Avoid 3 Common Roadblocks to Product Development

Most corporations are just not set up right for digital product development and many times fall short when it comes to creating a product with the user in mind.

All too often, when a company is presented with the opportunity to develop a digital product, the default is to bring in the IT department and hand it over to them. This is understandable, because they are the closest people who have at least a working knowledge of software development. The result, however, is that product launches become IT projects.

This is not a good thing, because there are some fundamental differences between an IT project and a product launch. An IT project typically involves adding, enhancing or altering the functionality of technology that sits on an existing enterprise platform. The goal is simply to complete the project as requested and make it work within defined parameters.

Managing an IT Project vs Launching a New Product


table of IT project and product launch
A product launch is something different, entirely. There are far more unknowns than knowns, chief among them is how users will adopt the product, if at all. Launching a product requires experimentation, iteration, learning and adjusting. These are fairly foreign concepts within corporate IT culture, which creates some daunting roadblocks that can easily prevent a product launch from being executed effectively. And may derail it entirely.

In our experience, there are three major roadblocks standing in the way of corporations launching an innovative product. And there is one way to start breaking down those roadblocks.

Roadblock 1: Standard Operating Procedures

Corporations have processes. Lots of them. It’s a fact of life that won’t change anytime soon. And while they are necessary to keep large corporations operating smoothly and efficiently, they are not conducive to effective digital product launches.

Corporate IT departments follow procedures. They focus on getting the task done, according to the parameters given, the timeframe and the budget. Their job is to make something work according to the way they’re told. No more, no less.

They follow prescribed internal processes for scheduling a project, assigning a team, planning, development, corresponding with leadership, and producing a deliverable. They do what they’re asked.

If they don’t follow processes and procedures, their jobs are on the line. Their focus is on executing on a prescribed set of requirements, and they’re good at it. But “learning” and “discovering” are not in their job descriptions. There is no incentive to innovate, experiment, or fail — all of which are crucial to the product development process.

Roadblock 2: Legacy Technology

Nearly every corporation in the world has two or three technology platforms — Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and a few others — that they use to run the various aspects of their businesses. The people responsible for managing those platforms work in corporate IT.

So what happens when IT is tasked with building a new digital product? More often than not, they default to the legacy technology stack. The problem is, these legacy stacks are most often not the best options for new digital products. They may not deliver the right functionality, speed, or experience that will resonate with users. The most successful companies launching digital products today (e.g., Facebook, Airbnb, GE, Wal-Mart) have adopted newer, more open technology stacks. Here at Digital Scientists, we refer to this as the Innovation Stack.

Corporate IT departments, as noted above, are not incentivized to innovate. They’re risk-averse by nature, and they’re paid to make sure things work and they don’t break. And if they do break, they need to be the ones who fix them.

So they use the tools and technology they have at their disposal, defaulting to the same two or three legacy technology platforms. Focusing on function over form, they shoehorn the product into the technology platform, and that usually results in more time and higher costs. Worse, this approach doesn’t take the user needs into account.

Roadblock 3: Internal Politics

This is the big one. For better or worse, politics are inextricably tied to corporate culture, no matter how progressive or forward-thinking a company may be.

Politics vary from company to company, of course, so it’s impossible to generalize. However, when it comes to digital product development, politics play a big part in determining which projects get approved and funded. Typically, they’re the projects that address the most immediate needs, which means sales, cost reduction, or a combination of those.

This is a short-sighted approach, where internal problems and pet projects take precedence over solving customer problems. Even when customer problems are addressed, it is not a strategic process based on understanding what the problems are. Instead, it’s ready, fire, aim. The product is developed under an arbitrary schedule and budget, based on untested thinking.

When the political climate within a company is driven by short-term results, there is little room to test new ideas or explore future business models. No experimentation. No innovation. This can kill a digital product launch before it even gets to square one.

User-Centered Software Design
The Solution: User-Centered Design

There is one thing companies — and people responsible for leading digital product launches — can do to start to break down these roadblocks. Approach everything with a user-centered mindset.

The user experience you’re trying to deliver should drive everything: processes, technology, and even politics. Your focus should be on developing something that’s different and unique in the marketplace. If that means you use an unfamiliar technology or follow a new process, so be it.

The user’s needs are what they are. If they are presented with a product that doesn’t solve their problems, save time, or enhance their lives in some way, they can and will reject it.

It sounds simplistic, but taking a user-centered approach can help you go from derivation to innovation, evolution to revolution. Knowing what’s best for the user, and delivering it, is the only pathway to a successful digital product launch.