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Why Did Your Product Fail?


The vast majority of new product launches fail. That is particularly the case with biomedical and health products. Here are some common reasons for failure, and tips to avoid them.

The vast majority of new product launches fail. That is particularly the case with biomedical and health products. The fundamental reason why is that the dog won't eat the food. But, what are the usual reasons? It comes down to a poor product-market match, poor execution, or a flawed business model.

The first step is to understand the most common reasons why new products and services fail. Then you can design a new product design and management system to avoid those landmines. Most innovation, whether it be a new product, a new service, a process improvement or a new design, fails for predictable reasons. Most new product development experts cite the following common reasons why new products fail:

  1. Poor marketing research
  2. Technical problems
  3. Insufficient marketing effort
  4. Bad timing
  5. No new product development process
  6. Poor new product development execution
  7. Failure to offer a compelling value proposition to the customer
  8. Innovations that are inconsistent with core business goals
  9. Innovations that are inconsistent with defined marketing goals
  10. Plans based on unvalidated product design and marketing assumptions
  11. No champion to take ownership of the project
  12. Failure to recruit the right team to lead the project
  13. Failure of organizational leadership to embrace change and innovation
  14. Poor coordination and communication between interdisciplinary team members
  15. Failure to kill bad ideas early

To avoid these mistakes, here are some tips:

First, focus on the problem, not the solution. Be a problem seeker at first, not a problem solver. Instead of creating ideas and inventions through some ideation process and then looking for ways to market them, focus first on the market pain. Before you create a solution, you need to do your homework to be sure that you are indeed focusing on the right customer with the right problem and offering the right solution. Another mistake is to assume that customers know what they want and that simply asking them will give the answer to the next market blockbuster. They don’t. It’s better to do ethnographic market research, i.e., watch how customers do things and use products rather than asking them. Remember what Henry Ford said: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.” Don’t create solutions looking for problems.

Second, you need to adopt a new product development process that will create objective criteria for projects being approved, that will identify projects that are consistent with the business and marketing goals of your organization, and that are transparent to users. Otherwise, managers get resources based on personal preference and power, bad projects proceed and new products and services fail. There are several consultants and organizations, like the Baldrige Award and The Product Development and Management Association, that have adopted and teach certificated courses in new product development best practices.

Third, you should focus on benefits, not features. Features are capabilities or services that the designers think are important. Benefits are the problem solving elements built into a new device or service that customers value and are willing to pay for. Unused software features, capabilities built into consumer electronics that are difficult to use or waste time and the things that seemed like a good design idea but that customers don’t use are typical examples. Not only do these design elements add to the cost and time to market, but when customers see worthless features in an innovation, they start to commoditize the product and buy on price.

Finally, you need to incorporate new product critical success factors into your innovation development process. A basic one is that new market and technical assumptions are validated early in the development phase. That means that all the things you think customers want based on secondary research needs to validated and proved based on primary research, i.e. getting out and talking to people and watching how they will use your product or your competitor’s product. Early “back of the napkin” projections of market size and growth, customer needs and wants and benefits need to be confirmed. Technical prototypes need to be tested in the marketplace early and modified based on potential user feedback. Don’t wait until you are ready to roll out your product or service before testing it on your customers. Use rapid prototyping, test markets, samples and other techniques to create a continuous improvement loop. It’s cheaper and faster to get it right early rather than late.

Most new product and service innovations fail for predictable reasons. Do your homework early, get frequent feedback from users, validate market and technical assumptions, and create a new product innovation process that is objective and realistic. The result will be new products and services that are winners.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice