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Wrong solution - the reason your product failed


We already reviewed some of the most common reasons products fail - there is either no problem worth solving or, often and, when an organisation is not focused enough to solve the problem the right way.

Now let's review the situation that most people associate with a failing product - the wrong solution. On the surface, it's a trivial case - bad design, insufficient quality, inadequate price. There are hundreds of reasons why a solution could be the wrong one. And if we dig deeper we'd see the challenge to come up with the right solution is enormous.

First, you need talented and skilled engineers and designers. You need to give them time and space to learn and discover the right solution. You need to empower them. Then your first attempt will always be lacking so the team should learn rapidly and iterate. Finally, all vital activities in and around product launch need to be spot on: marketing, sales, customer support, legal...etc.

In this article I'd leave the building process aside, it's too big of a topic and you can find tons of content on it already. Instead, I'd like to explore less obvious problem areas connected to coming up with solutions. One in particular.

Project mindset

This mostly applies to traditional businesses that would not call themselves product or technology companies. For example, it could be a theatre, a supermarket, or maybe an accounting service. In recent years, those sorts of businesses have looked around and seen that everyone jumped on the product and tech bandwagon. It looked like everyone has a website or an app these days. So not to miss out, they also decide to invest in a web or mobile product. Normally, traditional businesses don't have the expertise and skilled people to create technology products so they reach for consultancies and outsourcing.

A project brief will be created, one or several consultancies will submit their bids, a contract will be drafted and the work will commence. People overlooking such development will be focused on delivering the agreed scope within the budget, or in other terms, on project management. The outcome of such a project depends on many factors, however, it's almost guaranteed that the first version of the product created will not solve the business problem completely and will not delight customers.

It would need to be refined, and iterated upon multiple times before really becoming valuable to all parties. Unfortunately, most project engagements never have the luxury of being refined or iterated. No, projects are there to be completed and then assessed against the objectives. Often businesses who commenced the project would move on to other things leaving behind the effectively failed product.

Most companies are prone to falling for a project mindset when building tech products. Here is something you can do to make it work for you, not against you.

Define objectives in terms of impact, not output

Project objectives are usually defined around outputs such as a scope to deliver, quality criteria to pass and deadline to hit. This often results in successfully delivered projects but failed products - as the project outputs brought no positive customer or business impact.

It's more beneficial to define project objectives in terms of the impact you want to have and then measure this impact. This way you might need multiple projects to get the impact you want and you'd learn on the way what works and what doesn't which should ultimately increase your chances for product success.

Make an empowered team accountable for success not only for delivery

Another huge problem with project thinking is that often the team that delivered the initial project is reconfigured or disbanded altogether effectively meaning that other people will be tasked with supporting the product after the initial launch and trying to make it successful.

That's hugely wasteful as all the knowledge people accumulate while working on the product is gone once the people are gone. Yes, documentation is great and all, but there's no full substitute for expertise.

However, when people are tasked with making a product successful and are empowered to act accordingly - they usually rise to the challenge, think creatively and plan for impact. Just don't forget both parts of the bargain - accountability without empowerment won't work.

Products are never done

The good news is you can absolutely turn a wrong solution into the right one given you're open to learning and trying multiple times. No one's happy about the first version of their product. Those ultimately succeed who keep working, keep learning and experimenting.

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