All companies, both startups and established, are increasingly receiving more pressure to launch impactful products in market, faster, and at a lower cost. This tension is not only coming from the market, but is being applied by private equity owners, angel investors, and traditional VC’s. This pressure has had a significant impact on the pace of product design. The time between ideation and launch is getting shorter. Even hardware companies with connected product offerings that are traditionally slower, are looking at months, not years, for releasing net-new products in market.
While we are seeing a need to speed up the process, we are also seeing a lack of clarity on how, what, where, and when to execute change. Is it during innovation and blue-sky ideation? Is it during product strategy, taking time to identify markets, and validate user needs and your solution? Is it during product concept and design, or is it through development? The key is to identify your organization’s blockers to creating successful products quickly, prior to implementing a change.
We are routinely asked to help our clients implement a more “lean” and “agile” process for their product teams. Our first task is always to identify the true barriers, so that we can determine if implementing a certain methodology or process would actually increase the speed of delivery.
Legacy processes are not always the primary driver for slow product cycles. There are many factors that create organizational challenges. These vary due to market, company size, financial stability, and complexity of offering (there are many others). Speed of delivery can be negatively impacted in many ways and by multiple overlapping factors. We’ve seen organizational team structures and team make-up that are not optimized for clear decision making and execution. A lack of clarity in business or brand strategy tied to a clear and concise product strategy will fail to tie top-level direction to low-level tasks. Company financial constraints are always a reality, impacting resource acquisition and retention, vendor quality and delivery, partnerships required to deliver, and assets needed to enable your product ecosystem. A misstep in any one of these areas can produce a lack of focus, increased churn, and slow down (or kill) any product’s launch.
The need for change is a difficult problem to solve, especially if the barriers are hard to define or are misidentified. There is also no single methodology that can be applied across all phases of product ideation, design, and development to speed delivery. These unique phases require differences in suggestive (flexible) and prescriptive processes to move them forward efficiently. The need for speeding up delivery has also driven different business units and disciplines, to try to solve the problem, resulting in disparate opinions on both the problems and their solutions. Everyone brings their own experiences as well as judgments to the interpretation, which can lead to lack of cohesion across boards, executive leadership, product management, design, engineering, marketing, etc.
Once you have identified your organizational barriers to timely product execution, the operationalization of the change can be disruptive. The implementation of a specific process change can require significant adjustments to team and organizational make-up, requiring true behavior change, leading to revisions of your compensation structure and hiring practices.
What are the implications of mis-steps in solving for the wrong problem, or implementing the wrong solution for a mis-identified problem? The result is usually skipping much needed steps, or shortening of phases that are needed to drive clarity and definition for your product. The resulting failures can be dramatic, from miscalculating the market opportunity and return on investment, to missing fundamental user needs and managed discontent within a market. If you don’t take the time to align product experience and offering with validated needs, you risk designing expensive features that no one wants, or don’t solve for what they care about most. If time isn’t taken in clearly defining and articulating a product’s north star, the resulting lack of team buy-in and focus can create churn and disillusionment across all disciplines. It will also decrease chances of launching on time with a product experience that has clear ownable, brandable differentiation.
So what should you do?
- Take your time at the beginning of any product creation process to determine go/no-go governance models to accelerate or kill programs early on.
- Be realistic about your company, and team’s, executional abilities.
- Understand your assets and equities as a company when evaluating new or existing markets.
- Truly understand your brand vision and mission and apply these as filters for which problems you want to solve.
- Employ human centered design principles to understand, frame, and validate these needs within your identified market.
- Combine the validated understanding of what a desirable product is, with a pragmatic feasibility assessment (operational and technical) to understand the timeline ability to launch.
- Clearly map out the business viability of a cohesive and validated offering, understanding the return on your investments that meet company (or investor) goals.
These filters will enable you to create the right guardrails and phase-gates to focus your team’s exploration and delivery. Finding this alignment will drive the creation of a higher quality product in a shorter timeframe, that is not only differentiated in the market, but right for the user, driving market share, revenue, and brand value.