You Will Always See More Problems with Your Product Than Your Critics

James Walpole/ June 7, 2019

After a few years in a small company, I’ve been through my fair share of user complaints, issues, bugs, service failures.

When I first found out about problems with our product (I was young and naive) I would be a lot more freaked out. Over time, I’ve come to accept that problems (and fixing them) are a part of the process, as indeed they are part of the territory. To cite a phrase Facebook famously popularized, you must “move fast and break things” if you want to make something great.

But what I’ve only recently come to realize in full is the strange law at work in the perception of a product’s failing and shortcomings. And I’d be so bold as to guess that this is universal.

Most users only notice a fraction of these issues. You (the employee) on the other hand, notice them all.

Your users are not using or monitoring your product 24/7. You are. Statistically speaking (and especially over a period of years), you are going to see far more issues with your product than your users are bound to experience. Let’s call this The Law of Disproportionate Product Perception.

This disproportionality has the effect of making you:

  1. Underrate your product’s value to the user. You assume that your users (on net) are more dissatisfied with the product than they are. Most users are still happily using your product without issues most of the time.
  2. Over-react to correct. Because you see a disproportionate number of the mistakes and areas for improvement (as opposed to what you see when using other apps), you become dead set on fixing them.

#1 is simply a discouragement. And in fact it’s probably best for you to underrate your product’s value to your user. But #2 is really the deadly one. When you over-react to lock down on the processes that “move fast and break things”, you may reduce the number of total issues and incidents, but you also slow the rate of innovation.

There is a constant tradeoff between order and chaos in all things. This is one of those situations. But it would be a real shame to let the phenomenon of lopsided product perception cause you to kill off all spontaneity and speed just to prevent the issues you (as an insider) are seeing. Even while you work hard to solve problems with your product, it’s so important to remember that many users probably have a more positive impression of your product than you do.

P.S. This works the other way around, too. You will tend to overrate the impact your new features and improvements have vs. the experience of the everyday user.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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