By Ru Barksfield, CEO and Co-Founder, Fat Unicorn
Last week, Samsung announced they were no longer going to be producing the Galaxy Note 7 anymore after the debacle of phones catching fire, which frankly is a shame and an odd move from a company I have been able to garner some serious respect for since this episode started.
My issue with it is that this is still a marvellous phone, an incredible feat of engineering technology and that all of the engineers, designers, marketers, hell even the finance guys that were a part of this project are losing a product that they have put much sweat and tears into. Not least, the opportunity to fix the problem in the first place has been short lived and I feel (certainly if I was one of the team) that this is a short-sighted fix to a problem that realistically could have been avoided.
Let me explain myself somewhat. The issue lies not in the product itself but in the rest of the machine that pushes it to its launch date. This is a classic case of too much pressure being put on a development and delivery team - something we see from big brands obsessed with a release date which as a consequence doesn't allow teams to do their work properly.
The issue as we understand comes from the battery contacts being too close together, 'arc'ing' and then creating a fire. This is not a problem that has been exclusive to Samsung, but a problem that has been on the rise in the pursuit of thinner and faster phones. Did you know that the lithium battery in your phone is a lethal device? No?, well you're not alone, most people don't, but create a connect by any means (the positive and negative together), or expose the battery innards to the air and you have a device that can catch fire in an instant.
Given that the engineers clearly know this (they are of course geniuses in the first place to design this device) do you think they would make such a mistake lightly? But apply pressure and unreasonable, immoveable deadlines and it's easy to see how eventually an experienced expert team would be forced into reducing testing and product compliance deadlines to make the boss happy - a trend fast becoming the norm as consumers begin to expect new and exciting tech on a constant basis. Shorter dev cycles mean simply no chance of enough time to test.
Let me remind you of another engineering blunder of late; Volkswagen group and their recent emissions scandal. VW when going for emissions testing actively put their cars into a different mode to 'fake' the emissions from the engine and provide more pleasing results. Now it's easy to look at this from afar and say that the engineers are clearly in the wrong here but I think the initial conversation happened like this:
Boss: Make that engine pass the emissions test
Engineer: I'm sorry boss but this engine won't pass, it's just not right yet but if we had more time...
Boss: Make it pass because my boss says it has to pass, we have a deadline to meet.
Engineer: I have a work around to make it pass but it's unrealistic to think this will work like this out on the road
Boss: (upon only hearing the the word 'pass') Great thanks for making it pass, I'll go make my boss happy!
Now don't get me wrong I'm not trying to make the engineer out to be a saint, I am after all a boss, and if I let my engineers and dev's have the the time they want on a project scale we would have gone out of business a long time ago!
However, this newer immovable deadline trend that we have created as a tech culture is starting to catch us up and create issues far worse than a disgruntled, boss, chairman, investor and cost millions if not billions to fix.
Moore's law predicted (and has been right to date) that the speed of semi-conductors (the processor in a phone or laptop) will double in speed every 2 years. However, the speed at which we as companies / individuals deploying this technology cannot keep up.
My hope from this is that Samsung and indeed the wider tech community learn from this and amend their ways a little, yes take what your developer or engineer says with pinch of salt but we absolutely must give them the opportunity to have input on realistic development deadlines and the person at the end of the chain deciding that this is the correct release date cannot be a marketer or a finance guy but rather a boss who understands their own business and the people within in it.
I've certainly learnt hard way in the past and as Samsung have found out its not much fun!