7 ways to botch a product development project

From an idea to millions in net sales. Let’s imagine that the (entirely fictitious) Canoe Corp Ltd is developing an electric canoe for the market. An innovation to boost business is needed and the idea is very promising, but the path to success is riddled with pitfalls. In this article, we list seven of the most typical hurdles that may trip up those in search of a winning product!

1. Blind spot – this product cannot lose

Canoe Corp Ltd. has an unbeatable business idea in its hands, since there is no electric canoe on the market just yet. The company commissions a product brochure bursting with spectacularly modelled images of the canoe. Brochures are handed to friends and acquaintances who enjoy the outdoors, and the new ecological model of travel soon draws a test audience. A product development project is kicked off based on the positive feedback. The company has every confidence in the product, and the most important thing is to be the first to launch it. 

 At the start of the product development project, however, it is found that it is impossible to manufacture the first product with the desired features and at the targeted costs. The team needs to start over and decide which requirements can lowered: size, technical features or price. The product goes back to the design desk, and more money needs to be invested in product development.

Result: The product is released to the market two years later than planned, and the development costs end up 30% higher than expected.

Free tip: Validating the winning idea before productisation will save time and money. Better aim ensures that the profits end up in your company’s coffers and no penalty rounds are needed. 

2. The Tesla of e-canoes – technically amazing but too pricey

Canoe Corp wants to distinguish itself from its competitors and decides to make its electric canoe the Tesla of all e-canoes. The technology is top notch and works beautifully starting from the first prototype. The product also features a slew of luxury features, including a cabin and full sonar system, complete with a high-definition display. 

Result: The premium features result in the canoe’s price skyrocketing out of reach for most potential buyers. The demand is meagre.  

Free tip #1: Compromises are always needed when considering a new product and its features. Some bars must inevitably be lowered to keep the costs, schedule and quality in check. If you do not know for certain what to compromise, make sure to do the requisite analysis and testing beforehand. Do not wait until the product is finished to find out.

Free tip #2: Usually, groundbreaking new products and services have a single key feature or innovation that excites customers. Try to find out what that most important element is in the context of your idea. Extra features, such as cabins, sonars and racing stripes, can wait until competitors start closing in. They will need circus tricks to top your outstanding product.

3. Speed, speed, speed – rushing to the market

In the preliminary plans, product development estimated the process of conceptualising, designing and testing the product, as well as preparing the manufacturing process, to take 18 months. Yet the management team wants the company to be among the first to take over the markets: As such, the electric canoe must be made available to buyers in less than a year.

Due to the tight schedule, the product is conceptualised at a record pace and simulations are neglected. Instead of features, the cutbacks focus on test runs, which means that there is no time to leverage all test results to improve product quality. The production cost remains high because the test automation for production is not completed on time.

Result: The electric canoe winds up flimsy, and the power source consumes more electricity than intended. The running time is short, and a paddle is ultimately added to the feature set to provide backup propulsion. The product fails to impress buyers, and the initial reviews reveal substantial quality issues. The sales of the e-canoe fall short of the target, and the product is withdrawn from the market without many even noticing.

Free tip: If the schedule is set, one or more key project parameters must be flexible. These are product features, development budget or the targeted level of quality. A restrictive schedule requires a keen eye and the ability to identify how the key parameters should be approached and how much they can be tightened without compromising the success of the product. It can often be a good idea to take advantage of third-party specialists to find the right combination. It should also be remembered that a tight schedule almost always necessitates more development investments. This is the only way to secure enough people for content production, testing and troubleshooting.

4. Sulo Vilén – outsource product development and choose the most affordable offer

The company wants to outsource product development. The most important purchase criterion is price, even though the offers are hard to compare.

Result: Midway through the project, it becomes apparent that there is much more work to be done than expected. The competitive bidding was won by a company that was the furthest off the mark in terms of estimating the risks and work loads involved. Ultimately, the total cost of product development soars beyond the prices offered by any of the subcontractors whose bids were rejected. To add insult to injury, having first accepted the deal, the subcontractor replaces designers assigned to the project with cheaper ones a few times over – and naturally without asking the client. The schedule is delayed, and the electric canoe does not make it to the domestic market for the summer season. The business plan becomes uncertain and ends up resting entirely on export. This means that the company has to consider doubling the marketing budget.

Free tip: Sulo’s characteristic strategy of buying just about anything if it’s cheap is often not a good idea, especially in complex projects. In Tampere, this risk has been tackled in the context of many successful public construction projects by means of an alliance model, which increases the efficiency of cooperation between parties. The model may not be suitable for everyone, but true partnership is often more efficient than outsourcing since the benefits go both ways. 

5. The Scrooge McDuck model – too little funding

The company decides to use agile development methods to produce the first sales version of the electric canoe. As the first step, the company opts to prepare an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for the market. The budget is very limited, which usually leads to compromises in testing.

Result: The electric canoe is completed and launched, but since there was little to no testing budget, the quality is poor and the warranty claims wind up costly. The product’s reputation suffers a fateful blow.

Free tip: Balance in the content of the development efforts is important. Testing is the key to success in both software and hardware development. Durable products with longer service lives pave the path towards sustainable development. We recommend considering how much you value satisfied customers. By testing the product’s usability and durability, you can predict whether or not you will get your wish.

6. The Finnish model – remember to build the framework for marketing

The company utilises trials and prototypes to develop a top-of-the-line product. The price point is just right, and the canoe has no unnecessary features. It is fun to use and the solar panels in the premium model boost mobility very nicely. The electric canoe features digital solutions and responds to voice controls. It is also possible to purchase additional cloud services.

For the launch of the e-canoe, feedback is collected from sales and select customers.

Result: Upon launch, the company fails to emphasise the things that actually matter to customers and the sales start off very slow. A year later, 38% of the sales target has been achieved but the ROI remains in the red. The customer feedback is excellent, and a campaign is being developed on this basis.

Free tip: Leverage the feedback and things users spontaneously point out in preliminary testing, crystallise it into a value promise that appeals to the target group, and utilise it in marketing – from the very start of the launch process.

7. This is how we’ve always done it – the unbearable slowness of progress

Canoe Corp has been making water vehicles for years. The sales team has identified the need for an electric canoe, which is why the company devices to invest in product development.

 The company sets out to develop the product through PowerPoint presentations, and the canoe is designed in CAD from start to finish. This has been found to be the right way to do things, so why change it even if the rest of the world is becoming more digital by the second. No one has the time to think about how to do things better at the outset, and there is no desire to address the issue.

The company conducts too much of the work around technical specifications internally. We have often witnessed assumptions being solidified into fixed specs along the way. None of the ideas are tested beforehand at any point. The simulation model has nothing to do with the test results of the first prototype, so it does not help at all with the planning of corrections.

Result: The end result is an electric motorboat that arrives on the market a year behind schedule. The company manages to include all the same basic faults that have plagued its other models and nothing new is ultimately created.

Free tip: If it seems difficult to change operating methods from inside the company, it is a good idea to ask an outside party for assistance. A good partner is not afraid to question things.  

Even though the mistakes presented above may appear discouraging, there is no cause for despair. We at UnSeen believe that even the slightest adjustments of approaches and operating models, along with solid preparation, can ensure innovations hit their marks better than before and blunders are avoided. Over the years, we have learned to navigate the rough terrain of product development towards easier paths: in all of the cases listed above, we can help steer your development efforts towards success.