How to Avoid 7 Terrible Product Development Mistakes In 2019

Posted on 11/29/18 9:00 AM by Matt Fish

Despite the widespread availability of powerful online tools, many organizations still have trouble creating, launching and marketing products that consumers will love. With 2018 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on another whirlwind 12 months in tech and pinpoint some common mistakes your product development should avoid in the new year.

Discover how you can avoid the worst product development mistakes in 2019:


According to his book “Winning at New Products,” R.G. Cooper states that “about half of all resources allocated to product development and commercialization in the U.S. goes to products that a firm cancels or produce an inadequate financial return.” That’s a staggering inability to perform, especially considering that the internet is supposed to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and business owners.

The product development process, both exhilarating and frustrating (sometimes simultaneously) is often where some weaknesses in approach and execution manifest themselves most clearly. Coming up with an initial concept for a product or service is one thing; refining this idea into a functional entity that other members of your staff can properly roll out and market is often easier said than done.

There’s often enough blame to around, with management errors fueling scenarios that can trip up a product development team at any time during the ideation or execution phases. From poor decision-making to an inaccurate diagnosis of your target audience’s wants and needs, I’m going to run through 7 common mistakes that continue to plague many organizations and their product teams, as well as the steps you can take to avoid making those missteps.

No one’s product development process is going to be perfect or free of screw-ups. It’s normal. However, sidestepping common blunders and streamlining that journey will help you manage your projects more confidently and efficiently.

Let’s get started:


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Basing Product Development on Your Wants, Not Consumer Needs

Let’s start with the most preventable of pitfalls – being blinded by your organization’s own ambitions instead of directly addressing consumer needs.

The reality is simple: Many new products fail because companies are too focused on what they think will captivate consumers or, worse still, ideas or features they want to force down the throats of buyers without pausing to consider how well that will be received. Just because you can craft a product or feature in a certain way doesn’t mean you should.

Avoiding this mistake early-on in product development means your planning and brainstorming sessions need to be structured, clear-eyed and honest. Some ways to accomplish this are:

  • Construct accurate buyer personas and ensure that they’re updated regularly;
  • Always ask yourself if a product idea or feature benefits the consumer by addressing a common pain point (if not, question its relevance); and
  • Ask for feedback early in the process and, if some aspects are getting negative reactions from trials, take it seriously – don’t ignore it.

Maxwell House’s Ready to Drink Coffee is just one example of how gross miscalculations in consumer wants and needs can cost you millions of dollars. Failure to do so will leave you with a product or service that fails to resonate with the public.


Chasing Someone Else’s Audience Instead of Targeting Your Own

I’ve previously talked about how being different instead of just better than the other players in your industry is severely undervalued, especially in today’s oversaturated online retail sector. In the case of product development, chasing someone else’s audience or success could stagnate your process substantially.

Remember the Microsoft Zune? If so, consider yourself among the few who do. Launched in 2006 and discontinued by 2011, a big factor in the ultimate failure of the portable media device was the fact that the tech giant didn’t adequately differentiate its product from the existing go-to option on the market – Apple’s iPod.

By simply going after a slice of their competitor’s pie, Microsoft lost sight of what would have made their product more unique in the electronics space. Few consumers even knew that the Zune had superior audio quality to Apple’s device, just one of the many reasons the true essence of what they produced didn’t translate to high sales figures.

When developing your product, make sure also keep these factors in mind:

  • Start with what makes your brand unique – that personality goes a long way;
  • Determine what specific features other vendors aren’t pursuing and/or not using to their full potential; and
  • Market your product in a way that highlights benefits consumers can’t get elsewhere.

Remember: Emphasize features that set you apart from the competition instead of emulating them. Be different, not better than, someone else and you’ll always have a fighting chance in the online marketplace.


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Refusing to Invest in Talent

Here’s another sad truth about the business world these days: Plenty of organizations aren’t willing to invest in high-level talent.

You can’t fuel product innovation and promote organizational growth if you’re looking to hire someone with a Master’s or PhD-level education, five or more years of experience in their field and only want to pay them a bare-bones salary. This mentality invariably leads to the outsourcing of jobs to subcontractors and remote workers, a now-common practice in the “gig economy.”

High employee turnover frequently leads to a decline in product or service quality, all because talent was viewed as something that costs money instead of something that can earn you money. In order to develop something that will dazzle consumers and stand the test of time in the marketplace, you must take the time and, yes, spend the money to get the right people through the door in the first place. Otherwise, your organization will be at a major disadvantage.

If your company is expanding rapidly, you may even have the luxury of hiring specialists for certain roles on your product team, instead of relying on a jack-of-all-trades employee persona. This will help focus the individual energies of your staff members and play to their strengths instead of relying on a skill they consider they consider a weakness.

Famed businessman and author Lawrence Bossidy once said: “I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people not on strategies.” Wise words that couldn’t be truer of product development’s biggest asset – the people behind the scenes.


Misusing the Resources at Your Disposal

Similarly, maximizing the value you’re getting out of your resources is an essential part of a sound product development strategy.

Yes, a scalpel may only be as precise as the surgeon who uses it but he or she must also have an adequate tool at his or her disposal prior to attempting surgery. In the world of product development, that means ensuring that your team has good quality digital applications that add value, efficiency and practical depth to any project they’re working on.

I’ve discussed the disadvantages of purchasing and relying on cheap software before, but really, there’s no excuse for your organization to skimp on the budget you need to invest in proper development resources. There are plenty of specific tools (many of them free to use or at least try) that can help staff members and managers streamline each part of the process.

When researching potential resources to add to your arsenal, consider the following areas:

  • Concept authentication and marketplace research (with apps like Google Consumer Surveys);
  • Product prototyping or design (Balsamiq can be useful here, as are parts of Adobe’s Creative Suite);
  • Project management (Codebase or an alternative);
  • Customer feedback (any number of survey services or comment engines); and
  • Google Analytics (if you’re not using it already, just … why?)

Also, make sure you’ve got some sort of cloud storage available for your employees to use right out of the gate. No one likes misplacing or accidentally deleting important pieces of work, so take steps to prevent this.


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Delays Due to Poor Communication & Organization

“There’s not enough hours in a day” – a saying that you and I have both felt in a very real way, with unforeseen interruptions, obstacles and distractions contributing to an almost daily sense of being behind schedule.

There are plenty of individual reasons why certain team members may find this to be the case (if you’re one of them, I’d recommend checking out our blog post on tools to help you be productive at work), but the underlying commonality typically circles back to a breakdown in communication and/or organization.

That lack of clear information and insight also hits on the downside of outsourcing product development project elements. Telecommuting and remote work is becoming more and more common but, at the same time, clear communication of goals, timelines, expectations and other relevant details needs to remain up to par.

To keep everyone on the same page, try using some of these tactics:

  • Have an overarching plan in place and ensure that each team member understands the vision, targets and stakes of each stage;
  • Create a detailed timeline that assigns a specific stakeholder to a project element and/or due date;
  • Perform regular check-ins with staff to ensure that potential blockers or delays can be anticipated and dealt with as early as possible.


Pricing That’s Out-Of-Step with Reality

Part of the successful launch of a new product or service is how it’s priced for the public. No matter how much market research is done ahead of time or how much benefit you believe you’re bringing to the consumer, out-of-touch price points can seal a product’s fate before it ever really tries to carve out its niche.

Apple’s Newton PDA was a colossal failure for mainly that reason (along with poor handwriting recognition at the time), as was Sony’s ill-fated VHS alternative, Betamax. Like the Zune I discussed earlier, both ideas had the potential for greatness and ultimately came up short because they created too wide a pricing gap. While there’s no universal rulebook when it comes to setting those dollar amounts, you need to take supply and demand, potential consumer adoption speed and more into consideration, and more.

It’s all about toeing that fine line between being an (expensive) alternative or simply pricing yourself out of your own market. If you are positioning your product or service as a costlier option, then you’ll need to bring added convenience, features and an overall better experience for consumers. An elevated price becomes an indirect promissory note for elevated product quality, so be sure to stand and deliver.


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Plain Old Poor Execution

Finally, we get to the most important link in the chain and arguably the most frustrating one to have go awry: execution of your process.

Any combination of the mistakes I’ve listed in this article can add up to circumstances that invites poor execution instead of guarding against it. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to swallow here either, as much of the “what went wrong” portion of an execution post-mortem will be predicated on your organization’s goals and how much trial-and-error was carried out to try and reach them.

Honesty during the review, feedback, and analysis stages are vital to the success and/or rebound of any new product. From a business point of view, no idea dies on its own – product development teams or their management staff decide to kill initiatives based on consumer reaction and/or financial viability, among other things. So, if your process didn’t go well, you need to know why and how so fatal errors aren’t repeated.

From talent and resource considerations to the streamlined execution of your overall process, your organization can easily avoid many common product development mistakes that have plagued businesses in every industry around the world. By taking the steps to get ahead of the curve and anticipate what can go wrong, you can set the stage for strong conceptual brainstorming and communication throughout each stage of a given project.


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