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Apr 23 2015

The case against "the big reveal" in product development.

When you’re trying to pick an agency to develop your product, there are a few tells that, to me, signal loud and clear that a particular agency is not going to help you win.

One of those tells, and perhaps the most worrying, is an agency which insists on delivering your project via “the big reveal.”

The big reveal is when you have a kickoff meeting with the development team, and they go off to work on your project. They tell you that they’ll let you know as soon as the first deliverable (e.g., a wireframe or even a completed first design) is “ready for review.”

Sometimes, that could be weeks away.

Then, when the time comes, they’ll schedule a call or meeting, saying that they’ve “got something great to show you,” and finally reveal what they’ve been working on. Like Steve Jobs (but without a stage), they’ll painstakingly walk you through the amazing product they’ve just built for you, with plenty of pauses for admiration.

The big reveal is a terrible approach, and it hurts both the client and the agency.

At MojoTech, we prefer involving the client deeply in the development process. On day one, day two, and every day after that, we send the client the work we’ve completed on their project.

I’m not saying this to promote MojoTech (well maybe a little), but to show the contrast between the big reveal, and what I think is a much stronger approach.

Here’s why:

##The big reveal doesn’t empower the client

With the big reveal, the client has very little say in the day-to-day development of their project.

By giving the client visibility into the process, you empower them to do two things:

Contribute to the design and development

Not only is this the right thing to do from a development standpoint (the client likely understands their customers better than you do), but it’s the right thing to do from a project management standpoint. When the client is able to provide ongoing feedback, they feel as though they have more ownership of the project. As a result, they’ll be less likely to ask for massive changes on delivery, as they’ve played a major role in creating the product.

Derive incremental value and decide when the project is “done”

Often, a client can get value well before their project is completed. They can sometimes use design explorations and other smaller features that you build along the way in other products or parts of their site. Delivering that to them in real-time lets the client get ongoing value out of the relationship, rather than having to wait until everything is delivered.

It also empowers the client to decide when the project is done. Often, a project scope might be for a completed app, but a bare-bones prototype of the app is complete well before the final version is.

If the client has the scaled-down version of the app and determines that their customers can get enough value out it to keep it as is -- or if they determine that their customers have no interest in it at all -- then the client has the ability to end the project and save valuable time and resources, while still getting value from the engagement.

Of course, it also helps them make better decisions about should be done next.

##The big reveal doesn’t inform the agency

When you’re delivering a project in large chunks, you can only get feedback on large chunks.

The problem is, changes to large chunks can be much more resource-intensive than changes to smaller chunks.

When you deliver updates constantly, the feedback loop is much shorter, making it easier to ensure that you’re headed in a direction that the client is happy with.

This, too, will make large course corrections much less likely as the project advances.

##The big reveal doesn’t build the client/agency relationship

When the client sees that the agency is making an effort to empower them, they gain further trust and confidence in the agency.

When the agency gets constant feedback from the client, they understand their needs better and are able to work with them more productively and successfully.

The big reveal is transactional. You collaborate sporadically, and then go your separate ways until the next reveal.

That doesn’t engender trust, nor does it bode well for a healthy long-term working relationship.

##The big reveal is unprofessional

Finally, the reason that the big reveal annoys me most.

Agencies: you are not Michaelangelo, and your work is not The Sistine Chapel.

Your work isn’t ‘art’ that needs to be revealed in its final form to be understood. You’ve been hired to solve a problem for a client and to help them grow their business, and it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to achieve that goal.

Part of that is delivering value at every opportunity. If those opportunities only come every few weeks, then you’re not doing what you were hired for.

Ultimately, the big reveal signals you're doing it wrong.

Nick Kishfy