9 common mistakes to avoid in product development

9 common mistakes to avoid in product development

Table of Contents

Successful product development is livelihood of your business and the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You had better make sure the whole process is flawless and effective. Otherwise, your business can come to an end as fast as it began. In this post, you are going to learn about nine mistakes people in product development do. Use all the available information to learn, improve and accelerate your business.

1. Confusing good idea with good product

If you should choose between having a good idea or good product, what would be your choice? We often fall in the illusion that we just need to come up with some good idea and everything will take care of itself. Unfortunately, a good idea is not a guarantee of a good product. Truth to be told, we often use the “good idea” topic as an excuse of not starting in product development at all. Think about it. Why would you should take the risk of developing a product if you are not sure the idea is good or even great?

If you hear this voice in your head, I have two things to tell you. First, everyone who tested the waters of product development know this bullshit. You are not alone who is having a doubts about some idea. Second, you don’t need to have a good or great idea. All you need is great execution of that idea. This is the reality. We often attach too much importance to a product idea. Take a look around yourself … Many people have good ideas. The problem is that only a few of them will do the work and turn them into products.

Generally, when you compare a product based on a mediocre or even crappy idea backed up by great design and development with product based on a good idea with crappy design and development, who do you think will win? Mediocre idea with great execution will always be the winner. Stop using that lame excuse about not having great idea, take one average and do the work. Focus on flawless execution of your idea and your chances of success will increase significantly.

Takeaway: Mediocre idea with great execution will always be the winner. Focus on flawless execution.

2. Poorly defining the problem

What is your problem? No, I am serious. What is the problem your product is solving? The hard truth is that all your time, sweat and effort spent on product development will go through the window if you have no idea what problem, if any, you are solving. It does not matter how shiny your product is if it doesn’t solve any pain your customers have. Many people are transitioning to product development just for the sake of it. Soon, these people often find themselves in situation when their product are not selling. Where is the problem?

If you understand the problems of your customers or see them differently, it will be difficult to meet the expectations your customers have. Also, if you are working in a team, blurred understanding of the problem will make it difficult to get everyone together to solve it. What’s more, if you or your team is confused about the purpose of the product, solving the issue will be impossible feat. With time this can also lead to conflict in your team.

In case of having a team behind you, key to success is clear and transparent communication. If you have any doubts that everyone is on the same page, you have to ask them on their opinion and how they think your product solves the problem. Having a team or not, make sure you have clear understanding of what the problem is, pain your customer want to get rid off. Remember, problem definition is part of product development process.

Takeaway: Have a clear definition of the problem you are solving.

3. Starting product development without market research

Hand in hand with poorly defined problem goes another mistake we, people in product development, often do. This mistake is not doing proper market research. It is much easier to let ourselves be immersed by our product development process and forget to actually find out if there is a customer base for our soon-to-be product. We often think that a good product idea doesn’t need any effort to find out if there is a serious demand for it from customers. Well, this is wrong and often a reason of why business will fail.

The truth is that, in most cases, companies spent big amount of time doing market research, using focus groups and so on. In other words, customer discovery and validation are important parts of product development as well. Doing market research will help you avoid few setbacks other people have to face. These setbacks include increasing the marketing budget, pivoting early on, decreasing of the price and even closing your business. Many times, for bootstrapped business, failing on the first attempt can be deadly.

Remember, market is enormous source of useful information you can gather from. Don’t just throw it away. Research it, study it, learn it. Use existing market segments and similar products as your advantage to find out what can be improved upon. Read reviews of those products left by customers to make your product a better fit. In the end, you have to understand that product development is about solving existing and viable problems. If you are the only person having this problem, you will not be able to sell it.

Takeaway: Research the market to know whether there is a problem worth solving.

4. Focusing on luxury features

In product development, there are often two types of products. First is full of features, functions and possible uses. Something like a Swizz army knife … Or a girl for everything. The second one is lean and agile focused on doing one thing and doing it better than everyone else. When you take a look at the market, you will find out that those single-focused products and companies are often the most successful ones.

The reason is simple. The less features you have to juggle with, the more time, energy and resources you can dedicate to them. It is incredibly hard (not impossible) to excel in many things. That is why there is only so much Renaissance men in the history (subject for future post). When you do the math, specializing on one thing is easier and, in business, more sustainable (at least in the short-term). In a product development, you have to stay agile.

Meaning, don’t try to chase many different ideas and features to implement. Do the research to find which one is the best to pick and go with it. At least in the beginning, limit your product on the most important feature. Avoid blurring your focus by going too wide.

Takeaway: Keep your product lean. Focus only on the necessary features.

5. Trying to please everyone except the end user

Another mistake related to trying to fill your product with dozens of features is trying to please everyone. Everyone except the people who will be really using your product. We often think that the more options and features we bring to the table, the better it will be. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is often true. The more people we are trying to please, the lesser our chance to succeed is. Avoid falling into this trap by having a clear idea of who your customer and also end user is. How?

First, you have to clearly define the problem. Second, you have to understand how your perfect user looks like by using tools such as user persona. While creating a user persona, go into details. The deeper you will go the better. Create a persona that can be confused with living person. This will help you imagine your user in such a detail you will be able to create a perfect solution … A product your users will fall in love with.

There is more than seven and quarter billion people living on the Earth and everyone of them is different. Trying to please all of them (metaphorically) is impossible. Instead, narrow your focus on people actually using your product and make their experience worth paying for. Remember, servant to many, king to no one.

Takeaway: Focus on the end user. This is the person who will use your product.

6. Being slow to ship

People in product development often have struggles with perfectionism. We want our products to be flawless. Every detail must be polished and nothing can be left to coincidence. Although this approach can be helpful to come up with great products, it can go too far. When chasing perfection, we can become paralyzed and unable to ship our products. Since our products are also what keeps our business alive, this can be problem.

The goal of product development should be shipping your product, not just taking the time to build it. There is a great quote by Steve Jobs:”Real artist ship.” My another favorite quote is “Just ship it.” Choose what you like, the message is the same. After you build something, you have to take the next step and get it out. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great your product is. Until you ship it, there will be no one who will have a chance to use it.

Takeaway: If you will not ship it, it will not exist.

7. Copying the competition

What was the first thing happening after the success of Instagram? Apple and Android store were flooded by dozens of apps copying not just the concept, but also the name. When we see something successful, our first intention is to emulate it or copy it. We think that this is a sure way to come up with amazing product. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this is not true. In a fact, history is not the best tool to predict the future and what worked once does not have to work again.

In reality, the reason that this or that product succeed back then was because it was different. It was something never done and seen before. That was its competitive advantage. As you may guess, you cannot emulate this fact by copying the concept. Sure, you can study it as an example and learn form it, but you still have to create something new and different. Otherwise, your product will fade out and become just another copy. Remember, original has always higher chance to succeed than copy.

Takeaway: Focus on creating something new and different. Let others copy you!

8. Focusing on innovation instead of value

I often see myself discard some features of my products because I’m not certain if they bring a real value to my customers. In the past, I would find myself in situation when the deadline was already exceeded, but the product was not shipped yet. Why? I was trying to come up with innovation in every smallest detail possible. What I should do instead was to focus on adding a value for customers. The problem is that not every innovation also automatically brings a value. Some times innovation is just it. Innovation.

There is nothing wrong with trying to relentlessly innovate your product. In a fact, that is something product development should be about–building a better products, not another instances and copies. However, in this race for innovation we can go to far and start chasing the innovation for the sake of it without bringing additional value. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between having an innovative product (Segway) and having a valuable product. Only the second one will be really used by our customers.

Remember, always ask yourself why are you doing what are you doing. Are you trying to innovate to add a shine to your product? Is this or that change adding any potential value to your customers? Keep your product development value-driven. In other words, if you are not adding more value, stop and look somewhere else.

Takeaway: Prefer focusing on adding value to your customers instead on innovation.

9. Falling in love with your product

This is something that happens to all of us. We fall in love with a certain solution, not to mention if it is our own, and it makes it extremely hard for us to judge its quality and suitability. In order to succeed, people in product development must be able to let go … Be able to suppress their emotions when it is necessary. Otherwise, we are putting ourselves in the risk our view will become foggy and our ability to make clear decisions will deteriorate.

We see our products and businesses as our kids, as part of ourselves. We have to make regular testing of alternative options a part of our product development process, again without letting our emotions or assumptions have influence on the results. We have to stay rational and use the data as an indicator of where to steer the direction. This is something very hard to do, but crucial for creating and keeping a sustainable business.

Takeaway: Keep your thinking clear, stay rational and use the data.

Closing thoughts on product development

Product development is hard and involves many obstacles and struggles. Otherwise everyone would be doing it. Learn from the mistakes mentioned in this post and avoid putting your business at risk. Your ability to learn and improve your product development process is your biggest advantage. Make sure you use it. History is already filled with thousands of fallen business and unsuccessful people. Don’t repeat their mistakes.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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