James Van Dyne

Products Aren’t Projects

Sagrada Familia is a cathedral that’s currently under construction in Barcelona. Like most cathedrals it’s taken a very long time to build – 133 years and counting. Once construction is finally complete in 2026, 144 years after it began, the construction will be complete, but the work will not be far from over.

The priests will need to write and deliver mass, week after week. These sermons will need to connect with attendees and be made relevant to their lives so they will continue coming. The church will need to plan, host, and market events, solidifying it’s place in the community. Each week they will need to collect donations. The building will need to be repaired.

All of this is work that must happen to keep the church operating after completing construction. None of this comes to mind when we think of a church. We don’t see the planning and todo lists that result in the activities of the church. From the outside looking it, it’s all automatic.


As product builders we observe the world around us and other businesses seem to “just get” sales. There are no systems and people keep coming to buy week after week happen as a matter of course.

This isn’t the case. Finishing the building is just the first step.

After working very hard on our product – we launch. Usually to crickets. We wonder why the sales don’t come pouring and and continue pouring in. After all, the other guys don’t seem to do anything. It just happens. So we drop the product and make a new one.

However, this is a flawed approach. We must exert continuous effort if we want them to be successful.

Your product is like a church. If you want it to be healthy and vibrant for the years to come, it’s going to take a sustained investment of time.

We need to communicate with our customers or potential customers – let them know who we are and what we’re about. We need to support our  existing customers so they continue coming back, or even better, tell their friends. We need to continue to update our product, so it’s relevant in the current market. We also need to collect money on a regular basis, so our operations can continue.

Building a product is easy. Everything that goes on around the product to maintain it is difficult. By avoiding the difficult part of our product we often declare our products hopeless prematurely and get stuck in a vicious cycle.

Break the cycle. Do the hard work.

Artifacts of our work

During the Edo-era, Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world.  All resources were precious. Re-use and recycling were the norm. Not because they loved and cherished nature, though that may have played a role with their Shinto backgrounds, but out of necessity. With limited contact with the outside world, Japan had to be self-sufficient. As a result, communities worked together to make sure that nothing went to waste.

Umbrellas were made of bamboo and paper. Once they started showing wear and tear they were refurbished. The bamboo was repaired and new oil paper was attached. The old paper was sold as packaging material.

Starch extracted from rice was used to repair ceramics. Human waste (night soil) was bought by farmers and used as fertilizer in their fields.

This kind of reuse of by-products was a part of life in the Edo period and the effects still reverberate in modern Japan. Letting excess go to waste even has its own word in Japanese: “mottainai”.

While we aren’t usually concerned about letting excess go to waste, mottainai is uttered on a regular basis in Japan.


I’m helping bootstrapping a product to manage software products called Kwoosh. Kwoosh will make make product management easier and more efficient for small agencies and developers.

Building this product made me realize how much of the work involved isn’t writing code. Phone calls, mock ups, chat history, design: all of this lost in time or hidden in a folder. Valuable artifacts just thrown away.

All of these discarded artifacts of work can be reused and re-purposed, so as to not be so mottainai. What if we tried to save them? Could we make something valuable out of ‘trash’?

Phone calls discussing product design and decisions can be turned into podcasts. Libraries written to help us power Kwoosh can be open sourced . Mock ups shared to illustrate how we do product development. Core ideas and philosophy from all of these artifacts can be broken into articles helping us solidify and codify our values.

What artifacts are you generating from your work and how can you reuse it?

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