How I Came to Love Iteration During Product Development

You have developed the perfect product development plan. You have drawn the numbers, looked at every possible flaw, examined the audience. Yet, things go awry; your perfect plan goes unnoticed by the intended audience or, worse yet, there is a glitch in the actual product itself.

It happens to the even the best at some point – and it will happen to you. Count on it.

Help! The Sky is Falling!

Even some of the biggest, most well-known companies have their share of flops and internal or customer-led resistance – and without them, they may not have risen to the top or maintained their tenure – for in every moment of reluctance and in every flop, there is a lesson to be learned.

For example, consider Apple’s iPod – a device common place today. But in 2001, this technology which boasted the abilty to store 1,000 songs digitally – a feat unheard of at the time – was met with some resistance.

Or how about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a game changer for the commercial airline industry? Once promising huge savings in fuel and maintenance costs, this dreamboat became a bit of a nightmare for the company after huge delays and a series of unfortunate mishaps.

Of course it feels different when it happens to you – and when you first feel it happening, it may seem like the pending apocalypse of your success. However, dealing with challenges in your product’s development is often a matter of poise and perspective.

What would the consumer music industry be today had Apple not pushed past the initial criticism in 2001? There are countless stories out there of product development flops and champions… take it upon yourself to learn from others’ experiences and mistakes to glean hard-won lessons without paying the price, but also to put your own situation into perspective and gain a boost in confidence. Though many of those companies may have had to adjust Version 1.0 of their product, they did push through to successfully get their product to the marketplace.

Product Development is an Iterative Process

If, despite your product’s shortcomings, the market wants to invest their hard earned dollars into your innovative product, you are on the right track. The lesson is that you have to push past the initial sting of negative feedback to get to the end zone, for you will get there if and only IF you are willing to move the ball down the field every day as you adjust your game plan. Sometimes it is a First and 10, sometimes it is a 1/2 yard run, sometimes your plane catches on fire…but move the ball because at the end lies a touchdown.

Steven R. Covey famously coined, “BEGIN with the END in Mind.” Though this is true throughout many facets of our lives, I can’t think of a more perfect way to summarize product development. It isn’t about the failures along the way and it isn’t about the countless hours invested – while these are all important pieces along the way and you shouldn’t forget them, don’t tie your ego to an anchor that can pull you down with the ship. Make a plan to appreciate the real world feedback and to adjust the course as needed – negative feedback is just as important as positive feedback. This is your road to success.

The quickest way to failure in product development is to fear criticism and to let it cripple you. Though that product may be your “baby,” almost all ideas have room for improvement and enhancement. Feedback – positive or negative – is essential to making each product the best it can be. Don’t take it personally – use it as an opportunity: iteration is a beautiful thing.

Understanding from the beginning what your end goal is, but recognize that the route to reaching that goal is paved with uncertainty and calculated risk. As Mr. Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.”

Fail, but Fail Fast

At some point, if you stick with product development long enough, you’re bound to have a flop.

Understand the narrative of the product that you are creating.  If the narrative is not being met by the product, you may have to recognize that your product is not the solution – in which case, fail, but fail fast.

Not every product can be a home run – some times, a bad idea is just that; a bad idea. So how do you know if this is the case? For starters, go to the market and let people vote with their dollars: this is the only true measurement of your success or failure.

Understand the metrics of success but also understand and acknowledge that, despite the potential blow to your ego, you may not be a winner this round.  But there is always tomorrow…

You are far from alone in this one flop. I leave you with examples of from the dustbin of innovation history (hint: Furby made the list), compliments of CNET.

Embrace the iterative process, believe in yourself, and remember that it’s all about perspective.