According to Harvard Business Review, 7 out of every 10 products fail in their first year. Have you had a product fail and/or can you see yours going in the same direction? How can you avoid becoming a statistic?
With over 30 years combined experience in Product and UX, Joel Ippoliti and Martin Stirling have seen their fair share of product success, as well as a few failures. Here are some of their learnings to help you avoid becoming a statistic.
1. Have a clear purpose
Frequently products come about as a loose set of features, content or functionality. The reason for their existence has not been thought through. It is too easy to concept a product that consists of a series of related features, without an overall value proposition. A product will only sell and/or be used if its purpose is clear and the need that it promises to solve is a real problem for the target user. A product will only be used frequently if it actually does what it says on the tin and it does it with a decent user experience. A value proposition starts with defining the problem looking to be addressed and the like benefit for the user. This ensures that every feature or content piece has a clear reason for being and ensures that features are prioritised according to their ability to contribute to this purpose, rather than their ease of development or the opinion of a senior stakeholder.
2. Don’t assume you know what users want
One challenge for a product owner is being careful to distinguish between what excites them about the product and what real value the product actually provides to the user. Being able to learn through the ‘prioritise > discover > develop > launch > analyse > repeat’ agile development cycle is paramount in differentiating between what users perceive as value versus what they actually value – opinions should rarely override this insight. Features should therefore be borne out and prioritised as a response to a deep understanding of the target user, their emotions and drivers in the context of interacting with the software.
3. Be clear what you want the user to do
Covering all bases with a set of well researched and beautifully designed features that you think the user will love without considering the actions that you want the product to elicit from the user is a recipe for failure. Without a clear view of the ideal user journey and outcome you want the product to deliver, it’s impossible to design features and ultimately products effectively.
Product success is impossible to measure if it is unclear what success is (i.e. what actions you would like the user to perform). Ensuring that success criteria are considered as part of the design process ensures that the product is always focused on delivering benefit to the business, as well as the user. This also guarantees that you have a clear and transparent measurement framework on which to assess product success – at all levels of a product from ‘registration’ and ‘checkout’ to using a tool, consuming content or otherwise.
4. Launch is just the beginning
The experience, design (form) and feature/functions must be considered as one when analysing what problems the software is solving for users. First is understanding what problems or needs that users have, grouping these needs as personas, mapping-out user journeys that meet them, focusing on the most important, and optimising them either with features/functions, or with design tweaks and improvements.
This doesn’t mean defining requirements or specifications for a single point in time. This is describing a capability that can analyse behaviours, develop hypotheses and test them, prioritising using feedback data and incrementally improving the product – this is what it means to be digital. The implications for a business (not just IT or Technology) are broad and frequently most traditionally non-digital companies transforming to build digital products fail at the most fundamental levels.
5. Launch early and iterate toward success
If you are building a business case based on a validated proposition that relies solely on product requirements and specifications, you are already behind. You must be writing investment cases to fund capabilities that are targeted with hitting certain performance metrics. Leave the development scrums to sort out how to hit the metrics, don’t slow yourself down by attempting to translate forecasted user needs into specifications – of course some direction and an early hypothesis is helpful but the more time you spend thinking and talking about it, the less time you spend generating revenue and receiving feedback on what you should be really focused on.
6. Ensure the business & technology are aligned
Many technology departments report back to the ‘business’ the rate at which they are releasing features. Faster, better, cheaper. Users care about solving their immediate problem or issue, features in themselves do not do that. Features within a user journey aligned to user needs and optimised are the key. The rate of feature release is not a proxy to customer satisfaction. Measuring as such is a common symptom of a misaligned technology and business function.
7. Don’t go overboard on features
If you are designing a product from scratch or conducting an analysis of how to improve a product, then you might use a feature/function analysis to determine ‘must haves’ and potential differentiators or ‘gaps’.
Feature/function analysis is typically conducted within a matrix, competitors down one side and feature/functions down another. It is a visual and effective way to simply compare multiple products. This type of analysis is often misused and misinterpreted. More features and functions do not equate to a more competitive or valuable product. Likewise, measuring the rate of development or ‘release’ of features is not an indicator of success, a successful Digital team, a well-functioning technology department, or a happy user.
8. Differentiate based on user experience
User experience is key and there are lots of examples in the market. We like referencing Google’s suite of SaaS office productivity products vs. Microsoft’s. A feature/function comparison between these product sets shows Microsoft in the lead, whilst Google appears to be lagging. In reality, Google can do most of the things you need. Another example is the iPhone vs. any high-end smartphone; on paper the iPhone lags (though this is changing), in reality the iPhone appeals to a large audience because (a) it does the things that most people want to do, (b) it’s easy and intuitive to use, (c) it has form — and combined they make a great user experience. Apple famously doesn’t ask users what they want but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand them and what they want to do!
As you can see, there are quite a few areas where products can fall down: conception, funding, building and in-market phases. Don’t become a statistic; learn from the successes and failures of others, build the capability into your organisation and remove the risk from product development.
Martin Stirling, Head of User Experience at North Highland, co-authored this post. He has significant experience of leading the design of end-to-end digital solutions across a variety of sectors including Retail, Banking and Telecomms. Martin is an expert in helping businesses define successful digital and experience strategy, through an obsessive belief in evidence based methods, focused on user and market research, rapid prototyping and iterative design