Crossing a Stormy Chasm

We usually think of “The Chasm” as a challenge that we must face once our products have a foothold in the market, but I’ve realised that we can usefully face it earlier, perhaps even before product launch.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have worked with The Foundry on STORM. I joined the project late in 2009 and we started to be specific about the definition of that market and the needs we hoped STORM would satisfy.

Readers of this blog will know how much I value listening to customers; it is a habit that is deeply embedded in The Foundry’s value system too, so we started listening right at the start. That listening led us to a deep understanding of the awkward workflows that people employed to get their RED camera work done, the workflows we wanted to improve.

That listening led to many revelations about the market, its definition and its needs. Early on we encapsulated this in five words which became a mantra that was constantly repeated at every meeting and in every presentation: Fast, Fluid (easy to user), Competent (fully featured), Native (works with raw camera footage) and Metadata Centric.

By April 2010, we had a running prototype and took it to NAB to get feedback from an invited cross section of the market. We were swamped by feedback and ran demos constantly. Afterwards we realised that we needed to engage a small number of early adopters to test ideas on. We selected a handful and started to talk about the details of how features should be designed and implemented.

This was a great way of getting detailed feedback but carried a risk. Early Adopters are, by definition, special. They will search out new technology and figure out how to incorporate it into their work. They are prepared to spend time struggling with it and will overcome problems in creative ways that might be beyond the technical competence, or patience, of others in the market. More than anything else, Early Adopters approach new technology with an open minded sense of play; they’ll have fun.

The problem with Early Adopters is that they are different from the Majority who expect technology to “just work”. If it doesn’t, or if it is hard to use, or if there is some minor barrier to adoption, not only will they reject the product, they’ll complain loudly about it. That is the Chasm of new product development that we all risk falling into by listening to our Early Adopters whilst expecting the Majority to embrace the results.

So this month we took our nearly finished product to the other big tradeshow of the year; IBC. We launched the product on the market with a promised ship date of November. This gave us the opportunity to get the attention of the wider market, and to publically demonstrate the product to them. Two of our Early Adopters came to the show to do demonstrations, including Peter Majtan who had kicked the project off 18 months before.

If things went badly we still had the option of pulling the product and making adjustments before first release, though that would be costly and embarrassing.

At the end of the show the product team got together to compare notes. Usually our notebooks would be stuffed with detailed feedback about workflows, new features, wbgi’s (would be good if), UI improvements and wrinkles we needed to iron out. We had hardly any. Sure, this is v1 of a product, so there is a lot missing, but for the specific focussed application we presented STORM as a solution to, the feedback was almost unanimously; “when can we have it?”

Chasm crossed? We’ll see!

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One Response to Crossing a Stormy Chasm

  1. Chris says:

    Update:
    STORM has been awarded a 2011 Vidy Award and a 2011 DV Black Diamond Award at NAB.

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