I’ve worked on products which have been successes and I’ve also worked on products and features which have failed.
I’m constantly learning, but here’s my current views as to why digital products often fail. I’m probably missing a few important ones, so feel free to let me know.
Your product is failing because nobody wants the product or feature in the first place
First a few of my thoughts on bugs. I find digital products don’t fail because they are broken or because they have too many bugs. I’ve been surprised that users can be very tolerant of bugs and defects. If they actually want the product and it solves a problem in their lives, people will put up with bugs to a certain extent.
As long as you communicate with the customers that you’re onto it and the bug is getting fixed, people are generally happy to wait.
I think once people have had the “ah-ha” moment with a product, and they know that its a good fit for them. And in general the customer has bought into the product vision, they will then stick with the product through thick and thin.
I’ve worked on products which have had hundreds of bugs in the backlog, and frequent downtime, but it had product-market-fit and the instability didn’t negatively affect the churn rate.
So as long as you’ve achieved product-market-fit (or feature-product-fit), or you’re iterating towards product-market-fit and you’re starting to see some positive signs that people want it then you’re on the right track.
Side Note on Feature Usage
Another note on this is to make sure you have the right metrics in place. The way I see it is the Growth Team should be the gatekeepers of feature growth as well as shrinkage. Every feature should have some form of metrics being tracked in some analytics tool (Even if its basic events setup in Google Analytics).
If a feature’s usage is shrinking, maybe it doesn’t even need to be in the product at all, it could be a sign that the feature could be removed and help simplify the overall product.
🏭 Your product is failing because you’re a Feature Factory
I think it’s imperative that each feature, and really anything which is added to a product is carefully considered. It’s very easy to get into a habit of adding more features and more bells and whistles to a product without much consideration.
It’s very easy to become influenced by stakeholders, customers, sales and marketing people, and anyone else on the team and then commit to building their idea or feature without much thought.
Often stakeholders ideas are great, but it’s also important to remain focused; the product development team only has a finite amount of capacity.
If you’re aiming to just release feature after feature, or continually just add more “improvements” and you don’t really have any idea of what impact something will have, then you’re likely just working in a Feature Factory.
This ties into the “outcomes over outputs” concept which is currently popular. If you have a lot of output, but you’re not paying attention to the outcome, which is the impact it has on your customers, then again, you’re probably just working in a Feature Factory.
It’s very important to always track core metrics which help you understand what the outcome is of small improvements and larger features.
Your product is failing because you’re ignoring customer feedback or you’re obsessed with customer feedback
I’m a huge advocate of regularly talking to users. I find I always want to have the pulse of how the users currently feel about the product.
I don’t just talk to customers once in a while, I try and talk to customers at least once a week, ideally more if I have the time. At Time Doctor I had a mission of speaking to our top 50 customers over about one year; this gave me so many little insights into how the customers use the product, as well as validating (and invalidating) a lot of my assumptions about the product.
I’ve also seen some product development teams who actively ignore customer feedback, its there and readily available to them, but they choose to not look and read it. They believe that they know what’s best and there’s no need to read the feedback or speak to customers. This is the extreme opposite as my first example.
I think its important to get a healthy balance with the customer feedback; you don’t want to always just blindly do what the customers request, but you shouldn’t just totally ignore them.