Friday, February 5, 2010

"Its a techncial success but a commercial failure"

“It’s a technical success but a commercial failure.” A familiar cry about many newly developed products and services. But is that really important?

Recently I’ve followed an exciting blog “Build a startup in seven days and under $500” where Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin took us through his daily journey from idea to launch for his new product. I think it’s a great story of personal motivation and enthusiasm highlighting the real-world actions and the quick fire steps that can be taken to craft a new technology based product.

As I eagerly followed each daily update, I also found my “thinking-judging” (MB) alter ego was sitting back throwing up doubts and road-blocks. Where was the “necessary” commercial rigor? Where were the considerations of service quality and operational support? The costings seemed incomplete without any labour. The value proposition seemed thin. And so the list went on.

But maybe that judgement was not actually appropriate (or even particularly relavent). From the misty past I’ve picked-up a useful metaphor for new product development. Basically it suggests there are two types of development. First there is the sharp-shooter where the approach is: “ready, …. , take aim, …. , squeeze the trigger”. Second there is the machine-gunner where the approach is: “fire, aim, fire, aim…..”. Although not the most politically correct these seem to capture two key approaches to the world of new product development.

And, as a colleague and friend often reminds me, the best approach always “depends”. Where targets are fast moving, plentiful, and the risks from collateral damage are acceptable then that machine-gunner can be really successful. But where there is a single or maybe larger and more highly prized target then the sharp shooter can be the more successful.

There are always innumerable things to consider when developing a new product so identifying and then focusing on what is actually important becomes crucial. For example, where brand protection and mass market success are the priority, that machine-gun approach can become a liability. Where speed-to-market, innovators and early adopters are the focus, that sharp-shooter becomes a problem.

So how much rigor and effort should be invested in that new product development? It seems the answer is “what ever is appropriate for the goals you want to achieve”. Ultimately it will be the market that judges your service or product quality. If your goal is simply market entry, that 2.5% of innovators in the market may well be satisfied with a quick fire series of pilot services or product prototypes. But if your goal is to target that next 13.5% of early adaptors, more time may be needed investing in sustainable support and clearly targeted competitive differentiation. And if your goal is to cross the magical divide into the 20% to 50+% of mass market adoption; the new product needs to be both a technical and a commercial success.

I’m interested in feedback and views to help achieve better product development.