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January 05, 2022

9 reasons of product failure

Project Management
BigPicture Team

Everything was set! A carefully planned roadmap, a backlog full of specific items, teams, and stakeholders on the same page – yeah, this product was meant to be a great success. Then why wasn’t it at the end? Why did it flop? It shouldn’t have, right? Well, unfortunately, failed projects can teach us a very important lesson about life: you can’t have everything under control at all times. Here are nine reasons for product failure.

Each year there are over 30,000 new products emerging onto the market. At least 85% of projects are over budget to some degree, mostly due to unforeseen events. Not only are they over budget, but also delayed. According to Gartner, only 55% of all product launches take place on schedule. 45% are delayed, and 20%, on average, fail to meet their internal targets. Video games are a great example of what happens when you’re stuck in development hell. Duke Nukem Forever spent 15 years in development, only to be destroyed by critics and despised by fans, due to the obsolete mechanics, humor, and protagonist. So, how many products fail? Around 95%. This means that it’s much easier to fail than you think, as only 1 product in 20 will pass the test of time.

These statistics put product management into perspective – if so many products fail, there must be many reasons why this is happening so often. Here’s the list of, both internal and external, potential red flags, that may herald your product’s doom:

Internal factors:

  • Unreliable, missed or just bonkers estimates

It’s good to aim high – even if you don’t hit the moon, you’re still among the stars. Unfortunately, good quotes are often not-so-good advisors, especially when you try to calculate the potential number of customers or revenue. Sure, it’s important to sell a product to stakeholders, but don’t promise them unrealistic deadlines, too many features or the moon. Sometimes it’s better to undersell the product instead of excusing yourself for product failure and missed KPIs.

  • Unclear Goals

We already mentioned this element in our (anti)guide to derail any project, so we will keep it short – just because you know what you want to achieve doesn’t mean that everybody else knows it too. The main goal, as well as milestones and key items, must be communicated to every interested party.

  • Missing key Agile events (or ceremonies)

Your company is doing its own blend of Agile approaches. You are trying to adjust it to your own needs, which is fine – Agile is meant to be flexible. However, you must remember to keep the key events and ceremonies to make it work. Skipping Planning or Daily is a very bad idea as each Sprint will turn into an improvisation extravaganza. If your team has no need for Retro, that’s fine. But you must plan and supervise their work for each sprint to avoid product failure.

  • Scope Creep

First of all, what is the Scope? According to the Project Management Institute, it’s the extent of what a project will produce (product scope) and the work needed to produce it. Scope Creep is the effect of adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized. Meaning the backlog is getting bigger and bigger when your team manpower doesn’t. Expanding your scope is obviously possible, but only when stakeholders and team members authorize it to avoid product failure.

  • Inability to mix approaches

Most companies don’t use the Classic (Waterfall) or Agile approach exclusively. They create or try to create, their own blend of Hybrid approaches. It’s a common practice, as some departments adopt the Agile approach while some work better with the Classic approach. Yet, there are some tendencies to force specific approaches within the company’s structures. Don’t do that – people loathe these kinds of constraints. Their productivity and morale will suffer, and the risk of product failure will be higher.

External factors:

  • Botched marketing

Remember Zune, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPod? No? Well, this product had everything to compete with Steve Job’s brainchild, unfortunately, several factors buried this possibility. Too late premiere, market saturation, and finally – the wrong target audience for the marketing campaign. Instead of presenting Zune as an alternative to iPod, Microsoft tried to appeal to the hip and anti-mainstream niche. This backfired spectacularly as Zune was defined only by its competition, not its features. Now this record player’s story serves as a cautionary tale to everyone who thinks more about their competition than one’s own strengths as well as a prime example of product failure.

  • Delivering a useless product

Just because we think something is good, doesn’t mean that customers share this conviction. What if there are many similar products available on the market? Or competition was faster and released their products days or weeks before your product release date? Hindsight is sometimes crucial for success. That’s why it’s so important to include market analysis and research during the planning stages to avoid product failure.

  • Lack of customer support

People like new stuff, but they like good care even more. Sometimes a company is so fixated on acquiring new customers, that it allocates funds solely in this field, hurting customer care. This is a straight line to be considered as an organization that cares only about acquiring customers, with no intent to keep them satisfied after sealing the deal, and effectively can lead to product failure.

  • You can’t predict everything

If 2020 proved anything, it is that you can’t have absolute control over business conditions – both locally and globally. Pandemic changed the way we communicate, mostly with online meetings, as well as finally turning some of them into emails. Point is, there are things beyond our control, and even if we are well prepared with our work, there are still external factors that can ruin our carefully crafted plan.