Why Do Products Get Canceled Before they Ship?
By Bruce Claxton
Translated by Weihua Ge
Too often major companies spend heavily on investments for product development only to cancel the product before it gets to the market.
Why does this happen?
We’re talking about serious money being wasted, not to mention critical time lost. There are many reasons for this; however, one major reason is that there was no adherence to a simple process flow. In many process flows that are used in product development, a significant piece is often missing. Many begin with ‘the idea’. The origin of that idea is critically important. Where did it come from? The question to ask is, “is it the right question to ask?” or, “Is it really what you want to work on?” Does it have substance? Usually the opportunity was mis-stated or ill prepared. Most likely the entire notion was based on a lack of information or value to the end user. Many times the fundamental effort is based on story telling or opinions. The biggest opportunity in innovation is clearly understanding front end requirements and clearly stating them. Some refer to it as the ‘fuzzy front end’, it doesn’t need to be fuzzy. Your direction should be crystal clear! Having a strong foundation to work on is of the utmost importance. Having a strong discovery process is fundamental to having a strong base to work from, leading to a successful product offering. Too often we begin work on assumptions and move to a direction without the right up front work.
How do we guarantee that we are all pursuing the right opportunity? Assumptions can be lame. They might be ill founded or not founded at all. It might be based on something we have heard from one customer or data point. Idea generating is well into the process, after due diligence in setting up the right thinking. It takes discipline to take care of basics before beginning ideation for solutions. It takes patience to defer ideas that seem so compelling at first. They may not satisfy the real need.
In a rush to move ahead with development of a product or service, it is not uncommon to lose focus on the value to the end user. When the pursuit is all about profit to the company or enterprise, failure is bound to happen. When this is coupled with a lack of insight and a lacking foundation of discovery, it will lead to a project being canceled later on. The later in the development cycle it gets, the more expensive the loss is, and the more damaging it is to the teams and the end user. It also becomes harder to shut it down!
It’s like being on an airplane from Seattle to Tokyo without the right navigation and arriving in Taipei. No wonder the passengers were upset. Arriving in Taipei for some just wasn’t good enough, no matter how cool it is there. A few may be excited by the diversion and surprise but overall it’s a failure. Establishing the right front-end knowledge and information to assure we are on the right track becomes our GPS for the entire process.
It’s about doing the right product, right.
In a turbulent economy, businesses will need to think creatively and adaptively as a matter of practice once a firm basis for the direction is established. Creative practice will become a baseline for competitive behavior. In the end many failures are caused by not having a full understanding of the value and purpose of the product or service. Running with an idea without grounding is a prescription for failure. By not asking the tough questions at the outset, we can expect failure. A high degree of novelty can be instilled with the right approach and still maintain a moderate grounding of confidence.
I can’t count how many times someone has run into my office with an idea to develop. It’s hard to begin with how many ways will this become a success. We should begin any dialogue like this with questions like, “In what way can this become a powerful idea? What do we need to make this even better? How can we make this viable?” At times, we are faced with a very committed individual with the ‘greatest idea ever!’ The excitement is contagious. Only through methodical questioning and analysis, we may find out that they are ahead of themselves. It’s not wrong to have that idea, and excitement. It requires some due diligence to step back and ask the basic questions of the discovery process. The hardest thing to do with a new idea is to defer judgment! Synthesize aspects of the opportunity to build in confidence that we are heading down a path that will pay off. Companies today do not have the resources to waste a year chasing the wrong idea. The analogy is the taxi meter running and not moving toward your destination! It’s simply too expensive.
A high number of what looks to be good projects get shut off along the way because of poor foundations to the idea. These projects begin to be reset, redefined as the confidence gets lower and lower. The direction begins to wobble. This is a first sign that a questioning of basic premises is required. An ill-founded direction not thought through will die along the way anyway. Sooner is better than later. It’s the responsibility of the designer to ask probing questions at the outset to test the premise to see if the ideas are thought through. It’s our job to push back and ask fundamental questions about the end user and theapplication to help turn the idea, and redefine it. We will need to dig deep with an analysis to assure the ground is laid for not only a success but for a breakthrough. Design thinking will begin to kick in and we will see a re-framing of the initial idea begin to be built on a solid foundation.
What starts out to be a fast run at an idea, can turn into a structured creative process to build out or change the idea.
This discussion has dealt with moving too quickly into developing a project on an ill fated premise. It doesn’t address how to defer judgment for all new ideas. This points out the risk of moving too quickly on the wrong idea. Responding to the new idea is very different than facing one that has become an assumption already. That’s another discussion. Dealing with brand new ideas requires another set of behaviors and questions.
What do you do when you are faced with someone with the world’s next greatest idea? Here are some questions to ask if you face an assumption for a new product or service These will help you help others to frame the opportunity and clarify that you are on the right track:
-Who is this product or service for? Do they see value in this idea? It’s unbelievable, but too many times this question hasn’t been addressed! Dig down and ask questions to help you get a basis that has substance.
-What sets this idea apart from everything that has gone before it? Why is it better than others? What have you thought of or tired?
-What is the value proposition? Where is the innovation? Is there any? Why would people buy this?
What is new about this idea? In what way is it better than before?
-How does this product fit into your portfolio? Is it just another price point filler? Does it really add value to the overall product line? What are the new values that add to the business?
-Does it move your company to a new place? Is it bold?
-Is this idea part of a larger strategy? In other words, does this set you on a directional path towards your future? Is it part of larger longer-range thinking? How does this extend your current thinking? How does it fit in?
This is the kind of thing you should be asking of every new product or service pursuit. Save yourself the time and cost of canceling that new product or service before it even gets launched! In the absence of asking these questions you will find yourself with too many starts and stops and perhaps you will see the project killed off before it is even finished. This is like giving yourself a clear direction to follow with added value all around. Think of this as your navigational guide. Reframing the opportunity or at least assuring you are on a pathway of value can assure your success.