In my last article I discussed the top reasons for slow product, and here I wanted to highlight the top reasons for weak product. I am defining weak product here as product that fails to meet its objectives and provide new and expanded sources of revenue and/or growth for your company.
- Lack of product vision. Probably the single biggest source of weak product is that so many teams are just feature chasing. They have no real vision for their product, they are not thinking strategically. “Think in leaps; iterate in steps.” See http://www.svpg.com/product-strategy-in-an-agile-world/
- Stakeholder-driven roadmap. Another very common source of weak product is the stakeholder-driven roadmap, especially when the product organization is not doing its job in helping the stakeholders succeed. See http://www.svpg.com/product-management-as-a-service-organization/
- Missing rapid test and learn product culture. Strong product comes for continuous learning and many companies have not yet instituted the rapid test and learn techniques and culture necessary for quickly converging on effective solutions. See http://www.svpg.com/regaining-your-product-mojo/
- Weak user experience design. Effective product is the result of effective design, and this requires a strong user experience design competency in your company. This means interaction design as well as visual design, staffed to the point that they can truly contribute on a project from day 1, and empowered as key members of the team and not just used as an afterthought. See http://www.svpg.com/great-products-by-design/
- Little actual customer expertise. In many companies, the level of actual customer interaction and hence deep customer understanding is far too low. I’m not referring to surveys or customer service reports or focus groups; I mean frequent face-to-face user interaction. The Product organization must establish itself as the company acknowledged expert on your customers or frankly there is little chance for strong product. See http://www.svpg.com/lessons-from-amazon/
- No product discovery process. In most companies with weak product, someone comes up with an idea (usually for a feature), it might be an executive, a stakeholder, a customer, or the product manager, and the team just starts the process of converting this “requirement” into something for the engineers to build. No actual product discovery process. See http://www.svpg.com/product-discovery/
- Missing true collaboration. Strong products are the result of a collaboration with user experience design and engineering. The sooner you can dispel the notion that the product manager comes up with the requirements, the designer designs and the engineer codes, the sooner you’ll be on the path to strong products. The engineers especially are generally brought into the process too late in order for them to contribute to coming up with better solutions. Since they often know what’s possible better than anyone, this is a significant lost opportunity. See http://www.svpg.com/avoiding-design-by-committee/
- Focus on dates and features rather than business results. Everyone understands dates and it’s all too easy for the company to focus on releasing something rather than business results. But you can release consistently every week and not actually improve your business. The focus for the company needs to be on the business results. This is not a reason to go slow; rather, it’s a critical reminder that the results are really the only thing that matters.
- Lack of corporate courage. Doing something significant typically requires taking some risk. We have several techniques to mitigate this risk (protecting the company’s brand and revenue), but still there is risk. Sometimes it is the team that is scared to take the risks, and other times it is the leaders that are scared. But many organizations let fear constrain their products from moving forwards.
- Weak product leaders. If your product leaders show little initiative, have a victim mentality, have insufficient technical depth, or weak business skills, or poor execution skills, then of course many of the items above are going to be a likely consequence. See http://www.svpg.com/recruiting-product-managers/
It’s not usually black and white of course; most of these items are a spectrum. But you might want to assess your own organization and decide where you or your team could benefit from some focus to try to significantly improve the strength of the products you create.