, dirty and cheap.
    • Make an HTML version of that feature. Get something real posted, so everyone can see what it looks like on screen.
  • Preferences are evil because they create more software. More options require more code.
  • Decisions are temporary so make the call and move on. Done means you’re building momentum.
  • There’s no substitute for real people using your app in real ways. Get real data. Get real feedback. Then improve based on that info.
  • During alone time, give up IM, phone calls, meetings and emails. This is the time you can get in the zone for real work.
  • Simple rules for a meeting
    • Set a 30 minutes timer. Meeting should get over in 30 minutes. Period.
    • Invite as few people as possible.
    • Never have a meeting without a clear agenda.
  • Quick wins that you can celebrate, are great motivators. Release something today.
  • Too many apps start with a program-first mentality. That’s a bad idea. Programming is the heaviest component of building an app, meaning it’s the most expensive and hardest to change. Instead, start by designing first.
  • For each screen, you need to consider three possible states:
    • Regular
    • Blank
    • Error
  • You need to speak same language as your audience too. Just because you’re writing a web app doesn’t mean you can get away with technical jargon. Good writing is good design.
  • The fewer screens you have to worry about, the better they’ll turn out.
  • Solving 80% of the original problem for 20% of the effort is a major win.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to feature requests that are hard to do.
  • Your code can guide you to fixes that are cheap and light.
  • Functional specs are useless. You know the least about something when you begin to build it. The more you build it, the more you use it, the more you know it.
  • Write one page story about what the app needs to do. Use plain language and make it quick. If it takes more than one page to explain it, then it’s too complex.
  • Build, don’t write. If you need to explain something, try mocking up and prototyping it rather than writing a long-winded document.  An actual interface or prototype is on its way to becoming a real product.
  • To build a better interface, do as your customers do and you’ll understand them better.
  • Your product has a voice and it is talking to your customer 24 hours a day.
  • Make signup and cancellation a painless process. Make sure people can get their data out if they decide to leave.
  • Hollywood Launch
    • Teaser
    • Preview
    • Launch
  • Start off by creating a blog that not only touts your product but offers helpful advice, tips, tricks, links etc.
  • Get advance buzz and signups going asap.
  • Promote through education
    • When the subject you are teaching is your app, it serves dual purpose. You can give something back to the community that supports you and score some nice promotional exposure at the same time.
    • Update your blog regularly and post tips & tricks, articles that help your customer and community
  • If the comments you are receiving for your app, are negative, pay attention. Show you’re listening. Respond to critiques thoughtfully.
  • Listening to customers is the best way to get in tune with your product’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Strive to build a tool that requires zero training. The less complex is your app, the less you’ll need to help people out.
  • Be as open, honest and transparent as possible. Don’t keep secrets or hide behind spin. An informed customer is your best customer.
  • Go with the flow – be open to new paths and changes in direction. Part of the beauty of web app is its fluidity.
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