Product Development: Rip It Up and Start Again

Childs Peg Toy

A bad idea is a bad idea, no matter how much money you throw at it.

And it’s certainly possible to throw the proverbial good money after bad, but sometimes you really should cut bait and move on.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas A. Edison

When it comes to creating a great product, whether that’s a Web site or a widget, your market is a square hole, your product the peg. If you don’t pick up a square peg don’t spend time re-shaping a round one to fit. Put it down and pick up a new one. Keep doing it until you pick up a square peg.

It sounds simple, but people get invested in ideas, especially their own. Then, when you talk about putting that (their) idea down and picking up a different one, they get offended and/or defensive. And that’s fine. Unless they’re the CEO, or the person whose job it is to make objective decisions.

Your product is doomed to failure unless you can clearly define what problem you want your Web site or widget to solve. Then, at every stage of development, ask if your solution actually meets those requirements. Don’t be afraid to start-over if the answer is “no.” Be afraid that if you’re content with the answer “mostly,” you’re going to have to either re-engineer later, or put a whole lot of resources into marketing the imperfect solution you produced.

Understand that you’re always in beta. Your final product, unless you’re planning on never making another product, is just the beta version of the next thing. As with any beta release, you can expect feedback from users about what works, what doesn’t, what features are useful, and which aren’t. When you iterate, incorporate that feedback into the question of whether you are still solving the problem you set out to address, and which your product is intended to solve.

Continuous iterative improvement is the gray area where most product development is conducted, but when Coke introduced New Coke in 1986, they thought they were onto something that was game-changing.

And it was game-changing. Coke demonstrated that when a product is unpopular, it can be good business to pull it and roll back to the product it replaced. Even with the resources Coca-Cola have, there’s no amount of advertising that can make an unpopular product popular, though that isn’t to say that good marketing can’t help a poor product enjoy a degree of success — the right price and promotion can make any product sell like hot-cakes.

Remember though, great sales figures on the back of expensive promotion doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the product will be profitable. And if your product isn’t going to be profitable, why are you spending any money developing it?

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