How can we get better at throwing away ideas that our teams have already started to develop, but do not see market traction from?
In our organization we often miss out on the discovery part of building products. We often have a sense of urgency to get on with it and start to develop things, so we can get them out faster. Perhaps we work on something for three to six months. But later we receive market signals that this may be a bigger problem than anticipated, or perhaps we are not the right actor to solve this. In this situation it is often very hard for us to cut our losses. We instead keep searching for evidence that this is a good idea. Any tips for what we can do?
Both over focusing on delivery and a reluctance to let go of ideas that are not seeing traction are very common. We often see tendencies like these in organizations when we start working with them. Here are a couple of tips you can try.
This post is part of a blog series where we answer real common questions in organizations that we have come in contact with and want to transition to an empowered product teams model. Each blog post answers one frequently asked question.
For an introduction to what we mean by empowered product teams, watch our free webinar recordings on our Crisp youtube channel – Crisp Academy.
Accept that we are biased
Confirmation bias is the expectation that we are right, and the tendency to overvalue evidence that confirms that we are right, while undervaluing evidence that says we are wrong.
Sunk cost bias is the tendency to keep investing in something that is not working, because we have already invested so much already. It is the tendency to not cut our losses, even when we are losing. There is a difference between having grit and sticking with something that is likely to work out eventually, and just throwing more good money after bad money. If you indeed are betting on the wrong horse, bet on something else.
Biases are human. You have them, I have them, it is how we simplify things so we can make sense of the world. Having biases does not make us bad at building products. Failure to recognize and manage them is what can cause product failure. Accepting biases is the first step. Managing them through awareness and useful techniques is how we overcome them.
Shift your expectations towards learning about what will work in the market
Our expectations are often too focused on us having all the right answers upfront. Discarding an idea that we have invested in then becomes a failure, something to avoid.
One observation is that if we only bet on things we are sure to work, then we are not adding value. We are only copying already proven solutions in alternative ways. Products built in this way will typically struggle with low demand and low margins.
The right expectations need to be that we have good ideas, but we won’t know if they will work in the market until we try. Through both discovery work and by delivering solutions that customers can use. Only through that full process of developing products can we determine if we will see success.
Discarding ideas that did not work then becomes a necessary step. Even a step we want to take as fast as possible. When we draw the right conclusions from discarded ideas, we move us closer to success. We create our learning journey of what product to build.
This is how we find solutions to problems that customers need the most help with. As a result, this is how we add value to our market and create meaning for ourselves.
Clarify what goals and measurables indicate market traction
Put the outcome first. Everything we put into the product should have a clear link to a well understood desired customer outcome or business outcome. This means that people that build the product should know what that outcome is, not just a few people in product leadership.
Make sure that outcome is linked to a clear measurable. Some indicator that helps us determine if what we are doing with our product is moving us into the right direction, or not.
This allows us to balance our subjective ideas with objective outcomes. It also helps people understand why we do things, increasing engagement and raising the potential for innovation.
Specifically for this question, it makes it easier for us to conclude faster when something is not working, and we need to try something else.
Make things smaller
Slicing both discovery and delivery work is highly impactful in many ways. In the context of this question it helps reduce product risk, the probability that we are building the wrong product.
If we miss the mark, recovery is faster and size of lost investment is smaller if we make things smaller. If we gain ground, we can follow up with earned confidence.
Get serious about discovery work, start small, make it fun
Product development means both deciding what to build and delivering it. Making sure that we build the right product is arguably the most important responsibility of product management. Product discovery is how you validate that you are investing in the right ideas, before you put them into production. This is why product discovery is one of the core competencies of solid product management.
Make a list of things we need to learn about customers, market, etc. Write down a hypothesis of what we believe customers need, and what type of solutions might fit that need. Then interview a few customers, create some solution ideas, and test these ideas on customers by building prototypes that you can show to them. Share your learnings and insights with your product teams.
Establish feedback loops and use data to support decision making
For everything we put in production, we should measure the impact. Did this help us move our core metrics? Did it solve a customer problem, or improve our ability to operate a sustainable business?
Larger product goals may need to be broken down into a series of supporting goals, that each can be tracked. We want to collect data about how our customers are using our product, so that we can analyze that data to gain insights. We want to interview customers about whether our product is helping them solve their problems. It means that we need to use this data to help create an accurate and realistic picture of how well our product is performing. We then share that picture with our product teams.
When market feedback, customer insights and data influence our decisions, we make better decisions.