Driving Big Impact with Little Details

Little things make big things happen!

– John Wooden

Attention to Detail

Ever wondered what sets apart a 3-star Hilton from a 4-star Hyatt? A 4-star Hyatt from a 5-star Ritz Carlton? End of the day, they are all hotels with similar amenities – beds, bathroom, linen, TV, writing desk, swimming pool, front desk etc. So what gives?

Attention to Little Details!

Among other things, the biggest differences within different levels of hotels are the little details that translate to a more refined customer experience. As you go up the star chain, the attention to detail gets better – the guy behind the desk is better dressed and more helpful, the bed sheet thread count goes up, pillow menu – multiple pillows of varying softness, the room décor & accoutrements are more refined, swimming pool is better maintained, nicer landscaping, parking lots are better paved & lighted, etc.

However, when it comes to the technology world, for a variety of reasons, there is a lot of focus on ROI driven “big bang” features and functionality while refinements and attention to smaller details often take a back seat.

When using products (and driving my teams that build technology products), I tend to pay a lot of attention to little details. Here are a few that I love:

  • Palm Treo (RIP): The Palm platform had its own share of rabid followers until iOS/Android ate its lunch (and dinner). On the Palm Treo when you received a call, there was a little button on the lock screen that let you send a text message “Call you back in 10 mins” with one click of the button. That’s a clever little detail that I always wanted on the iPhone – Apple added this last year in iOS 8.
  • Microsoft Outlook’s Insert Screenshot: A lot of people in corporate world would rather give up their first born than give up Microsoft Outlook on Windows (I am probably in that camp). When writing emails, you often need to add a screenshot to illustrate your point. Outlook’s email compose window has the “Insert > Screenshot” menu to quickly add a screenshot. This is one of those little gems that saves the tedium of “capture screenshot > save image to desktop > attach image to email > delete image file on desktop”.
  • Apple Magic Mouse 2 “Sound”: One can’t talk about attention to detail without an obligatory mention of Apple! Recently Apple released the Magic Mouse 2. With all the changes they made, apparently the mouse didn’t “sound right” when it was moved around on the desk. The engineers had to continuously tweak the bottom polycarbonate runner geometry until the mouse “sounded right”. Read more here…
  • BMW 328i: Cars have 5 to 6 buttons on the dashboard to program your favorite radio station. BMW takes those 6 buttons to the next level with 2 refinements: (1) Those 6 buttons are touch-sensitive – if you lightly touch (not press) any of those buttons, the dashboard display shows the radio station (or action) assigned to that button. (2) You can assign different actions to those 6 buttons – not just radio stations. I programmed the 6th button in my wife’s car to the navigation system’s “Go Home” functionality. When driving in unfamiliar neighborhoods, to head home, all my wife has to do is press the button 6 and the navigation system fires up to head home. This really saves her the distraction of futzing around the multi-level menus when driving. Clever!
  • Google Express: Yesterday I ordered a few items on Google Shopping Express. When they were delivered in the evening around 7:45pm, there was a problem with one item in the batch – the lid for a liquid soap bottle was broken. At 8pm somebody from Google Express called to discuss the issue. Usually delivery services expect the customer to contact the company when there is a problem. In this case, Google Express proactively called me to discuss the issue. To make that happen, Google had to setup a process where the delivery driver notifies the back office about a problem & the backoffice calls the customer immediately (at 8pm) – providing that level of service requires a non-trivial investment of time and resources. Kudos to Google!

So, organizationally (not at an individual level), how to drive attention to detail?

4 things come to my mind:

  1. Resources: You have the ask the tough question – do my teams have the people and resources to deliver attention to detail? Quite often, teams are spread thin – too few people doing too many things – structurally that does not lend itself attention to detail. In order to deliver attention to detail, you need to make sure that people aren’t spread too thin.
  2. Hiring Right: Hire the people with the right background, culture and mindset. Hiring a chef from Taco Bell for a job at Ritz Carlton doesn’t work!
  3. Balanced Roadmaps: As a part of product roadmaps, mandate your team to include refinements that improve user experience with little details. More on that here…
  4. Set the Bar: An expectation & bar needs to be set with regards to attention to detail – AND hold people accountable to that bar. For example – if your product/service doesn’t meet the expected bar, delay the launch. That puts the pressure on the teams to keep working until the bar is met.


Whether its products or services, B2B or B2C, in addition to ROI driven activities, features and capabilities, teams need to invest time & resources to pay close attention to detail. That is how products/services build a strong fan base that resist abandoning your product/service when a competitive product/service with a cheaper price comes along.

No wonder successful companies like Apple, Lexus, Ritz Carlton, Microsoft, etc. consider “attention to detail” a big part of their strategy to deliver great products/services!


3 comments on “Driving Big Impact with Little Details

  1. […] Attention to Detail: Great products offer a refined user experience driven by attention to detail. More on that topic here… […]


  2. […] Attention to Detail: Great products offer a refined user experience driven by attention to detail. If you appreciate the attention to detail in great products, there is a good chance that you will build products that have the attention to detail. More on that topic here… […]


  3. […] Second level thinking: First level thinking is the simplistic and superficial thinking/analysis where you are looking at the obvious – one is barely scratching the surface. Second/higher level thinking is when you are start peeling the onion layers – you evaluate the range of possible outcomes, probabilities and start considering countermeasures as needed. Passionate people think and see beyond the obvious – always 2 steps beyond/deeper what most people can think or see. Attention to detail is one of the manifestations of higher level thinking – more on that topic here. […]


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