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Slices Of Apple, Part 1 July 27, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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I beat up on Microsoft a lot (and offer praise when it is justified). In the spirit of fairness, it’s Apple’s turn, given the absolute debacle of the rollout of the iPhone 3G and related technologies.  It’s a great case study for CIOs, developers, and just about every IT person in between. Over the next few days, I’ll be extracting some lessons to be learned from Apple’s ongoing woes.

Stay Humble

Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall. -Proverbs 16:18

Before dissecting the specifics of Apple’s problems, it’s important to note that they set themselves up for all the scorn and criticism they are now getting.  Apple has spent years poking at Microsoft, using every failure to highlight how great and infallible Apple products are.  Bug-free, easy to use, simple to configure, and secure, Apple has people believing that their systems and software are somehow different from every other piece of software out there.  When Apple products fail, people are astoundingly forgiving. A similar failure from a Microsoft product yields everything but torch-lit marches on Redmond. Somehow, Apple is just too cool to be wrong.

When things began to unravel, you couldn’t help but be amused as the problems began to pile up during the iPhone rollout.  For anyone who has lived through a less-than-perfect deployment of any system, big or small, it was somehow reassuring to see Apple struggle just like the rest of us.  In the end, software is software, and poor execution yields lousy results, no matter who runs the company or how fanatical the customer base becomes.

The most damaging aspect of all this is that, for the first time, Apple’s shiny reputation has been tarnished outside of the IT community.  Nerds can recount problems with Apple OS releases and other odd product failures, but for the mass of mortals who use iPods and iPhones, their infallible technology provider has stumbled, revealed to be just another purveyor of buggy, poorly tested software.  Apple couldn’t always live up to its over-hyped reputation, and that day of reckoning has finally come due.  The cost of that slip, given their previous arrogance, will be huge.

The lesson to be learned is simple: stay humble.  No matter how good your track record, you are just one project away from a similar disaster.  Lose focus for one minute and you’ll be digging out from a pile of problems.  The price of great IT execution is eternal vigilance.  No one, at any level, ever gets to let up, slip up, or give up.

When things go well, be thankful, show your appreciation to those who really enabled the success, and don’t let it go to your head.  That way, when things go poorly (and sooner or later, they will) you won’t have people rooting against you if only to reward your ego and arrogance. That’s one lesson from Apple that applies not only to project management, but to every aspect of life.

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