The product development process is so complex that pitfalls are inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re unavoidable. While bad products abound and even large, established brands can have flops, there are steps even the smallest organizations can take to create successful products. What follows are the most common product development mistakes along with strategies for avoiding them.
The Ten Most Common Product Development Mistakes
1. Failure to conduct market research
Your business can develop and create the coolest, most functional, most well designed product (on time and under budget) and yet still fail spectacularly when that product goes to market if there’s simply no demand.
The fix: Your marketing team should be involved in the product development process from the beginning because they can identify not just who your target market is but also what challenges they are facing and what they are willing to pay for solutions.
2. Equating customer needs and product requirements
Asking customers what they want and designing products based on their answers can result in products that are limited in scope and fail to offer the most innovative solutions.
The fix: Ask your marketing team to identify the challenges your customers are facing, but look to your engineers for the solutions that will have the broadest impact.
3. Assuming innovation equals value
Just because it is possible to create a product doesn’t mean that product will solve a real problem faced by your customers. New does not always mean necessary.
The fix: Make sure your team’s approach to product development is logical – you should be identifying problems before designing products to solve them versus building products first and then looking for ways they might be useful.
4. Over-designing products
A product overloaded with features is often the result of too much enthusiasm and not enough actual user-driven development. The intention was good but the execution was poor, and the resulting product may never go to market.
The fix: Create thorough requirements documents with a prioritized development schedule but don’t expect to attain perfection on your first try. Plan to actually build multiple iterations of your product before you get it right.
5. Failing to differentiate between customer and user
In many cases customers and a product’s actual users are very different people with very different needs – e.g., the company that buys a product versus the employee who will actually interact with it – but it’s all too easy to assume they’re the same.
The fix: Loop your sales team into the development process and have them create a profile of both the buyer and the end user so the product team has a better understanding of the needs of both.
6. Losing sight of the benefits
Focusing on features during development is logical but a product’s value is more than a laundry list of what it can do. Without a deep understanding of a product’s benefits it’s easy to over develop or miss the mark when it comes to solving real problems.
The fix: Aim to develop a product that has obvious value in your target market and let its benefits to the customer shape its features.
7. Rushing into the development phase too soon
Ideally, product development is a multi-step progression that begins with a thorough information-gathering phase, but results-focused teams may ignore the important role research can play in development.
The fix: Build plenty of time for research, redesign, and review of regulatory requirements into your development schedule and do periodic check-ins to make sure you’re not skipping strategic benchmarks because you’re excited to move into the production phase.
8. Underestimating timeframe and financial costs
Failing to create both a realistic development schedule and a workable budget can result in a product of lesser quality that hits the market well past the intended launch date. And yet it’s all too easy to begin development with estimates based on flimsy assumptions.
The fix: Engage with suppliers as early as possible in the development process to get real information about costs and timing.
9. Ignoring the importance of package design
Product teams sometimes forget that customers may interact with the packaging long before they interact with the product itself. A customer’s first impression of your product and your brand may be based on packaging alone – if it doesn’t resonate, chances are they won’t buy.
The fix: Treat package design and development as an integral part of the launch process with as much potential to drive success as the development of the product itself.
10. Treating launch as the ultimate metric of success
Launching on time, landing a contract, and receiving enthusiastic media attention are all measures of success but using these benchmarks to define success can mean losing sight of your purpose, i.e., solving a real problem, and moving on to the next product prematurely.
The fix: Make customer follow-up a part of your launch schedule. Find out whether your customers and your end users are as happy with your product as you are and if the answer is no, consider what you can do to change that.
While the most common product development pitfalls are all quite different, you may have noticed one common trend among nearly all the fixes. Planning and inter-team cooperation can go a long way toward making a product successful. Your strategy doesn’t need to be perfect and not everyone on every team has to be a savant, however. Sometimes a minimum of forethought paired with a lot of communication is all it takes to make product development mistakes a non-issue.