Challenging conventional wisdom in product development

This article from the May 2012 Harvard Business Review looks at 6 myths of product development and they are right on the money.

Six Myths of Product Development

Two of the myths especially resonate with my experience:

Fallacy 3: Our development plan is great; we just need to stick to it.
In all our consulting work and research, we’ve never come across a single product-development project whose requirements remained stable throughout the design process. Yet many organizations place inordinate faith in their plans. They attribute any deviations to poor management and execution and, to minimize them, carefully track every step against intermediate targets and milestones. Such thinking is fine for highly repetitive activities in established manufacturing processes. But it can lead to poor results in product innovation, where new insights are generated daily and conditions are constantly changing.”

And

Fallacy 5: The more features we put into a product, the more customers will like it.
Product-development teams seem to believe that adding features creates value for customers and subtracting them destroys value. This attitude explains why products are so complicated: Remote controls seem impossible to use, computers take hours to set up, cars have so many switches and knobs that they resemble airplane cockpits, and even the humble toaster now comes with a manual and LCD displays.”

These two myths are responsible for a lot of the PD I’ve seen go wrong.

To combat Fallacy #3, we have to recognize that we can never know everything we need to from the start, and keep reviewing what we know at every stage. A lot of people tout the Agile development method as the fix for this, and it can help but Agile alone won’t do it. Without strong leadership from the Product Development team and continuous review of customer and market requirements, technical expert feedback, and the competitive landscape, Agile alone will just get you to an ineffective product quicker. With that said, it is also critical that PD not change requirements without very good reason, as the changes usually add time and cost (and drive the tech team crazy!) It’s a balancing act.

Fallacy #5 is a very popular belief but it doesn’t take much examination of the products we enjoy using to realize that too much complexity for the customer can prevent adoption and too much complexity “under the hood” can add costs and potential for things to break. Here again, a balance is essential. Consider designing for features but not implementing until/unless the market really wants them – advance planning so they can be added later without going back to the drawing board. And consider your target user. If most of your market wants simplicity, make sure they get it. Hide advanced options if you want to make them available for power users, but keep in mind – we don’t always care about every feature we think we might want. Research, market test and evaluate carefully before committing to too many features. Elegant simplicity can be a big winner.

Check out the Harvard article for more advice on these and other product development myths.

UPDATE DECEMBER 6 2012

Here’s an interesting example of the need to keep it simple from ProfitGuide.com:

Founded in 1999, ClearFit originally catered to large multinationals, selling sophisticated applicant-screening software to their HR departments. After a few years, the partners decided to adapt their system to small businesses. But the resulting product, loaded with features, made explaining it to prospective clients feel like “a slow ache,” Baldwin recounts.

One day, an outspoken customer said to the owners, “Guys, you need to change your game.” The system simply had too many bells and whistles for small firms to navigate. It was an aha moment. “The harder you work on a product, the easier it is to get away from your customer,” reflects Baldwin today. “The technology doesn’t matter if the patient doesn’t desire the medicine.”

(ClearFit is a Toronto-based company that helps employers find the right applicant to hire.)

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About Sandi_Jones
Technical marketer, product developer, geek, unconventional entrepreneur. I fell in love with technology in the mid-90's, found my inner geek, and never looked back.

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