Why make the product development process harder than it needs to be by making the same mistakes over and over again? Learn what common pitfalls to avoid.
No one approaches the product development process expecting to fail. But even under the best of circumstances, bringing an idea from concept to reality is risky business. And every design manager knows just how challenging it can be to achieve product success in a competitive market.
We can’t help but wonder: if everyone knows how hard it is to hit the product jackpot, why do so many of us repeat avoidable mistakes? How can start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike make better decisions to increase their chance of success?
We want your product to deliver the ROI you’re looking for. So here’s your chance to learn from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before you. The next time you enter into the product development process, avoid these 6 common pitfalls we’ve observed over the years that could keep you from reaching your goals.
When you want to take your product to market as quickly as possible, it’s tempting to think you don’t need to waste time and money on the strategy phase. After all, you know your market and your customers. You understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and all you need is someone to come alongside you and execute your vision.
Furthermore, if you already have a design concept you love, there’s no reason to consider additional ideas, right? Why bother with lengthy design loops and iteration cycles when you’re convinced your initial concept will work?
Not so fast. You might not understand your users’ needs as well as you think you do. Cutting corners in strategy and design is one of the most common and frustrating traps we’ve seen companies fall into.
We’ve even seen the worst case scenario of a client bringing their product all the way to pre-production, only to have their customer tell them their solution wasn’t viable. Had they simply invested properly in a Strategy phase, that long and painful journey could have been avoided.
Don’t risk launching a product that will fall short of user needs and expectations. Give your design team a chance to come up with a truly superior concept that will edge out the competition.
Product development comes with a pretty hefty price tag. That’s the honest truth. Even so, no one wants to blow your budget or design on a product that’s so exorbitantly expensive that you can’t turn a profit. You also don’t want to slow down or take more time than necessary to get your product ready for market. But you have to spend money to make money, and sometimes the process takes longer than expected.
It’s hard to count how many times we’ve been asked to create a “premium” product (usually in comparison to a certain fruit-branded tech giant), followed moments later by a laundry list of what can’t be done because “it’s too expensive.” There are other ways to create a premium experience beyond materials and processes, but you need to be realistic with your expectations.
On the other hand, what if you want to design a low-cost product? No problem. But don’t ask your design team to add additional features and then balk when those elements drive up the unit price. It’s impossible to make a product cheaper by adding more materials to the design.
A few years ago, M3 was asked to design a product that started with a COGs (cost of goods) that exceeded the target price before factoring in the device housing. This created an impossible challenge that reared its head during every design review. No design was satisfactory from a cost perspective, creating additional loops of iteration around a problem that was inherently flawed. The final concept satisfied as many constraints as possible, but ultimately the client team was forced to backtrack in an attempt to identify other cost-reducing measures.
When it comes to product design, everyone has an opinion on what they like and what they don’t. And yes, it’s important to gather feedback and input throughout the process — especially from users. At the same time, it’s crucial not to overreact to one person’s opinion and derail the entire project based on a single comment.
Even if feedback comes directly from your CEO or other high-powered stakeholder, be mindful of how you respond. Weigh their opinions thoughtfully against the product’s PRD and overarching business objectives before making any changes.
Your design team has likely spent months — maybe even a year or more — to develop a viable product. They’ve done so with a variety of success drivers in mind. Don’t throw all that work down the drain based on the opinion of one person (no matter their position). Take it as a data point and weigh it alongside all the other feedback you collect along the way.
We once witnessed a high-ranking member of a product development team flatly refuse to entertain a design concept because their gut told them it was too high-risk and would never work – despite the fact that we had successfully implemented a similar idea in an adjacent market. With their heels firmly dug-in, our team was forced to explore additional concepts that were not only less elegant, but more mechanically complex. This caused a ripple effect of additional effort that increased project scope, timeline, and budget.
Launching one successful product is an accomplishment to celebrate. However, if you want to build your business over time, don’t just think about the product idea you’re pursuing now. Consider how to develop a long-term strategy for a suite of products that will reach your audience and grow your impact well into the future.
It’s dangerous for any company to think too small when it comes to product development. Continual growth is the name of the game. But it’s particularly short-sighted for start-ups to wager their company’s entire future on one bold idea. This is especially true if their offering solves a small problem within a niche market.
It’s far better to think about the company at a higher brand level and design a holistic plan to make a lasting mark. Get a foothold in the market, learn from your mistakes, and build brand equity through a strategic portfolio of products or experiences.
Another pitfall to avoid is paying too much attention to your competitors. Seeking to replicate another organization’s market success will keep you playing an endless game of catch up. Some products take years to develop. And you may find that just as you get to the finish line with your version of the product, your competitor is two steps ahead of you launching the next big thing.
Just because something worked well for another company doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Are there significant differences between their resources and yours? Are they a huge company with massive volumes and established manufacturing partners? Or a nimble startup that can pivot and get to market quickly? You’ll always have to consider your competitors, but look for ways to get ahead of the competition and differentiate yourself with something truly innovative.
It’s also important to consider the impact another “me too” product will have on your market. Developing something that is too similar to a competitor has a diluting effect that does not work in your favor. Brand loyalty is a big deal, and customers are likely to remain loyal until a superior offering motivates them to change. A copycat product isn’t going to provide this motivation.
A design firm can help you evaluate your product roadmap and identify gaps in the market you’re well-positioned to fill. That’s another benefit of going through the rigor of a robust strategy phase.
Sometimes the desire to achieve an excellent end result can actually hinder your ability to launch a competitive product and realize a healthy ROI. This happens when “feature creep” sets in. The longer the development process lasts, the more likely you are to think of additional elements to add. The more bells and whistles you include, the more difficult it becomes for your customer to identify what makes your product or experience special in the first place.
We want clients to shoot for the stars. Hell, it’s what we help them do every day. It’s not in our DNA to settle for anything less than what your design deserves. But you have to know when to stop. Don’t succumb to the temptation to keep tinkering, and remember this well-worn advice: a product that tries to do everything well won’t actually do anything well. There will always be the opportunity to iterate on your successful product down the road and release updates that keep your company moving forward.
To eventually bring your new product to market, you’ll need to make countless decisions along the way. Each decision can either bring you closer to a successful outcome or increase your risk of failure.
So take time to learn from the mistakes others have made. Commit to giving your product the very best chance of success by letting logic and process reign supreme. And entrust your product to a design firm that’s been down this road before and can steer you in the right direction from start to finish.
Ready to get started? Let’s talk.