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Do big companies need a ‘slow development’ movement?


Read this comment by George Ciardi from a discussion about why products fail in the Market Research Group on LinkedIn:

While proper research could certainly be part of the blame for the failure of some new products, I also see the realities of business pressures to launch “no matter what the research says”.

Most companies have internal objective to launch new products throughout the year. These new product launches have sales estimates of demand, which in turn feed through to company projections of future growth.

If you accept my statement to be true for a moment, then it would seem that part of the solution is to have a more flexible business plan and a corporate culture that would permit business objectives to be more fluid and allow for products not to be launched that are not ready to market in the first place.

But who is going to tell the CEO that they will miss their second half sales estimates because their new product isn’t ready to launch just yet? Do we have any takers for that assignment?

A rush to “get something out” can be driven by the calendar. In startup companies, specifically software ones, the advice is to release often. Get stuff out there, see how it performs. Y Combinator’s Paul Graham advocates this.

But does that advice work for large companies? Not just software entities, but other industries as well? It’s not as realistic. PT Boats can adjust course and channel resources much more quickly than can aircraft carriers.

Which puts a premium on “getting it right” as much as possible before release. Not fix what went wrong afterwards. One can argue that philosophically, big companies just need to be more nimble. That advice and $3.00 will get you a cup of coffee.

Big organizations would do well with a slower development cycle that…

Puts a premium on understanding customers jobs-to-be-done: Before developing anything, spend time talking with customers about what their needs, desires and pain points are. There is some of this via focus groups, but my sense is that those are (i) sporadically used; (ii) designed to elicit opinions on something already in development. People who express these jobs are potentially good candidates for any co-creation the company wishes to engage in.

Allows for small experiments: Once you’ve got a bead on what jobs customers are hiring for, try out some solutions. In many ways, this is taking a page from Steve Blank’s customer development methodology. Talk with some customers, particularly the ones who identified the job-to-be-done.

Finally, senior executives need to look at this as an essential part of increasing the odds of success for new product introductions.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

2 Responses to Do big companies need a ‘slow development’ movement?

  1. Chris Spiek says:

    I love the line of thinking, Hutch. I’ve seen the pressure of timelines lead to product failures in large companies countless times.

    I’m not sure that things need to go slower in order to get them right though.

    I think you’re two points are spot on, but once you establish a routine of responding to consumer JTBD and experimenting/rapid prototyping, I think it can be done very quickly.

    In fact I’ve seen many instances when JTBD insights uncover opportunities at the low-end that make product launches faster and easier than what was initially planned (take features out and launch!!).

    If speed is indeed to blame, from my experience it would be due to teams rushing to pass insights from one function to another (e.g. Ideation or early product research groups to the dev / supply chain / scale-up groups). If this info-transfer is rushed, and the key insights are watered down along the way, great products can launch as less-than-great.

    • Thanks Chris. I did come across an interesting quote by Steve Jobs in 1989:

      “It takes a long time to pull out of customers what they really want, and it takes a long time to pull out of technology what it can really give.”

      http://www.inc.com/magazine/19890401/5602.html

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