It’s what keeps product developers awake at night. The one big product development mistake that can be career-limiting, perhaps even career-ending and certainly spark a whole lot of negative commentary about your company’s failure to craft a product that customers actually want to purchase.

Nobody wants to err, nor do people typically set out deliberately trying to make mistakes, but mistakes do happen. Often, they occur without a post-mortem debrief, which is essential to figure out what happened, why it happened and how the team, brand or company can learn from the mistake to never make it again!

Our approach at KL Communications may not be 100% mistake-proof, but it does work and has been tried over and over with a wide range of customer products and services across numerous industries. The kernel of the approach is customer feedback. Nearly everyone in market research agrees, even competitors, that the greatest challenge isn’t other research firms, rather, the challenge comes from prospective clients who don’t feel that they need customer research.

The biggest product development mistake is two-fold:

  1. Developing your product in a vacuum, devoid of customer input;
  2. Executing a one-and-done market research approach.

Can Product Development ever be “Mistake-Free”?

If you made a mistake, you’re hardly the first. Market-informed product development doesn’t eliminate the risk of product failure nor does it prevent you from making mistakes. However, conducting market research to make data-informed decisions does have an enormously positive impact on your brand and your revenue.

Connecting with your customers before, during and after launch as a routine part of your product development process reduces the risk of product failure and it reduces the number (and hence, associated costs) of mistakes that you will make throughout the process. Even if you do market research, and you continue your efforts throughout design and post-market launch, there is still room for error. For example, there are several companies who have conducted market research but failed to incorporate the customer feedback into the design.

The greatest mistake that a company can make in product development is excluding its most valuable and influential partner – the customer. Ignoring the needs and preferences of your target audience to whom you will eventually be marketing your product to will result in colossal blowback.

Another detail, subtle, but important, is that product development requirements are related to, but not the same as customer requirements. Product developers should remain focused on the technical aspects related to the actual production whereas marketers should stay in their lane and report on what their customers need from a product, which problem(s) it should solve, what it should do for them and what the experience of using that product should be like.

There is certainly plenty of opportunity for errors throughout the process on everything ranging from manufacturability to confusing a cool product idea for a sound business model. That said, the one big mistake, at its core, is all about making the wrong product for the wrong people. Sure, there may be some opportunity for salvage to rebrand, reposition and retarget a different audience (for example, a different age group or alternate geography) to recover some revenues, but the ideal scenario is to design the right product right out of the gate, and to do so under the guidance of prospective customers who remain engaged in the product development process from start to finish. Not only should you arrange to get feedback throughout the entire process, but you need to include the target customer from the very beginning. You don’t just want the customers’ feedback, you need their input.

1-2-3 Step Approach to Product Development

By design, the approach is simple. The 1-2-3 approach to product development references the repetition deliberately built in.

  1. EXPRESS: You want to provide your target audience with sufficient detail to explain what the product idea is and how it will benefit your customers, but not so much detail that it stifles their creativity and locks them into a concept without any latitude to evolve it. Begin by asking them what product they wish existed or what is missing from similar products on the market (or the ones they currently use). This effort will uncover unmet needs and pain points that you can incorporate into the initial phases of product development. You will be surprised at how much insightful and valuable information your customers provide. At KL Communications, we hear this from our clients quite often and strongly urge all clients to begin every new product development initiative with targeted market research.
  2. TEST: Now that you have some insight, maybe even some solid ideas, create mock-ups or prototypes that can be as basic (yet effective) as sponge and straw models to elaborate designs with working and moving parts. Once you think that you have a good product concept, go ask your target customers for feedback. Have customers take it for a “test run” even if it’s only an imaginary run. Next, take that feedback to make your product concept even better with refinements suggested by your customers (which can include internal product developers who will have recommendations based on manufacturability or ease-of-use) and can be done live or as a short-term follow-up engagement.
  3. CYCLE: So, now you think it’s time to go to market, right? Not yet. Now it’s time to create an enhanced concept and go back to your target and get more feedback. Then do it again. And again. Repeat this cycle until the majority of your target audience has no further suggestions for refinement and is now excited to buy it as soon as it becomes available.

The secret to successful product development isn’t that much of a secret. Everyone knows that customer feedback is essential and must be incorporated into all facets of a brand and product. Work with your customers versus for them and you will stay away from this one big product development mistake.