Product Failure: 7 Root Causes and How to Avoid Them

product failure

Many product efforts fail, despite the best intentions of product teams. This blog post explores ten key reasons why these failures happen, and what can be done to improve your chances of success.

The Waterfall Trap

Many companies rely on a traditional, step-by-step development process that often leads to disappointment. This approach, sometimes called “waterfall,” involves:

  1. Idea: It all starts with an exciting product concept.
  2. Business Case: Predict the project’s cost and profitability.
  3. Roadmap: Prioritized list of features
  4. Requirements: The product manager defines what needs to be built for designers and engineers.
  5. Design: The UX Team designs the products
  6. Built: Engineers take over, building the product based on the pre-defined requirements.
  7. Test: The (almost) finished product undergoes user testing through surveys, focus groups etc.
  8. Deploy: Product launch follows shortly after.

This approach seems logical on the surface but has several flaws. Let’s delve deeper into the root causes of product failure that stem from this one.

7 Root Causes of Product Failure

#1 The Source of Ideas Matters

A major problem with traditional product development is the source of ideas. Often, these ideas come from company executives, business owners, stakeholders or customers. Customers are a great source but they can’t necessarily articulate what they want and don’t know what’s technically possible.

Most product teams miss out on the best sources in the ideation phase:

  • Engineers: They work with technology daily and see what’s now possible. This is crucial for matching customer needs with technical feasibility.
  • Data: While companies claim to be data-driven, data isn’t used to generate ideas.

#2 Flawed Business Cases

While business cases are important, at least for ideas that need a larger investment, the way most companies do them at this stage to come up with a prioritized roadmap is ridiculous and here’s why:

Every business case hinges on 2 crucial questions: “How much money will we make?” and “How much will it cost ?” However, at the early ideation stage, these questions lack definitive answers. The potential success of a product heavily relies on the quality of the final solution. A brilliant team can create a game-changer, while a mediocre offering might yield no profit. Similar limitations exist on the cost side. Seasoned engineers are often hesitant to provide estimates at this point.

But companies prioritize roadmaps and to achieve this, they need a system to rate the ideas. So people play the “business case” games.

#3 Misguided Product Roadmaps

The vast majority of roadmaps are essentially prioritized lists of features and projects. But here’s the 2 inconvenient truths about the product:

  • At least half of our ideas are not going to work: Often, they won’t excite customers to the point we expect. In other cases, the product might be too complex, deterring potential users. Even if customers love the idea, sometimes the development costs and time required are simply too high for us to build it.
  • Tỉm-to-money: It takes several iterations for things to work and until they deliver value, but the business usually fears time-to-money

#4 The Role of Product Manager

Product managers aren’t just about gathering requirements. The successful ones are passionate about their product, respect the product team and understand both the business and the customer. They dig into customer problems, desires, how they think, and what makes them buy.

On top of that, they’re proficient with data and have qualitative and quantitative skills to analyze sales and usage analytics. They also have market and industry know-how, keeping tabs on competition and trends.

As Marty Cagan describes a Product Manager’s job:

“…working tirelessly, leading the product team to combine technology and design to solve real customer problems in a way that meets business needs…


“…evaluating opportunities to determine what gets build and delivered and provides evidence that it’s worth building…

#5 Design and Engineering: Brought In Too Late

Designers are often brought in too late in the process, tasked with making a poorly conceived product look good. Their expertise in user experience and creating intuitive interfaces is underutilized. The result? Products that are clunky and frustrating to use.

So, sit next to them! Include them from the beginning and when interacting with customers. Provide them with feedback, not your ideas! Encourage them to iterate early and often as well as to explore alternatives.

Similarly, engineers are seen as mere coders who execute pre-determined plans. Their valuable insights on technical feasibility, user needs based on their experience building similar products, and potential roadblocks are ignored. This leads to products that are technically unsound or don’t address real user pain points.

#6 Project-centric Approach

Many companies manage development in a project-centric way, allocating resources and launching projects. Here’s the problem: Projects are outputs, while products are about outcomes.

This project-centric approach often leads to “orphaned projects” – products launched but failing to meet objectives. Building successful products requires a shift to a product-centric mindset, focusing on achieving specific outcomes that benefit both users and the business.

#7 Late Customer Validation

We’ve just outlined a process that takes a lot of time and money to build a new feature. But you only validate the feature with the customer at the end of the process, meaning it’s basically the most expensive way to validate ideas.

Imagine spending months building a product, only to find out no one wants it. That’s the risk of getting customer feedback too late. The waterfall method keeps feedback locked away until the very end. This is a major problem for two reasons:

  • Wasted Effort: By the time you hear from customers, changes are expensive or impossible. All that time and money could have been used to build something people actually need.
  • Missed Opportunities: Valuable customer insights are lost, preventing the product from getting better. It’s like building something in the dark – you might miss the mark completely.

How To Avoid These Pitfalls: 3 Key Strategies

So how can you avoid these common roadblocks and increase your chances of product success? Here are 3 key strategies:

  1. Embrace Agile Development: This iterative process involves:
    • Short development cycles: Break down product development into smaller, manageable chunks.
    • Continuous feedback: Regularly gather customer feedback throughout the process, allowing for course correction and improvement.
    • Prioritization based on value: Focus on building features that deliver the most value to users and the business first.
  2. Build a Strong Product Team: Assemble a cross-functional product team with representatives from product management, design, engineering, and data. This ensures everyone has a seat at the table and contributes their expertise from the very beginning.
  3. Validate with Customers Early and Often: Make understanding of your customers the foundation of everything you do. Conduct user research early and often to validate your assumptions with real customers. This means prioritizing customer discovery interviews and usability testing throughout the development process.

By following these strategies, you can develop a more user-centric approach, avoid common pitfalls, and ultimately increase your chances of building a successful product.

Read more: The 2024 Guide to Building Powerful Web Apps

Want To Build Products Your Customers Love?

What if you could avoid common pitfalls, accelerate your launch timeline, and bring your vision to life with a product you’re truly proud of, one that customers love?

At Enosta, we believe everyone deserves that chance. We’re your product acceleration partner. Our team of research, design, and development experts is here to help you navigate every stage. We’ll work closely with you to ensure your product solves real problems, boasts a user-centric design, and is built with cutting-edge technology. Don’t settle for just getting your product out the door – partner with us and achieve true product success.

Contact Enosta today and let’s turn your product vision into a reality!

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