One of the most significant roadblocks for technology companies today is the amount of time spent creating products that go nowhere. According to Standish Group, nearly half of software features are never actually used by customers. That is a significant waste in both product and the resources used to create that product. It is waste that no organization can afford, especially in a competitive market where technology innovations come fast and furious.
If customers do not need a product, and they do not use a product, not only is that waste, but it is also indicative that a company may not be creating real value for those customers. And that is where companies can fail.
But how to avoid product waste as an organization? Every product ever made was likely created with the intention to deliver value -- and yet, most do not. Product development is not as simple as identifying a short-term win with an existing market or customer need and then creating a working product to address it. Every IT leader knows that. However, something many leaders may not know is how, exactly, to navigate lean product development to ensure a waste-free product environment. There are complexities in doing so -- there is no one band-aid answer or solution to this age-old problem.
Planning and product vision
It is true what they say: Planning is everything. Creating a strategic product roadmap and adhering to it daily is one of the first steps companies can take to set themselves up for success and avoid inefficiencies and waste in product. Identifying a market need, not a hot trend, is a good starting point, but leaders must couple that with a long-term definition of product vision. The longer-term outlook will serve to keep an organization on a specific path, offering it a true compass, and will help them avoid getting side-tracked on features that may not support that broader vision, which is so often a mistake companies find themselves making.
Defining mid-term goals is also an important aspect of product development. While growth must be central to those goals, companies need to determine when they set those goals if it takes them too far away from longer-term visions. Striking that balance when setting goals is critical to supporting waste-free product scenarios. Mid-term goals that do not align with the long-term vision will undoubtedly steer a company off course, no matter how enticing the prospect of immediate growth may be.
When it comes to short-term initiatives and tactics, these must tie back to mid-term goals as well as the long-term vision. The best way to determine what this might look like is to separate customer needs from customer requests. A one-off product created to fit a customer with a niche request may not have value for most customers, and product usage will be low. It’s wasteful. Finding a way to navigate needs vs. requests is critical to aligning with the larger product roadmap.
There are so many departments within a company, but they are often siloed, where the product team may not be communicating to other groups within the organization. Breaking down those silos is key to successful, waste-free product.
Connecting and communicating with both sales and marketing teams is critical for IT leaders watching out for the future of their products. Direct and frequent communication from the product team gives more insight to both marketing and sales teams in terms of how to market and sell the product in a way that showcases its value as a solution to a problem rather than just a singular product. Additionally, looping sales, customer success and marketing teams into portions of product development can effectively serve to better test, improve, and ultimately validate a product. Feedback loops (from customers as well) that lead to product validation is the bread and butter of achieving waste-free product.
Ultimately, good product will carry a company only so far. Ensuring efficiency in product development, aligning product initiatives with a longer-term roadmap, and bringing more and varied expertise into the product development process will serve as a foundation for creating product that is widely used and is successful. Zero product waste is extremely difficult to achieve -- but getting close to it is possible. Leveraging some of the tactics outlined above, and sticking to them, provides a good foundation to set any product team on the right path forward.
Lior Sion is Co-Founder and CTO of Bringg, a SaaS technology that improves their client’s pickup and delivery speed, capacity, and customer experience at scale. Lior was previously CTO of GetTaxi and Clarizen. He is a serial entrepreneur with years of experience and know-how in disrupting the delivery industry.