Why “just ship it” is the worst expression in marketing

When I was back in agency land I’d hear the phrase “just ship it” mentioned all the time, in presentations, blog posts and conversations with other specialists. It felt like a battle cry, a valiant call to complete projects against all odds.

But now I see things differently.

Since moving client-side I’ve come to appreciate that “just ship it” is not realistic for the way the majority of businesses work. Worst of all, it can serve as a form of marketing hara-kiri completely derailing the potential of projects or increasing the risk of a critical mess that can’t be easily cleaned up.

Mistaken origins

For those not familiar with “just ship it” as an expression it falls under the same camp as “done is better than perfect” or “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”. It works on the idea that it’s ok to put a project out there in its early stages and see how it does. After all you can always fix it later, right? Right?

It comes from a start-up mentality, often used by software as a service (SaaS) providers and works on the principle that projects are in constant evolution. In those areas it somewhat makes sense. For disruptive organisations with little reputation and everything to gain there’s an advantage in being first even with a partly complete solution.

I’ve also seen the quote attributed to Facebook and here’s where things get tricky. Whilst the Facebook of ten years ago would no doubt have thrived on quick experiments, the Facebook of today is a very different beast. Just look at Graph Search; it took a huge team years to make and even has a five year plan.

Does that sound like the type of organisation who just ships things? The “ship it” culture in Facebook is long gone with good reason.

Facebook has grown up and over the year’s shareholders, chains of approval, processes and forward planning make everything take longer. That’s not to say they can no longer provide disruptive features, or that they’re any worse for this. I’m here to argue that the company has a much better idea of where they are heading and what their goals are than they ever had in the “ship early and ship twice as often” days of their business.

Almost every single business that thrived on constant shipping has moved away from it as they’ve grown larger. They’re more risk averse than they were at the start. That’s just the nature of growing a business.

 

Are you just throwing mud against the wall?

Fundamentally I’m not arguing against businesses being nimble or responding to the needs of the market. Nor am I against talent incubators, scrum sessions or creating minimum viable products to test concepts and bring new ideas to the fore.

What I am fighting for is respecting processes, undertaking due diligence and understanding how every project plays in to the grander plan of the business. Often I get the impression that those who say “just ship it” are more focused on meeting their monthly quota or clearing something off their to do list than on the expected outcomes of the project.

Then there are the other additional risks of shipping a project that’s part complete.

How much of the cesspool of crap marketing is a result of people that said “just ship it” rather than “just bin it”? How many typos were left uncorrected? How many websites were launched broken? How many print runs were done incorrectly? How many adverts were poorly thought out? How many emails had the wrong name on them?

Did someone “just ship” M&S’s diabolical website?

Did someone “just ship” this DWP leaflet with fake quotes?

Did someone just ship the Japan 2020 logo without checking if it existed elsewhere?

 

Just ship it equates to giving up

How many times has someone said “just ship it” because they were bored of a project, tired of fighting a relentless chain of approval, needed to meet a KPI or just wanted to get paid that month?

Just ship it also implies a sense of completion, of moving on without any plan of who will steer the ship once it’s sailed. To me the expression feels like giving up, throwing your hands up in the air and saying “sod it”, before going to find some better toys to play with.

I’m sure we’ve all felt the negative pull of a project that just drags on and on, wishing it was over. I’ve been there and at the time all I wanted was for the damn project to ship. Yet not every project should be completed, sometimes the best thing you can do its stop.

Failure internally within an organisation is a lot cheaper and easier to clean up than failure in the external market. Not everything is meant to ship and that’s ok.

It doesn’t mean you have to rush the next one out of the door. Take the opportunity to learn why the project stalled and break down those barriers for next time. Understand how it plays in to the business plan and draw up a well thought out strategy to maximise the results of the project.

Then and only then can you ship it.

What clients want

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