Product Development is Hard

A common question to ask yourself when developing software products and startup businesses is when to start building? Naturally, more questions follow: have I done enough research? is the timing right, do we have the right team to execute? The key of course is to avoid analysis paralysis, instigate the build, measure, learn cycle as early as possible, and find product market fit before the funding runs out.

Simple. Right?

Common knowledge is that it is anything but simple. This bears out in the statistics [ 1 , 2 ]. I’d recommend the book Zero to One for some inspiration on getting started.

With all the methodological frameworks and processes available, easier access to capital (both human and financial) and ecosystems, why is that?

The simple answer is product development is hard, plagued with myths and fallacies [ 3 ]. A common fallacy, synonymous with a Hollywood movie, is “build it and they will come” [ 4 ] ; essentially the practice of building a solution before validating that it is solving a real customer problem.

The trade-off here is of course how not to spend too much time on planning. Agile and Lean approaches cover this at length. Below I outline some common anti-patterns of software product development.

1 Not empathising with your customers

Failing to empathize with your customers leads to products and services that nobody wants.

Empathy is not simply speaking to customers every day. Empathising with your customers involves developing a point of view that encapsulates customer needs into a meaningful and actionable problem statement. Once that point of view has been developed, achieving fit between a target customer profile and the products and services you develop is an iterative process that can be laid out in a canvas framework.

Product market fit is a complex thing [ 5 ]. Check out The Design Thinking Playbook and Value Proposition Design for help in this regard.

2 Acting on Fear of missing out (FOMO)

FOMO, or the fear of not having the shiniest new features or being where things are currently happening, can lead to reckless abandonment of focus and costly roll outs and implementations of things that are not properly understood.

Avoid these compulsions at all cost [ 6 , 7 ].

3 Failing to look at innovation through different perspectives

As mentioned previously, value propositions need to be iterated upon to validate product market fit (desirability), which in turn need to be embedded into a viable business model (viability). The third piece of the innovation puzzle is feasibility: can the idea be implemented [ 8 ]?

Ignore any individual piece at your peril.

4 Misjudging timing

Always be cognizant of market and environmental forces. Inevitably even with the 3 pieces of the innovation puzzle checked off and accounted for, sometimes the timing is just not right [ 9 ].

5 Lack of measurement

Everybody likes to be data driven, but people often release prototypes and minimum viable products without adequate measures in place to track progress. Avoid vanity measures like the plague and look for leading, rather than lagging indicators. The book Lean Analytics provides thorough insight on this topic.

6 Not understanding when to persevere or pivot

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries outlines 10 different types of pivot in detail. At a coarse level we can simplify things somewhat:

  • I’ve marketed my product, got traction, but the product is hard to use and doesn’t work (feasibility wasn’t well understood).
  • I’ve built my product but nobody wants it (see the beginning of this post).
  • My product has traction, works well, but doesn’t make money (business model pivot).

The key thing here is to have as much clarity as possible when deciding to persevere rather than pivot. Having appropriate measurement in place simplifies that decision making process.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Other decisions will be critical, such as buy vs build, distribution channels etc. Product development is as much art as it is science, and the journey to find product market fit can be long. Hopefully the information above is useful to avoid some common pitfalls of software product development.

Now go ahead and get building.

  10. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

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