There’s something to be learned from a simple and optimized product portfolio.

The efficiency with which Apple creates sales is legendary. There can be many explanations for this but the most telling evidence of causality I can find is the small number of products in the portfolio. Tim Cook stated that given the sales value, there is more concentration of product at Apple than at any other company except perhaps an oil company. All the products Apple sells can fit on one average sized kitchen table and they generated $76 billion in sales last year.

How is this possible? First, a few words about the often misunderstood process of product development.

Most observers of technology are not aware of the pace of its development. It’s natural to assume that most R&D costs are in the product creation, or early phases of development. Coming up with something new must be hard. But that’s not actually true. Most R&D work is routine polishing of products and coordination late in the development cycle. “Productization” is far more resource intensive than “concepting”.

It stands to reason that making go/no-go decisions early in the pipeline is a lot less expensive than making stop-ship decisions prior to launch.

I have no specific evidence that this is the case, but I guess Apple conceives of plenty of concepts, but chooses to move forward to develop and market very few. Most companies don’t have the ability to decide early which products to launch and instead proceed with costly R&D and marketing in order to find out whether products will “work” in the marketplace. The proliferation of flawed products is a big cause of the inefficiency of product development.

But launching flawed products is also detrimental to brand value, something which rarely hits the books and is thus invisible to operational managers.