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Why Your Product Will Fail

Tim Sorweid

If you don't have the right KPIs and your employees are not informed, your product will most likely fail. Here's how to avoid a bad...

You've been working on your new ground-breaking product for six months. You've tweaked the mocks, gotten the investors on board, guided the agile software development team, and compiled a cute marketing package that will drop on the world at launch. What can possibly go wrong? For starters, your product will most likely fail.

The ramifications of failure are great because the cost of product development is so high. According to IRI market research, 68 percent of new consumer packaged goods launched in 2012 accrued less than $7.5 million in year-one sales. On top of that, Nielsen data shows that first year marketing expenditures in the United States average a whopping $15 million per initiative. This, of course, doesn't take into consideration the high salaries of developers, opportunity cost lost with time wasted getting to market, and all of the many other costly expenses during product development.

As much as we may want to believe in the whimsy from the great Hollywood classic, Field of Dreams, simply building something will not make them come. With the totality of the company's well-being on the hook for your product launch, can your career afford to get this wrong? What steps can you take to avoid disaster?

Know What Success Looks Like

This is one of the most commonly forgotten steps missed during product development. Simply ask yourself, how will you know your product is a success? You may be shocked to find that everyone in your business has a different idea of what success looks like, or worse; none at all! You will likely find that the answer to this question will change the way your product behaves and how those within your company interact with your product. The answer, or lack of one, may scare you, but this is a question that must be asked early on in product development.

Have you identified key performance indicators (KPIs)? While that may sound like a buzzword developed in the halls of a far-off business school, KPIs are absolutely essential for the success of your product. You need some quantifiable indication based off of data that defines what success looks like so you can drive your entire business towards definite goals.

Surprisingly, you might discover that developing KPIs could spark an important question that should already be answered; "What problem are we actually trying to solve here?" The answer could take you back to square one, but at least you figured this out early in the process as opposed to when you need to put marketing spin on a product that doesn't do quite what anyone wants it to.

TipProduct Development Pro-Tip: Don't expect to launch your product, drop the mic, and exit stage right. Make sure you choose actionable data as KPIs, not vanity metrics. You'll use these data points to pivot right out of the gates; massaging the product as the market requires.

There's a reason why hyper-successful businesses like Uber employ squads of data scientists and even a former neuroscientist to use data to shape their product. Using data is more about learning and pivoting than it is about distributing neato graphics to the public. Nobody gets it right the first time, but the best companies are prepared at launch to use data to drive iterations of their product so they can chip away at success. Uber applies massive amounts of data from their drivers and customers to improve things like wait times, locating hotspots, fare estimation, and helping ops teams to find new drivers .

While you may not have the billions in funding that Uber does, it's imperative that you identify KPIs from which you will measure early results of your product release. Remember these are supposed to be 'key' metrics for success and don't have to be numerous. You will use the baselines for forecasting, risk mitigation, and product maturation. Employees need to know what will indicate performance so they can tune their processes and strategies according to your KPIs. Anything else is just shooting in the dark.

No product improvement decision should be made without supporting KPI data and estimations based off a proposed change 

Make Sure Your Entire Organization Understands the Product

You likely spend most of your efforts on tailoring messaging to the customer or press, but is that messaging reaching your sales team? Are you asking your staff how the product should behave or are you merely telling them? Here's an experiment you should try in your next sales meeting: Ask your sales team to describe the new product and how it will meet the needs of their clients. If they can't acutely articulate the real benefits of the product, you're not ready. Halt your entire release plan until your sales staff has a core understanding of the product to the point where they can confidently convey its benefits to your customers. It should be the same for all departments who have any association with this product.

Much in the same way identifying KPIs early can help shape processes and strategies, making sure all departments have an in-depth understanding of the product will lead to a much more successful launch and useful product.

What was once empty marketecture becomes a growing interest and buy-in from your colleagues across all departments. When someone truly understands something, they will provide useful insight which helps refine and drive the product forward. They will align their unique product insight learned through their job functions along with product development efforts.

If everyone in an organization has participated with the product during development, expect the team to be able to run faster out of the gates when you launch. Your job is to make sure there is a deep understanding of the product throughout the company long before you have your marketing plan in place.

Airbnb is an example of a company who has a hands-on approach that ensures their employees are familiar with their product and the needs of their customers. They wisely declared that employees need to 'become the customer' to build better products. Every new hire takes a trip in their first or second week to document pain-points of their users. They then bring these learnings back to their peers and their work. This early focus on the concerns of their customers is so organic that there is no need to make sure everyone has their product messaging in order right before release. Everyone just 'gets it.'

With this approach, it is no surprise that Airbnb is wildly successful.

Don't Put Off Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

In today's highly advanced marketplace, the adage "If you build it, they will come," simply doesn't work. We can't afford to be the next Segway; a cool idea with no real place in the market. As humans, we are notorious for over-estimating the impact of our efforts. Success requires more than just a good idea, otherwise we'd all be millionaires.

The world's newest generation of mega companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Pinterest have shown us that by incorporating the customer's needs into the fabric of the company culture we don't have an internal messaging crisis at the end of product development when it's too late. Employees of these companies have a seemingly telepathic understanding of their customers' needs and how their products help solve those problems. They also know the data points which will clearly show how their product is performing; allowing them to pivot quickly according to market response.

This universal understanding and calculated measurement leads to a clearer PR, more sales, improved customer support, a happier place to work, and a product that does not fail.

Image Credit: nortonrsx / Getty Images
Tim Sorweid Staff
I’ve been in software development for the last decade and have personally witnessed a shift in the way development teams interact with their customers & product managers. Gone are the days of 6-month planned waterfall software development cycles which are now replaced with iterative and feature driven agile engineering. As ScrumMaster for, I am the evangelist for Agile Scrum software development throughout the company and have our engineering teams embarked on an endless journey of seeking out the perfect 2-week development sprint cycle.