Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap

Mat's Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

Mat’s Business Blog: Collected Thoughts on Business, eCommerce and Digital Marketing

When developing an eCommerce product the tendency for many is to want to get it 95% or even 100% right before showing it to anybody or deploying it to a live environment – but ultimately to ensure the creation of a great product that customer’s love it is essential to fail fast, fail often and fail cheap. It’s worth noting that by ‘failing’ you are actually succeeding in taking full advantage of critical feedback from your end users and accepting that in reality it is impossible to get a product ‘right’ for the customer without first consulting them on how it satisfies or falls short of their requirements. Product development should be an iterative process with feedback at each stage shaping further cycles of product discovery and the direction of ongoing development.

At first the idea of ‘failing’ early and frequently during the product development process seems rather counter-intuitive (surely it’s better to ‘succeed’ for longer), however in truth succeeding for longer is in many instances lack of awareness of the true reality of the situation. Consider what would happen if you spent all of your available time and valuable resources on a product that you believed was right only to find that it didn’t provide the value and utility you thought it would and didn’t meet the true needs of your customer. This would be a costly mistake at best and at worst a fatal error which may mean that further development of the product becomes commercially and financially unfeasible.

Have you ever tuned-in to Dragons Den and watched the would-be entrepreneur pitching an idea that is totally unsuitable for market? This is a classic example of critical failure at a point where it’s often too late to do anything about it – many of these hopeful inventors literally remortgaged their homes to blindly pursue an idea and create a product that only they love. To the outside observer their mistake is obvious: what we want a product to be and what the customer needs a product to be are sometimes very different things entirely – we need to disconnect from our own desires and obsessions, which can be blinding, and plug-in to the world of our end user.

The key to good product development is to release early and frequently, let the customer tell you what your mistakes are and discover how they interact with the product. We can then gather and analyse this feedback and integrate this valuable learning into the ongoing product development plan. In this way we develop a product that is ultimately better matched to the needs of the target audience. The product may still not be ‘perfect’ but if we involve the customer they can help to inform a programme of well-directed continuous development and help us focus our efforts on the issues that are really important to them. Moreover future development of the product is much more likely to make good business sense.

Those who embrace ‘failure’ and are flexible, iterative, agile and open in their approach are the most likely to succeed; as a Brooklyn basketball player put it, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” That basketball player was Michael Jordan.

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7 thoughts on “Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap

    • Thanks Rob. Although failure is not encouraged, how acceptable it is to a commercial enterprise depends on the stage at which issues are discovered and addressed. If these concerns are revealed too late in the product discovery process then neither the product nor our approach can be adjusted to achieve an optimal (within the bounds of the knowledge, experience and market intelligence available to us at any given point in time) and ultimately successful outcome that is aligned with the needs of our end user. I suppose the same concept can be applied to individuals within the context of a continuously self-developing product where the ‘product plan’ is initially in constant flux as a result of many new and unique experiences and then through experience becomes more aligned and consistent with their true purpose and goals. If feedback is not understood then ultimately an individual cannot develop to be successful in their environment.

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  1. Exceptionally encouraging blog, I often feel that people are too afraid to take risks as the concept of risk has been blown out of all proportion. In my job I constantly push the boundaries and am often rebuffed because of it by my colleges HOWEVER my projects are always the most successful and financially rewarding. I have had small failures but they are of no consequence when you drive forward

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    • Thanks Katie. An entrepreneurial approach is essential – especially in fast moving environments that exist on the bleeding edge of our collective commercial and technological understanding. In eCommerce new technologies and ways of doing business are emerging on a constant basis. As you point out, calculated risk is critical to pushing those boundaries and those initial risks can be mitigated as the project progresses by good market, trend or technical research. Unfounded adversity to risk prevents many organisations from remaining commercially competitive in tough markets and from maintaining a sustainable advantage over their rivals.

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    • Thanks Ali. It’s more than possible to create a great product that customers love but the chances of developing such a product greatly increase if we adopt a customer led approach. In eCommerce development this customer centric approach is an essential part of the product discovery process. Critically important is the willingness to challenge the product at every stage of development by releasing early and frequently and welcoming the ‘failure’ that this can bring. It is much easier to adjust our course early on in the product development process whilst we still have the scope to refocus our efforts and valuable resources.

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  2. Pingback: In Pursuit of Perfection: Scoping the Product | Mat's Business Blog

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