Articles IT and Development

Airtract Sofiur Rahaman Product Manager at CBRE - Digital & Technology, India

Failures are expensive! How to avoid them in product development 03 June, 2020   

Would it not be amazing if one could guarantee the success of a product (whatever the definition of success of that product is)? Or if there were 'sacred rules', following which, could assure desired outcome?

Well, unfortunately, there's no such 'potion' available, but building a product with a specific mindset can greatly increase one's chances of a successful product. I am listing down some of them which has helped me build successful products over the years. However, let me remind you that they may not necessarily be everything that you need to build a successful product and I am sure, there are numerous other factors.

  1. Focus on isolating the 'actual problem' from the clutter: Henry Ford, the father of the American car industry, and a pioneer entrepreneur of his time, had an uncanny way of meeting his customers' needs. He believed that customers didn't possess the ability to express their unmet needs for innovative products, and once said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Since not all of us are Henry Fords of our time, we have to reach out to our customers to identify a gap or a problem as closely as possible and, to reach out to as many as possible. The larger the sample size, the greater are the chances of formulating a correct hypothesis. Once the data is in place, a vision of the proposed solution should guide all further efforts.
  2. Start by fulfilling bare minimum requirements of your consumers: Gone are the days when companies and business houses would happily invest millions of dollars and wait for months before a half baked product was presented to them. In a nearly 'perfect competition' market where there's umpteen number of competitors and a solution already available for all problems, it becomes prudent that a Product Manager treads carefully in investing as little time and money as possible in validating a prospective solution to a problem. It doesn't necessarily mean building a part of the solution but a product which is 'just' able to fulfill the requirements or needs, which we generally refer to as 'Minimum Viable Product' (MVP). Having said so, should actual data speak otherwise, the Product Manager should also be courageous enough to pivot or 'pull the plug'.
  3. Keep the feedback loop as short and frequent as possible: As I had written in my previous article, the only way to validate whether the Product Manager is building the right product is to share the product with the target audience and seek their responses. Eric Ries, in his book "The Lean Startup" explains in detail how he built a product - the IMVU app, based on his business logic and instinct, rather than what his customers 'actually' wanted, and how it eventually garnered dismal results. The best approach is to build an increment of the product, validate it's value with customers, change direction as per customer's feedback, and repeat. One of the best way to reduce the risk of rejection by customers is to share the product with them as early and quickly as possible.
  4. Learn from data: A good Product Manager should always track data of customers responses on features, or increments of the product. Customer data is a treasure trove of information and correct analysis and interpretation can help point out an underlying issue, preferences or even the future of the product by analyzing a trend.
  5. Be thorough with your 'Product Differentiation': Although Edward Chamberlin's concept of product differentiation is not new, it has never made more sense than today's market because of the availability of multiple solutions to a given problem or need. What a Product Manager should be careful about is to find the differentiating factor that separates her product from all the other available in the market. Building a product that gives a competitive advantage over competitors is the key here.
  6. Adopt Agile Development Methodology: We are living in a business environment where the market dynamics are changing so fast that many businesses become obsolete before they realize this. Following a rigid approach to product development under so much uncertainty is a short-cut to failure, and therefore, we have to be Agile enough to change direction and approach as quickly as possible - 'Adaptability' and 'Customer Centricity' have to be at the very core of building any a product today. The 2015 Standish Group Chaos Report summarized data from the outcomes of more than 10,000 software projects between 2011 and 2015 and segmented them by the Agile process and Waterfall method. The results for all projects showed that Agile projects have almost four times the success rate as waterfall projects, and waterfall projects have three times the failure rate as agile projects.
  7. Build a Product which is easy to use: Even if a product has the best features in the world, no user would want to use it for long if the product isn't intuitive enough to use. Elon Musk once very aptly said "Any product that needs a manual to work is broken." Try to gather feedback - early and frequently, from your consumers on their experience of using the product so that you can make improve the user experience early during the development.
  8. Dedicate yourself completely: It may sound cheesy but magic happens when something is built with unflinching conviction, dedication and perseverance. Noticing the minute insignificant details, observing consumer reactions, and feedback - all play a crucial role in the success of a product. It takes days and months of continued effort and dedication to build a product that your customers love. As Tom Ford once said "When you are having fun, and creating something you love, it shows in the product. So, when a woman is sifting through a rack of clothes, somehow that piece of clothing that you had so much fun designing speaks to her; she responds to it and buys it. I believe you can actually transfer that energy to material things as you’re creating them."

What's your formula of building a successful product? Do you agree with the points listed above? Do share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: https://www.techwell.com/sites/default/files/stories/images/cropped_teasers/Beth%20Romanik/2018/Success-Failure-Sign.jpg

#Product #Product Development #Product Differentiation #Iteration #Scrum #Agile Product Development

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