Product creation is a very demanding process, and oftentimes, it ends in failure. Why is that? Today we'll examine real cases to analyze why products fail, and then we'll highlight best practices to help your product succeed. 

Even for highly successful companies like Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, building products is a huge challenge. Why? Building a product is not only about identifying what the market needs (understanding user pain points), but it's also about structuring the product creation environment successfully behind the scenes in order to fully comprehend the problem and get a handle on building the right solution, or at least the right MVP. 

In this article, I'll highlight my takeaways after reading Marty Cagan's incredible book titled Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love . Cagan is a well-known product expert who worked at HP and has written and helped giant Silicon Valley organizations build the right teams to create the right products many of us use on a daily basis.

Where Products Go Wrong

The first thing I noticed as I read is that problems arise when companies are too focused on old-fashioned ways of managing teams, problems, or the solution itself. Don't want your product creation to go wrong? Here are six "don'ts" of product creation:

1. Don't Focus Too Much on the Solution 

2. Don't Use Modern Techniques the Wrong Way

3. Don't Be Afraid to Use New Methodologies to Discover Products

4. Don't Make the Product Manager Exclusively Responsible

It's never good if the product manager is the only one responsible for finding the problem, identifying the solutions, and measuring the results, making them the only team member who is truly passionate about the product. 

One of the secrets to creating a great product that Cagan highlights is evangelism: have missionaries (not mercenaries) involved in a product team to co-create a goal and co-create a path to achieve that goal, never forgetting that a product is related to several areas in the company, such as: marketing, business strategy, and so on. In just a moment, we'll take a look at a scenario in which this was done very well. But first...

5. Don't Be Afraid of Prototyping

Another important point to emphasize is not to be afraid of prototyping. In fact, it's ok if you prototype a lot - that's why it exists. So once everyone in the team has had an opportunity to give enough input, go ahead and build an MPV, which is nothing more than a living prototype for validating assumptions. We must not be afraid to undergo a thorough research and discovery phase, because a lot of knowledge must be generated in the creation phase.

6. Don't Neglect to Measure Results

Last but not least, define how you will measure results. Don't be afraid to pivot your ideas when results indicate that you may be headed in the wrong direction. Data is everything, and it's vital to validate each decision. Many times, data will show us a clear result that we choose not to believe. Never think that your team is the only source of truth regarding the product under development, because every day is a new day, and the market changes. COVID-19 was a big-picture example of this ever-changing market landscape.

A Positive Example: Google AdWords

One good example of product creation done well is Google Ads, which generates more than $60B in revenue. I am going to give you a brief background on how this product was created, and if you're curious, you can research it further on your own. 

Among several challenges regarding Google AdWords, one major challenge was to design it in such a way that it would not generate user confusion or frustration. Imagine searching for something and seeing that the first several results were advertisements, somewhere below which would be the results you actually hoped your search would generate. Jane Manning, the Product Manager at the time, took care of this potential problem by building relationships, listening to everyone's concerns,  finding a solution, and asking a creative question: What if we put aside the results of the ads?!

Image courtesy of Methods & Tools. Helping Software Development with a Product Discovery Phase, accessed 12.27.2020

How to Build a Successful Product

If I could summarize everything Cagan presented in his book, and if I could emphasize one idea, it would be this:

Some of the principles we're discussing are not new or mysterious, but applying them correctly is the secret, and that application will depend on the unique scenario of each product, company, and team. But regardless of your scenario, here is one consistent truth to keep in mind: building a great product depends on thoroughly understanding the problem and creating a well-structured product vision based on business goals, market goals, and market fit.

With this in mind, evangelize your team on the product vision, thoroughly define each role in building the solution, and use your leadership skills to guide your team while emphasizing the worth of the product. (Please note, however, that if you end up spending too much time trying to convey the product's worth, you may need to think more about the product vision.) Make everything as clear as possible, including each role, contribution, and idea. Finally, rely on teamwork.

What's Your Product Story?

Do you have another real business example or a tip on building a product? While the principles above apply widely, there are a lot of particularities for each product, company, and market that go into creating a powerfully successful product, so tell us about your own experience in the comments below!


Douglas Lopes

Doug Lopes is a Senior Software Engineer at Avenue Code with more than 6 years of experience in algorithms and product development. He graduated from UFMG with an undergraduate in information systems. He enjoys making people's lives easier using technology! Lately he has been trying new things out of his comfort zone, such as product management and digital transformation using Agile methodologies, and in less than one year he got two important certifications in the area (PSM I and PSPO I); he has been studying a lot about product design and discovery to begin practicing in these areas!

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