Truth: Most products are not that good.
I don’t blame terrible designers or unreasonable managers for this. The bottom line is: It is incredibly difficult to develop a product that is great. I mocked up a diagram to help explain.
Imagine you are in space, with a basketball. You are floating in one direction in the X, Y and Z dimensions. Now imagine the hoop also moving in 3 dimensions. It is your job to toss the ball into the hoop. A successful shot will result in a perfect product. The difficulty lies in everything moving. You have to shoot the ball where the ball will be, not where it is now. Plus you are moving too, so it makes a miss very likely. A miss is a bad product.
Underneath the Analogy
The hoop is the market.
The audience changes all the time. One years fad is another years flop. You have to know your audience very well to know that the product you are creating is right for the market. Very often a product overestimates the willingness of the market to adopt the product solution.
Timing is another dimension. Are you hitting your market exactly at the right time? The flip phone was perfect 10 years ago, but today is an anachronism. I built a product once (Hotkoko) that was “ahead of its time”. Timing is crucial to achieving success.
Exactly what does the product do and how complicated is it? This is also known as “scope”. How many problems does the product solve? How easy does it make it? Sometimes a complicated solution is perfect; other times simplicity is key.
The hoop is moving in all of these dimensions. While you are building your product, some of these factors will move. You can’t build what people want today. You have to build what people will want when you launch the product. Skate to where the hockey puck will be, not where it is today.
The shooter is your company.
Skill / Experience
I’d love to build a halodeck (like Star Trek) where people could have safe adventures. However, I lack the skill and experience to build it. More down to earth, think about the people you have in the company. What is the DNA? Some companies are built for social and gaming. Others are built for business and productivity. Some have great database skills and others great UX talent. Know what makes you tick. Your corporate DNA will affect everything you build. This is a key factor in hiring strategies if you want to build a new kind of product.
Even if you had the right people, do you have the time and budget and political will to actually build the thing you want? Products take time and energy. If you have no time, but have lots of budget, then acquisition is often a solution. If you have time and no budget, outsourcing to a cheap third-world country sometimes works, but it doesn’t help as much as one may think. Having the time and money to build something is a key factor in where you make your shot.
Are you in Nebraska? Kenya? There are places where it is incredibly difficult to find funding, talent, resources and wherewithal to build a product. Are you trying to be “intrapreneurial” where you are trying to build a product within a larger corprorate environment? There is a reason I love Silicon Valley. There is engineering talent here, venture funding here and lots of entrepreneurs. It is the perfect cauldron to build a technology company. When you are outside this little tech Eden, then you need to make due with what you have.
This is an incredibly difficult shot under the best of situations. You are moving, the market is moving. When someone uses the term “visionary”, I think they mean you can see where the basket is going to be and can make a decent shot. Intuition plays an enormous role in shot making. We can’t build everything we ever dreamed.
Like in real basketball, sometimes all the preparation and vision in the world might not make the shot. And other times, dumb luck will throw up a prayer and sink it. The best thing to do is prepare as best you can so that when the moment comes to make your shot, you will be ready.