Imagine that an application just like the one you’re scheduled to start developing was released in the App store today. This scenario happened to me recently. I was perusing a website when an article caught my attention. As I started reading, I thought to myself, “This description sure sounds familiar.” And it was familiar because it had nearly identical features to an application we’re scheduled to start building in the next few days. This brought me to an interesting infection point — do I look at the competing application, or not?
It seemed like there were three rational answers: look at the released application and marketing materials now, not look at them until our application is complete, or wait until we are into the development of the application to look.
Pros and Cons of Taking a Look
There are a lot of perks to getting an early look at the competitor application before we start development. One is that we’ll know the core feature set users will come to expect. We won’t need to spend as much time inventing features, allowing the team to more quickly dive into development. It could also expose any missing features we might have neglected to develop.
On the other hand, I’m concerned that by looking at the application, I will consciously and/or subconsciously bias my decision making and therefore alter the course of development. Another downside to looking before we start would be that it creates a benchmark for the team to gauge against instead of going through the organic process of agile or a Minimum Viable Product approach.
After watching how the release of a competing application affected another team already under development, I started thinking about the consequences of looking at a competitor product. I’m glad that I get to decide when I impact my creative process and decision making with this new information.
The Plan of Attack
After some introspection and talking with a few other Atoms, I came up with a plan. I won’t be looking at the website, application, or other marketing materials until we have completed the RDP process. This will allow our team to more organically drive the idea into a unique application free of the underlying biases that would be present by exposing ourselves to a similar application.
By that stage of the game, we will have storyboards and sketches ready to depict a complete application. I believe this will be the right time to introduce the solution the competing application’s team came up with. We can dissect their ideas and features to make a more compelling application.
Have you been in this situation? How did you handle it? If not, when would you look at the competing application and why?