How To Prevent Common Mistakes In Product Development


Product development can be a difficult process to get right. Not all products are created equal, and an alarmingly high number of products produced will fail. In fact, around 40% of the products launched by organisations fail to meet their intended objectives.

This happens because something goes wrong in the product development process somewhere between having that great idea and launching the end product into the market.

In a previous insights, we covered The Five Most Common Mistakes in Product Development, which were:

1. A Lack Of Customer Benefit
2. Inadequate Customer Research
3. No Clear Differentiation In Market
4. Poor Design & Execution
5. Ineffective Product Marketing

But what steps do we need to be taking to ensure that we don’t let these common mistakes derail our product development?

Most Lethal Failure Points Occur In Product Discovery

It is important to note that of the five failure points above, some are inherently more lethal to the future of a product than others. If you have a product that solves a deep problem for a defined target market and delivers true benefits, it may be able to outlast some hiccups with execution or product marketing to grow over time.

This assumes that those issues don’t fundamentally debase the customer perception of the product or organisation’s brand.

However, the converse is not true.

No amount of flawless technical execution or product marketing will save a product that solves no problems, provides no benefits, and has no customers.

This means the most critical thing that can be done to avoid these product failure points is to cover the ‘product thinking’ basics every time:

  • Who is the product for?
  • What problem does it solve for them?
  • What benefit does it provide to them?
  • What benefit does it provide to us (e.g., will they pay)?

Validating these basics with real customers rather than assuming that you know what the customers want avoids stacking the case with false data. Finding and talking to customers will help validate if you have the right target market and if the problem is one they want to be solved and would pay for.

Your Product Process Should Focus On Checking
 For Failure Points

If most product failures could be avoided by sticking to the product thinking basics, then why do we still launch so many failing products and fail too few ideas?

The most likely culprit is the lack of a repeatable and structured product process that emphasises the basics of product thinking and embeds checks for product failure points along the way.

A successful product management process should:
1. Test for each of the product failure points during the process.
2. Provide structured decision points when an idea can be culled or continued.
3. Provide a common language for stakeholders to understand how decisions are made.

Dividing your product management process into phases or stages can help to identify failure points and provide a common language for where an idea is in the process.

Ensuring the most lethal failure points are tested early also helps assess more ideas and reduces any sunk cost or anchoring bias.

Take the Brainmates product management process for example, which occurs over three phases:

Innovate Phase

A structured process for innovation & discovery that focuses on testing many ideas fast. This phase is key to avoiding the most lethal failure points. Structuring product thinking – for who, what problem, what benefits and positioning – into this phase and testing with customer research will help to remove bad ideas early. The majority of ideas should be removed in this phase. Remember, for every successful product, there are about 2999 failed ideas. We need to fail more ideas earlier in our product management process.

Design Phase

A phase focused on deep ‘as is’ current state customer understanding. The aim is to identify real problems for real people, and guardrails to guide solution design and development. Guardrails should be focused on the customer and market needs required to solve the problem, rather than what can be delivered by a specific date. Prioritisation of these guardrails can reduce scope creep in the final phase.

Implement Phase

A phase to focus on preparing for product launch and testing solution readiness against the design phase guardrails. A common understanding of customer and market guardrails across the solutions team means solutions are tested throughout development and avoid poor customer outcomes on release. Product managers spend the majority of their time in this phase preparing for a successful launch in collaboration with their marketing colleagues.

The Brainmates product development process focuses on testing for each product failure point and failing bad ideas throughout the process.

Fail More Ideas To Launch Fewer Failing Products

In summary, failure will happen – but failing where others have failed before doesn’t have to!

Having a process that focuses on avoiding the most common failure points is the best way to avoid making the same mistakes and minimise the cost of failure to your organisation.

Weed out the most lethal failure points early with a process focused on the basic elements of product thinking – who is our customer, what problem are we solving and for what benefit (for us & them). Most ideas will fail the test, which is to be expected with strong product innovation.

The final failure points can then be avoided with strong customer and market-centric guardrails for solution design and development and increased focus across product and marketing on preparing early for launch, because you can never be too prepared.

About The Author

Jana Paulech

Principal Consultant & Strategy Lead - Brainmates

Jana is an intellectually curious problem solver who’s super power is seeing the connections across diverse problems and industries. With a background in academic research and education, Jana received her Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, before moving into corporate advisory and product management across consulting and technology.

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