Predicting Product Success

How to know your software product will be successful.

This is a question we get asked a lot. Everyone desires to know whether the product they want to build will be successful. No one wants to spend months & dollars working on a product to see it ultimately fail. When I speak about this topic, I'm not talking about startup business products necessarily. We don't work with many startups, so most of our clients are well established, older companies looking to modernize their companies with technology products. However, I find it interesting that older companies have the same fear of product failure as startups do.

We've worked hard to build an approach to software development that I believe answers this most pressing question inherently. Each solution is different in our world, but there are some common key indicators that predict success pretty accurately.

5 Key Indicators for Product Success:

  1. You have a firm definition of success.
    Success means different things to different organizations. One company's product success looks like a new revenue stream, for another, it looks like a long over-due streamlining of an internal process. Defining what success looks like and determining how you'll measure it is foundational to any build.

  2. The problem/opportunity is big enough to warrant building a solution.
    This is always the very next step. Without a problem to solve or an opportunity to realize, product development doesn't stand a chance next to the hundreds of other priorities in an organization. It will be shelved immanently. If the problem is real, a handful of people agree on the problem being real and the problem's business and financial impact can be measured, this makes a good case for building product.

  3. The solution is informed by people who experience the challenge/opportunity in their daily work.
    Finding the problem and/or opportunity is step one. Getting people in the room who know the problem or opportunity intimately is paramount. We are sometimes a month into a project before we even know scope! Why? Because many conversations must take place so that we can accurately understand the scope of the problem, who it impacts, what layers are involved in it and how a solution would impact it. Sometimes we have the product in mind the whole time, sometimes we just have a problem to solve. Either way, successful product development takes a lot of people's input and expertise to form input into product scope.

  4. The environment of the build is one of mutual influence; client stakeholders influence product team and product team influences client stakeholders.
    Successful products take a team that is invested on both sides - the client team and the product development team. Both teams must be open to allowing the other team to influence the solution for the greater good. There can be no positioning, jockeying or my-way-or-the-highway thinking. We do not know your organization like you do and you do not know product development like we do. When products emerge from a place of mutual influence, it has a much greater chance for success.

  5. The resulting product is birthed out of shared vision and total buy-in on both sides.
    Both teams feel confident about the resulting product because it has come honestly. It was created from the collaboration of key individuals each willing to be influenced by one another and the solution to the problem was never out of site.

In my experience, when these indicators are present in a given product development relationship, success is practically guaranteed.

It's not an official service we sell (yet), but we've given a few people a head start by doing feasibility studies. Some studies evaluate new markets and answer the question, “how can we?” Other studies are in known markets and answer the question, “where can we?” Others are done in unknown territory and the question we answer is, “can we even?” Feasibility studies are a great place to start for any organization, but especially in organizations looking for ways to bring new life into the organization, move a very stationary needle or swing for the fence because all we have is today!

It's impossible to know with absolute certainty that your software product will be successful, but a thorough study and evaluating these key indicators can give you enough courage to move ahead.