Eight Ways Your Product Function can Fail – Part One

November 6th, 2020

Identifying the common mistakes product functions make, what impact these mistakes can have, and how to avoid them.

We work with product functions across many different businesses, at all stages of the product life cycle, and face varied challenges for these to succeed. Yet, we see the same consistent failures from product functions that businesses all too often fall victim to.


1 – Lack of Vision.


What’s the issue?: This is by far the most common mistake – lack of consensus around the vision, lack of understanding of the vision, or a lack of vision entirely. Vision is critical for any business, product or service and it needs to simply define why these things exist and what for. 

We love to ask people in organisations, at all levels, “why are you here?”. We have seen some horror stories regarding the responses. 

What’s the impact?: Without vision, no one knows what they are working towards and therefore nothing can be achieved. If you can’t define strategy or goals then you can’t validate anything. 

We have also seen serious disagreement here within businesses. A strategy to ‘maximise monthly profit’ vs ‘build enterprise value for a sale’ couldn’t be more different. Subsequently, we see many product functions drive forward entire roadmaps when they don’t have clarity on why they are even there in the first place.

Simply put, everyone in this scenario is wasting their time, money and focus as everyday they are operating without a strong, clear consensus on vision.

How to avoid this: Structure your roadmaps to articulate from the bottom up: what problem statements your features and functionality are solving, what objectives are being met by solving these problems, what goals these objectives are driving towards and why these goals are meeting your ultimate business focus – your vision. Now, everything everyone is doing exists only to drive towards that vision.

2 – Poor Goal Definition.


What’s the issue?: All too often we see goals defining deliverables such as “our priority goal for Q2 is to launch an app” or goals defining initiatives like “increase customer experience”. On the face of it, these goals are utterly meaningless. Why? Because they simply don’t define where the businesses needs to be at a time in the future. 

A goal serves as a statement of where a business needs to be and by when, to continue to grow and win against competitors. This then enables supporting teams such as product, marketing, engineering, financial, to have aligned functions, meet milestones of achievements and ensure strategic targets are met.

What’s the impact?: It is critical that product teams can talk this language and define goals, as it is ultimately how you steer a business. Your product function should know exactly where the business / product / service needs to be to be winning and it should be ensured that all other functions are working towards providing the solutions to get there. 

How to avoid this: Very strong and clear communication between your product function and business leadership is vital in order to articulate exactly where the business needs to be for it to be  successful. If you want to sell in 3 years time, then what exactly do you need in place to be scalable and to who? The leadership should then be able to articulate what this is and with the guidance of the product, manage to frame that into a meaningful goal which can be broken down and executed upon.


3 – Chasing Output, not Value.


What’s the issue?: All too often product functions focus on output – delivery of products, services and the relentless pursuit of new features and functionality. Yes, that is what commonly drives the most value, but it would take a brave product function to advocate stopping and standing down an engineering team for a few sprints, even if that was the best and most valuable thing to do for the business.

What’s the impact?: It is critical that product functions and product leaders don’t fall into an output trap – delivery for deliveries sake. If you have a culture that is too skewed towards delivery as a benchmark of success we would be confident that you are not optimising your investment in growth.

Product people should be extremely critical of all deliverables, by asking;  “are we driving value?”. If not, or if the value is weak, have the product culture stop and find that value. 

How to avoid this: Having a value-led culture and supporting the methodology in your product function means your teams now have the confidence to spend a significant amount of their time and energy figuring out where value lies and investing more wisely for growth. Get this right, and you should see stronger, faster growth and a team that constantly questions where value lies and better articulating why they have the outputs they do.


4 – Falling Foul of Individual Bias


What’s the issue?: This is a tricky issue to articulate -it comes from personal experience as much as observation. There is an inherent bias in product roles that can make it extremely difficult to impartially promote the right thing for the business vs being successful as an employee within that business. 

Here, my personal epiphany came from a scoping session for an app for a client many years ago. The app had to be extremely bare bones, cheap and have no frills or innovative features. It simply existed because it looked bad to customers that the brand did not have an app, and through careful analysis we realised we’d be lucky to get even a few hundred users. 

I realised that as a consultant, it was easy to promote this as the right option for the business, but as an employee of that business would I have been more inclined to promote something more interesting, impactful and self promoting? (Yes absolutely within that particular organisation!). 

What’s the impact?: The impact is obvious – your product function won’t be encouraged to be impartial or to be bloody-minded about maximising your investment in achieving your businesses goals. It’s very hard to be impartial from within an organisation.

How to avoid this: Again, this comes back to clear goals and vision and a value led mindset. If you get that in place, it will be very hard for impartiality to exist and much easier for people to show and feel successful in delivering value to the business. 


So, there we have it, the first 4 reasons as to why your product functions have failed, or are failing. If lack of vision, poor goal definition, chasing output or individual bias are not resonating to your product function failures, then your answer may lie in Part 2, coming next Friday.



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