Customer Favorite: Three Product Development Truths from a Tesla Road Trip

Customer Favorite: Three Product Development Truths from a Tesla Road Trip

As a new series on the Stratos blog we will be revisiting our customer's favorite blogs from the past. The series will feature one blog a month and this month we start out with lessons learned on a Tesla road trip that was originally posted in January of 2015.

Orignally posted by Malinda Elien- Project Manager.

This fall, my husband purchased his dream car, a Tesla Model S. He decided that we needed to take it on a road trip to visit my family for the holidays – which meant driving the Tesla from Seattle to Orange County – a one-way trip of 1,200 miles in a car that only has an optimistic range of 260 miles. Along the way, I discovered some parallels between the road trip and good product development practices.

1. Never skimp on planning.

When taking a road trip in an electric car without an abundant network of fast charging stations, planning is a little more complicated. It’s not just figuring out how long you want to drive each day – especially since a miscalculation means a tow to the nearest charging station. Planning for this trip meant a spreadsheet to determine how long to get to each station, how long we would need to charge, and how many stations we could get to in a day – all before we could make hotel reservations and figure out time to eat. After all, when you need to charge for 45 minutes every 2 hours, you want to be as efficient as possible.

Similarly, the planning stage of product development is critical for determining the long range plan. If you start right into design without planning out what will be needed to get to market you will end up with an inefficient development process. Likely this will mean product delays because dependent activities are not identified and planned for early, it will mean redesign if requirements are not fully understood before development begins, and it could lead to lost opportunities to bring in dates when everything goes right.  

2. Usability is still King, Tesla has Usability Issues

On one occasion when we stopped to charge, a man stopped us in the parking lot to ask if we liked the Tesla. My husband’s answer was “Yes, but…”  After spending three days in the car and doubling the number of miles he had driven, he found that there were a few usability aspects that could use improvement. Some common features that we have come to expect were difficult to access or use, including the cup holders and climate control settings – items that aren’t a big deal for driving short distances, but become a nuisance during a lengthy road trip. The Tesla will need another round of usability improvements before the car is comfortable for a long family road trip.

During product development, usability must be considered throughout development. It is not good enough to take a quick survey of the ten engineers around the office to see if the layout of a screen works and then call it done – the quick survey is only the first step of many unless those ten people are the only users. You don’t want to fall into the trap of forgetting that people with different backgrounds, strengths, experiences and needs will be using your product. It is important to get a good cross section of users to provide input early enough to influence the design and validate design decisions throughout product development. You want your customers to always answer “I Love It” instead of “Yes, but…”

3. Sometimes you just have to trust the experts.

On our final leg of the trip south, we hit Downtown LA right at rush hour (because sometimes even the best plans get thrown off by pint-sized stakeholders). Because the Tesla has a connected navigation system, it was constantly checking traffic to try to get us to our destination as quickly as possible given current conditions. Even though we knew we were no longer on the shortest path, we trusted the navigation system to get us through the traffic as best as possible – and give us a tour of LA we would have not gotten otherwise.

Similarly, product development is a tricky and often difficult landscape with roadblocks and detours in abundance, especially if it is your first time through.  Enlisting the help of product development experts with deep subject area knowledge will get you to market faster. They will be able to assist you in avoiding common product development pitfalls and navigating the various roadblocks and detours you encounter. Sometimes trusting the experts takes you off of the comfortable path, but leads you down the one that gets you to your goal.

I must admit that I wasn’t expecting that a family vacation road trip would reaffirm my belief in so many product development truths. Thankfully, we did get there and back safely with a good tale to tell.



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