How to Wreck a Good Product in 90 Days or Less
Why settle for success when you can guarantee failure?
By: Hollis Tibbetts
Nov. 16, 2011 10:00 AM
The purpose of this article is to tell you how to take a perfectly good (or even a great) product that you've potentially spent years and millions of dollars creating - and thoroughly and efficiently ruin it in the shortest amount of time possible.
"Why would I want to do that?," you might ask. Honestly, I don't know why. But there must be a good reason because I see it happen with shocking regularity.
For those of you who have read my article "Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?," that article was written to help products succeed in the marketplace. I'd advise you to ignore that article, as it's advice runs contrary to the purpose of this article - achieving market failure.
So, You've Developed a Great Product....
No matter the industry, we're talking about scenarios where you've invested a lot of time and money to create a product, and now it's time to think about bringing it to market and hope that you sell a lot of it.
A Product Launch
Very few of them are successful - only 3% of them. I didn't make that number up - it's in an April 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review. And 3% is optimistic - it's based on Consumer Packaged Goods vendors like Proctor & Gamble - companies that do marketing better than any other industry "period." If anyone can pull off a successful product launch, it's a company like P&G.
If these heavily marketing-driven companies only achieve product launch success 3% of the time, the track record for Software - with its notoriously incompetent, sloppy, shoot from the hip, metrics-free, measurement-free and methodology-free marketing approach is at best 1%. Most software succeeds despite marketing, not because of it.
Take a Moment and Reflect
Or you're a bigwig executive at some corporation and you've spent millions and millions of dollars of shareholder money to develop a new product (or major enhancement to an existing product). You've made serious commitments to the C-levels and the board.
I am officially telling you that your odds of success are approximately 1 in 100. Perhaps a 1 in 10 chance of "just scraping by".
Your product will not live up to expectations. You will lose a lot of money on the product. You'll quite possibly lose your company or job, or suffer a significant career setback. Other people in the organization will be impacted.
How to Succeed?
In writing this article, I am reflecting back on 25 years of life in the software industry. I'm digging up some memorable disasters, stripping out anything that was done right, and distilling all of that badness into a small number of actionable things that you can do to guarantee product failure.
I'm not making that up. Check around - Google the term "product launch definition." Pragmatic Marketing - a champion of bringing real, grown-up, measurable and effective marketing to the software industry defines it as "the process of bringing a product to market in such a way that it generates sales velocity." No sales velocity = no success.
Note: Avoid browsing the Pragmatic Marketing website. It is chock-full of "best practices," and other such things that are focused on maximizing success.
What do I mean by "product failure" - the product doesn't sell. Sales of the product don't meet expectations. The commitments made to investors, the board, C-levels are broken. Money that is spent on staffing up in anticipation of a successful product is wasted.
1) Does the product do something important?
2) Is there a strong plan to "bring the product to market"?
If the answer to either one of these answers is "NO," then you've succeeded in creating a plan for failure.
Six-Point Plan for Recovery
That gives you extra time to plan for the "post-failure recovery plan," which is important. Although I'm quite critical of the typical level of marketing maturity in the software industry, I can say without a doubt that software marketeers are some of the best "recovery planners" in the business.
From what I've observed, a six-point plan is optimal. These tasks should be followed in order - if done well, you may only need to go as far as item #2,#3 or #4.
1) Start talking about external factors - the economy, the competition, etc.
2) If at all possible, get promoted ahead of the "crash and burn"
3) Backpedal on goals and commitments and otherwise reset expectations that were "too aggressive and unrealistic" - get the board and the C-suite to own the mistake
4) Blame the sales department for lack of execution and get the head of sales sacked
5) Shift the focus to product development because the product isn't good enough (this rarely works, but it will buy you some time)
6) Try to re-launch the product (truly a last-ditch "Hail Mary" maneuver)
Simply creating a bad product is an inferior option - there's a strong likelihood that the product will get canceled and thus the damage minimized. Or the product might be a sales success even though the product itself is weak (the first three releases of products for one particular software vendor are often cited).
My next article, scheduled for release tomorrow, will provide a detailed template on how to architect a "crash and burn" product launch - as well as a checklist for you to follow, so you can make sure you've gotten everything wrong.
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