October 3, 2013

If You Build It, They May Not Come

Many companies today are in a rush to build innovative new products that can help them keep up with the competition and stave off attrition. Just because you’re racing as fast as you can on the product development treadmill, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re having as much of an impact as you could.

That’s the gist of a recent Fast Company post by Drake Baer, “When Does Efficiency Become Stupid?” According to the article, startups and established companies alike fail for the same reason: they make something for which there isn’t significant demand in the marketplace.

The article quotes Y-Combinator cofounder Paul Graham, who said, “Businesses fail because they don’t make something that people want. If you’re not making something people want, you’re climbing the wrong mountain. Time to summit doesn’t matter.”

So how do you know if you’re building the right product? It’s a subject that was covered in a TechCrunch post from 2011 that was no less relevant then than it is now by author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries.

Ries believes the antidote to this problem is to stop using vanity metrics and start measuring progress more rigorously with the use of A/B testing (sometimes called split-testing). He goes on to explain that “because new features add overhead to products (generally making them more complicated), a new feature has to provide so much benefit to customers that it’s worth incurring this overhead. There is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ new feature. ‘The same’ means worse.”

On the other hand, authors of an article appearing on Forbes say that product development success relies on a product with capabilities that can support it and keep competitors at bay. “We call this coherence, that is, alignment between the company’s strategy, the capabilities that deliver that strategy, and the full lineup of products and services.”

In the end, don’t confuse movement and speed with real product development progress or success. As Ries put it, success in product development is only achieved when your product improves business metrics—customer retention, usage, or sales. Before exerting a single ounce of energy, time or resources on innovation or development, be sure you know you’re going in the right direction.