Don’t start blindly: 5 common justifications to avoid when building digital products

Thoughts By 11 months ago

Product Ownership isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. Most people think as a product owner you’re given a team to do everything you want the way you want within your fixed timelines and budget. Sorry to burst that bubble but the reality is much further from that when it comes to technology (to be honest that’s true in any industry not just tech).

Acting as a Product Owner means that you’re the CEO of whatever product it is that you’re building. You have to lead your team on a journey which needs a clearly defined destination and vision. However, the vision can be adapted to external factors and the destination could change, this is why your pilots (team) need to have a really good understanding of where they’re taking this product otherwise you’ll be left stranded in the middle of nowhere.

On this journey you have limited resources, specific skills and of course many different personalities. As the product owner you have to be able to make the best decisions and judgments to make sure you’re on the right course and rolling with the punches as you travel through this journey.

As much as I want to talk about “what makes a great product owner”, I would rather use this first post to talk about top reasons you should stop building a digital product. A lot of these are based on my experience working with corporate teams and well funded start ups in the last 5 years. Like any business, website, consumer product or service, your digital product needs a purpose and reason. Below are some examples that don’t count as reasons for spending hundreds of thousands and I’d like to call it: “Don’t start blindly”

1. Our competitors are doing it and so should we

Following your competitors is a poor tactic that will always keep you guessing what they’re doing next so you’re not left behind. You’ll constantly be chasing their innovation and watch them eat big chunks of the pie while you’re left with the crumbs.

What to do instead: Clearly understand what your competitors are offering, instead come up with a strategy to differentiate yourself.

2. I see a need in the market, my family and friends agree with me too

Many of us have clever ideas throughout the day. Good or bad, sometimes we tend to get emotionally invested in those ideas. We talk to our immediate network about it and put all our savings on the line. Sometimes we even start raising money from family and friends to start building an app or a website without validating whether the idea is sustainable or actually solves a problem.

What to do instead: Get an honest opinion by validating your idea with real potential customers and users, paper prototyping costs much less than coding.

3. We want to build a social media platform for fashion lovers, kinda like Facebook but for fashion. — I’m sorry, what?

A lot of times the solution or a problem or opportunity isn’t building a brand new website or app. Many products/services take off as part of another eco system or platform until they can sustainably fund their own presence independently.

What to do instead: Figure out how you can be resourceful and use existing platforms to solve a problem or the opportunity you’ve identified with minimum cost.

4. We want users to be able to access the information we have on our website through a mobile app

Some organisation feel the need to have a presence on every platform without understanding the purpose of each medium. Serving the same content everywhere isn’t going to solve any problems because at the end of the day your users will pick the path of least resistance to get to the information they need. What you’ve done here is multiplied your cost without thinking about the value you can provide through different technology platforms (web, tablet, mobile, smart watches, etc…)

What to do instead: Really think about the user experience and what it is that you’re trying to serve your customers, each platform is used for a different type of interaction.

5. Unless we have all these features this product isn’t going to be successful

As humans we have the tendency to jump into solution mode and try to solve all the problems in the world. And when we’re hit with the reality of limited resources/costs we feel disappointed, lose sight of our core purpose and cause for solving a problem.

What to do instead: Go back to basics and remind yourself what it is that you’re trying to solve, get creative and focus on 20% of features that solve 80% of your user’s problems.

As basic as it may sound, before you put any money into coding or designing you need to have a good understanding of what problem it is that you’re trying to solve.

Spend the time to ponder and understand why you’re doing what you’re about to do and if you’re convinced you’ve got the golden idea, there are many cost effective ways to validate the concept or hypothesis before you actually get into building a product.