Creating vs. Shipping

There’s a big difference between creating software and shipping it. Creating is easy. Shipping is the hard part, and countless companies never quite figure it out. Sure, they might release their software, but that’s not the same as shipping. No company is perfect, but it makes a big difference when they genuinely care.

Shipping is about consistency. It’s regularly updated help documents. It’s responsive and helpful customer support. It’s useful release notes. It’s an informative status page. It’s a regularly updated blog and social media accounts. It’s all the little things.

There’s plenty of great software out there that falls over when it comes to shipping. The companies that stand out are the ones that value the process of shipping as well as each of the processes that surround it. The good news is that this all makes it easier to choose the companies you involve in your business with a few basic litmus tests.

Those litmus tests don’t have anything to do with price or features. So while those are the easily quanitifiable things that are easy to measure, in my experience, they have little to do with the overall value of the software. While they’re part of the decision-making process, they tend to play an outsized role in choosing software.

The best litmus tests I’ve found are much simpler.

How’s their documentation? Is it current? Searchable? Accurate? Easy to understand?

How’s their support? Do they offer multiple channels? Are they available reasonable hours? Do they respond on a reasonable timeline? Do they provide accurate and helpful responses? Are they sincerely interested in helping, or are they copying and pasting canned responses?

How’s their communication? Do they offer a good status page? Do they update their blog and social media channels? Do they share release notes? Are they transparent when something goes wrong?

How’s the user experience? Is their pricing transparent? Is it as easy to cancel as it is to sign up in the first place? Is their marketing fancy and polished while the product itself is dated and confusing? Do they respect your “do not track” preferences?

On the surface, these tests may feel superficial, but collectively, they’ll tell you a lot about the degree to which a company cares. Any time I’ve ever looked the other way with companies that fail these simple tests, I regretted it. The companies that are a joy to work with invariably nail almost all of these things. That’s not to say they’re perfect, but it’s obvious that they care.