The struggling product team

Five failures of a modern product team

  1. Failure to learn

  2. Narrow focus on the product 

  3. Long time between customer validation 

  4. Building the functional and skipping the delightful

  5. Designing for scale without been adaptable 


When I see product teams struggle, it’s not because of a lack of ability to ship. It’s often because the culture of success is rewarded and failure is avoided. By now, we are all probably well aware of the only failure, is the failure not to learn motto. 

The problem isn’t teams willing to learn. All teams would welcome the insights to do better work. What teams get wrong, is they focus on shipping features and wait to see if success materialises. However, the culture of learning is to increase the chance of success by understanding what customers actually want. (Not what they say they want.)

We need to be able to learn what has made something successful or not. To repeat and refine our efforts. It's less gratifying than the praise of a successful feature but the learnings are ultimately more valuable to the product. This problem stems from when teams have a narrow focus and think the product is the code they write or the pixels their customer interacts with. But for everyone who builds products, should focus on the behaviour of your customers. The team’s jobs are to see how human behaviour is changed by what they build.

To understand how something is going to work in the real world. First, it needs to be de-risked by conducting small cycles of feedback. Teams know they should be validating their work constantly. However, when customer validation is treated with the same culture of success bias, they protect their ideas and often delay testing to as late as possible. They’re likely to only build the leanest version of an MVP as they have too many uncertainties. 

The problem is they ship functionally at the cost of delightful moments with your customers, which is actually what your product is all about. Your product is not the search box, the algorithm, your user records – it is this magic moment, and your task is to understand what experiences your customers are finding delightful. These moments don’t happen by chance, it comes from many rounds of talking to your customers and understanding their needs and creating an experience which goes beyond their basic expectations. 

During customer feedback sessions look for moments where the customer's eyes light up in response to your product.

Successful teams create a cadence of continuous customer feedback, by building into their sprints non-negotiable feedback sessions. Where they test anything and everything; assumptions, prototypes and code. Whatever the product team need to move forward by learning, instead of getting stuck in the debate of right and wrong based opinions. 

Continuously testing is important because what gets the product from A to B will not necessarily be what gets it from B to C. A product that is designed with adaptability in-mind will be able to pivot towards its vision. Most of the time development is focused on stability and scalability. However, starting with a thin slice of the experience and an adaptable design that will all be thrown away. Will allow teams to move fast and decide what to build, before then focusing on designing how to do it at scale.

As UX design lead, I help product leaders build and scale their teams to meet the needs of their companies. Starting with the product strategy, the goal is to figure out how we can accelerate these products. Often that is to ask if the teams are working on the right problem? How does what they are working on cascade-down from the product vision? Who are the right customers they should be talking to, and what can we do that will add the most value?