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Lack of focus - the reason your product failed


Products fail for many reasons. Often, products fail because we are trying to do too much. The ability to focus, and to decide what you are NOT going to do is vital to have a chance of success.

Nod if the following sounds familiar - you work on a product, you have a vision and a prioritised list of things you want to do. Then an important stakeholder meeting happens and a new thing is being added to your list. Then you talk to the dev team and another five things are being added to your list. Then the CEO calls on Friday evening and another ten things are being added. All of those things are important, most of those things might even make sense. But as a result, you either end up shipping your product late or, in the worst case, ship the wrong product at the wrong time and it fails.

The lack of focus is a massive problem in product development that causes multiple products to fail. It haunts startups and established businesses alike. However, I'd argue the latter are much more susceptible. For a startup, the initial product success (usually, product-market fit) is a question of life and death. Usually, startups have money only for one product, one attempt. If they fail due to a lack of focus, ie they tried to do too many things, it's just that - they failed and the startup is dead. 

However, when an established company's product fails due to a lack of focus, that's not usually the end of the story. Because those companies have money or other successful products that could carry the org, some failed products are not proclaimed as such and the company could try again and again to turn them around, and make them successful. While doing that - they could commit the same mistake, lack of focus, over and over.

Why focus is hard?

Quite simply because too many things sound like good ideas. There are so many products you can build, markets you can compete in, big and small decisions you can take on the way. All those variables can lead to success or failure, or hundreds of states in between. And there is no one ideal path, one perfect product. Often you are choosing between equally good ideas and the key here is to choose. Commit and move forward without spreading your attention or getting distracted.

The golden rule

When it comes to focus - you need to be painfully honest with yourself. As humans, we are not great at focusing on multiple things at a time. We're also terrible at context-switching and multitasking. Hence if you want to fail your products less often due to the lack of focus, here's one rule that could help. Priority should always be a singular word for you. Reject the harmful idea that there could be multiple priorities. That is what makes you lose focus. 

There needs to be one thing at a time. And if something goes in - something else needs to go out. You can't keep adding things to the pile, this will inevitably lead to you losing focus. You can keep a backlog of things to do, but when you select from it - take one item at a time and focus on delivering it the best way you can.

Vision helps to keep focus

When it comes to tools that could help you keep focus - the first one is your product vision. A well-crafted product vision helps you to make those decisions, helps you to separate must-haves from nice-to-haves. If you catch yourself working on something that does not lead to you realising your vision - stop and reflect, maybe you lost focus.

Focus is saying no but in a nice way

Yes, staying focused is tough as you need to shut down distractions and often say no to good opportunities. Moreover, you have to say no to the people who raised those opportunities. When you do that - be sure to provide additional context. Always be grateful for ideas as it means people care enough to bring them to you. Be clear: you're not saying no indefinitely, just temporarily while you're focused on something else. Use vision a lot to remind everyone about your destination. And when you're there - you can come back to those good ideas and revisit them.

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