Failing Faster

Depending on what data you believe, somewhere between 50-90% of new products fail.  Questioning the percentages isn’t nearly as interesting as questioning the whys.  And most answers point to a lack of understanding about consumers – e.g., the product’s positioning didn’t resonate (McDonald’s attempt at premium with the Arch Deluxe); the product didn’t serve a clear and compelling consumer need (did consumers need a New Coke, the XFL or a Segway?); the product wasn’t perceived as valuable or differentiated enough (IBM’s PCJr); etc. Ultimately, consumers – businesses or individuals – didn’t buy enough of the product to make the product successful.

Central to most product or idea failures is the practice of involving consumers too late in the product development cycle.  Consumers typically are brought in downstream of an idea’s development i.e., after the idea has been fleshed out, storyboarded or otherwise already invested in.  To test.  To evaluate.  To validate.  Consumers are put in the awkward position of killing or giving further life to ideas with very little background on, understanding of or context for them.

In this setting, the possibility of failure comes at the end of a long cycle of time, investment and energy spent.  Perhaps this long cycle is why so many products miss the mark when they come to market instead of failing internally – i.e., so much investment is put against an idea’s prospects for success, making a pre-launch failure harder to accept.

But what if failure didn’t happen at the end of the cycle, but throughout it?  What if failure happened faster?

In a “fail faster” scenario, consumers would be brought in upstream of an idea’s development to create and refine an idea with a company.  Designers, engineers, creatives, etc., would be working alongside consumers – benefiting from different and diverse perspectives to inform the creative process.  More ideas could be explored because less time would be wasted building out bad ideas.

Of course, failing faster doesn’t mean just the speed of failure would improve. So too would the rate of success – after all, the ideas would be created with consumers for consumers, thereby increasing the likelihood of their adoption by consumers.

Behind the intuitive value of “failing faster” is a fairly compelling ROI. By failing faster, companies can cut expenses with shortened cycle times and realize the possibilities for increased revenue (i.e., products in market faster + greater likelihood of consumer adoption).

The changes needed to realize the positive impact of “failing fast” are fairly simple: Involving consumers earlier in the process and keeping them involved throughout.  But until the changes are made, the percentage of new product failures will remain too high…mainly because these failures could be avoided.