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Old Sep 14, 2004, 6:46 AM   #1
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Though the moderator of this forum suggests that the FZ10 firmware update is a "dead horse", I found this to be a fairly interesting case study, in equal portions, in both project management methodogies and marketing. My verdict? Panasonic should seriously consider releasing a firmware update for the FZ 10 based on sound business practices. I view this as someone who formerly worked in both technology project management (now teaches it at a college) and brand marketing. A couple quick points, if I may:

1. The (infamous) 1995 CHAOS Report by the Standish Group cites two primary reasons what projects fail. "Lack of user input" is the first; the second is lack of senior management support. I have seen this time and time again, and concur with its conclusions. Therefore:

A. The point of whether the 'Manual aperture/EVF" (which I shall refer to MAE issue, henceforth) is a "bug" or an intentional design issue is moot. Clearly, Panasonic did not involve sufficient user input to ferret out what clearly is an issue of frustration to users, prior to the release of the FZ-10. Ultimately, end-user frustration is all that matters. And the MAE issue would have been found and rectified had Panasonic incorporated proper user input and testing procedures.

B. There are three interrelated constraints in project management - time, cost, and project scope. As product release cycles become truncated in order to get that revenue in, what has come to be known as the "forth constraint" - "quality", suffers. My quess is that in the rush to market to put out a camera with more magapixels, after the success of the FZ-1,FZ-2, the "project lifecycle" of the FZ-10 from concept to production was truncated. This results in the time-tested, invariable issue of a product being released with a quality issue. Had proper quality controls procedures been implemented, the FZ-10 would have never been released with this flaw. My assumption is that Panasonic either did not allot adequate QC resources, or that they were truncated in their project timeline to get the FZ-10 into production by deadline.

C. Panasonic certainly is aware of this issue. It was likely brought to senior management attention, who greeted the prospect of a firmware update with apathy. (See reason two of the Chaos Report).

2. What does poor project managemen ultimately effect? MARKET SHARE!

Why did I buy a Panasonic over a Nikon or Canon? One reason: WORD OF MOUTH! The major camera manufacturers have spent millions (billions?) collectively over the years to establish their brand. It's a powerful force, and I admit to my own reluctance in this regard before purchasing my Lumix FZ-1. And, have had more than one person say, "Panasonic? Why did you buy a Panasonic camera?" Using myself as a case study, I read every on-line Lumix review available, read - but did not participate in this very forum, before making a purchasing decision. Note how many hits this site gets, and post "reads" relative to actual posts. Don't discount this effect. Anecdotally I would argue that 2/3's of your market share is due to word-of-mouth over traditional advertising channels in regards to how a purchasing decision was made regarding this line. I have done so much selling of my FZ-1 I should be on Panasonic's payroll. I already "sold" an FZ-3 to someone who would never have considered owning a Panasonic camera. I posted a lengthy review of the FZ-1 on Amazon that got 12 positive reads to date. See that invaluable word of mouth? You can kiss it goodbye by decisions like not issuing an optional firmware fix. This forum is like a focus group. If you paid a consultant to hold a formal focus group of FZ10 owners - you would (a) pay a lot of money, (b) probably react to the issue. If I read this forum prior to my purchase, I would have never considered purchasing ANY product in the Lumix line. After reading about this issue, I now have a "chilling effect" and my enthusiasm for the Panasonic Lumix line has been tempered.

... bad business. I don't get it. Well, I take that back - actually I DO get it, all too well. It's why I teach project management and marketing now, rather than work for Big Intn'l Corp ; )

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Old Sep 14, 2004, 7:46 AM   #2
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Hi Nick,

Much truth there, but one thing you have to realize is that the Japanese manufacturers nearly without exception have a far different approach to design, engineering and marketing than we have in the US and Europe.

One of the most frequent complaints I've heard from American management who work for Japanese firms (Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, etc.) is that their input is rarely considered. It's strictly a "top down" management style with decisions being made based on supply and demand and the decisions are nearly all made in Japan. Because of this management culture, it's very unlikely that these forum complaints will carry much weight in terms of changing a product already released. They will, however, be considered when new models are released. In the case of the FZ10 versus FZ20, many issues which were discussed about the FZ10 and were causing dissention among owners were resolved with the FZ20. For example, a tiff mode was incorporated, slightly less jpg compression, the EVF was considerably improved as was the digital zoom for manual focus.

You and I know that much more improvements could be made by rather simple firmware changes, but what we don't really know is how much those changes would cost and the cost/benefit ratios as they impact future sales. Digital cameras have nearly become commodities in that the "average" user is likely to upgrade every 3 years. This is partly by design and partly because of the technology curve. As photographers, we have traditionally expected many years of service from our cameras whether a simple point & shoot 35mm or an expensive professional tool of various platforms. All that's changed with the digital revolution and the manufacturers realize this and have not as yet had to "rely" on repeat business simply because there are so many potential new converts yet to exploit.

Oncesales begin to dropwhen the market becomes more saturated, I believe we will see much more attention directed toward qualitative issues and customer satisfaction. It's already happened in the sole US camera manufacturer, Kodak. Kodak has made major strides in providing firmware upgrades and incremental changes to their line as well as toalready released instruments. Why? One would like to think for altruistic purposes, but more likely because of market pressures.

These problems are certainly not limited to Panasonic, but transcend brands and seem to simply reflect emphasis on the bottom line.You must remember that even though the forums do act as focus groups and could be used effectively by manufacturer's to bolster quality and customer satisfaction, the present nature of theburgeoning market is suchthat few potential buyers even knowthat there is such information available and will blindly purchase by their acceptance of advertising and marketing hype. Only when the general public reaches the level of sophistication asmany on these forums will pressures force changes at the level of thedecision makers.

Best regards,

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