Though I may not have the numbers in front of me, I can say with confidence that there are a high number of projects that begin with enthusiasm for the ages, but end in a box on a shelf in a dusty closet in the office basement. Digital innovation projects start for a variety of reasons, spearheaded by an even wider variety of individuals. They appear to be accessible so, everyone is clamoring into the space to try their hand at digital innovation. This in turn brings with it a considerable amount of financial backing and the fever pitch grows ever more.
You create some amazing new, innovative digital product that brings exponential value and makes your business grow and improve in ways that it could never have before. Ah yes, that is the dream is it not? Well, the cold hard reality is that the experience or journey is far from that simple. Herein I’d like to peel back the illusion that leads people to believe digital innovation is easy and accessible to all. Software is a powerful tool, yet not a panacea that can solve all business problems.
Let’s begin with overconfidence. It’s good to be confident in your innovative idea, your team will struggle to get behind you if you yourself don’t project confidence in the project. Therefore, knowing how and being willing to test one’s confidence is an excellent first step to avoiding failure. What I’m saying is, you need to hold your idea’s feet to the fire and see how it reacts.
This overconfidence manifests in a variety of manners. All too often the entrepreneur or business owner thinks they know precisely what they need, what their users need, and that they know their users regardless of never having spoken to them. The average product director will counter this with… Do you know how they behave when they are in front of their phone? Or perhaps in front of a laptop? To which the business owner replies succinctly, “uh, no.”
So, the confidence bubble has been popped with the most minute effort necessary. The key is to not get swept away by your own idea; rather, you should try to kill as you would a cockroach that wanders into your kitchen. I suggest your attack on your idea take a three-pronged approach targeting feasibility, viability, and desirability. This is an important part of digital innovation that must not be overlooked or skipped.
Start with feasibility: Do you have the team with the skills necessary? Is the technology ready to deliver the product you have envisioned? Follow this with viability: Have you considered the inherent costs involved (infrastructure, maintenance, evolution, etc.)? Consider that the cost to build and bring it to market may only be X, but the lifetime cost may be 3X or even 5X which brings into question viability. Lastly we come to desirability: Do users really want what you intend to make? How bad do they want it? Habits are not easy to change; even if you bring something to market that is objectively better than what is available now, there is no guarantee people will change and use your product instead.
Too much feature planning, too far ahead
Someone once said, “Only a fool goes to war without a plan, and only a fool follows the plan.” Now I can’t recall exactly who said that, but I do believe it applies neatly in the case of digital innovation. It’s similar to the adage of, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face!” Trust me on this one, attempting to create digital innovation will result in a few unseen punches catching you off guard. Though they may not feel great, the real pain is not correctly adapting the plan in real time when those instances occur.
The game is not as simple as designing a product, mapping out the development and implementation plan and executing. I will cautiously assume that by now, you are aware it just never goes that smoothly as digital products are fickler than their users. Recall in my last article (link to RFP article) I gave the analogy of digital product development not being akin to building a house. There are too many unknowns to account for which makes a standard RFP approach process laughable at best; especially when the project or product fails and no one looks carefully and closely at why.
There is a playbook for digital innovation, but as innovation is a moving target, the playbook is forever changing so, your approach and team must understand this. Imagine you go to bed, and in the morning you wake up in an entirely foreign place. You don’t know where you are, your clothes are different, you can’t understand the language being spoken around you; you simply have a piece of paper in your pocket with your end goal, yet no clue as to how to achieve it. Feeling lost in the woods yet? If yes, good and welcome to the world of digital innovation and get ready to improvise, adapt and overcome the unknown!
Taking before giving
I’m just going to come right out here and say… please, please stop asking users to register for your app before you have given them even one iota of value. Unless you are a major player in the space like Apple or Google, or some other global tech company, please acknowledge that to the user, you are a nobody. No one is keen on giving their personal information to a nobody. Once you manage to become somebody, then you can start to ask for users to register and they will typically be much more willing to comply with the request. Though if you do this early on, it will only serve to turn away many potential users who simply refuse to engage when faced with this frustrating request.
Asking users for their personal information creates friction value walls. There is now a wall between the user and the potential advertised value of the product they just downloaded. Giving one’s personal information raises more alarm bells nowadays than one can count, and causes the user to instantly hesitate moving forward with even trying the product. The user can feel this friction and it’s not a positive, the feeling literally tells them instantly to walk away. So please, give value to the user before taking from them.
Poor financial strategy
Here we come to the cruel realization that we all know… there is no money tree in the backyard from which we can pick infinite funds from. Product development takes a lot of R&D investment well before you see any return; as a business owner, you know this. Well digital innovation can be a hungry beast that needs to be regularly fed and if this is not correctly accounted for early on, funds will run dry and the project will end in failure. Honestly speaking, in many cases it’s sad to see as some projects are on to something really great, but due to poor financial planning, the product never sees the light of day.
Again, the cost to build a house is generally fixed and well understood as mentioned above. Just as is the cost for example, of opening a restaurant or any other number of well known business ventures. Software is still and will for the foreseeable future, continue to be a bit of an unknown. Now throw digital innovation on top of that and you can begin to understand it’s not a one off payment. Software is like a living breathing entity that needs care, and care as we all know, requires capital in the business world.
Please acknowledge that a standard approach to budgeting your project is not going to work. You can’t just factor X for development, Y for the team and the remaining Z for marketing. This is not how you properly plan software creation and development. Coming out with a list of requirements and asking tech vendors to give you a quote is, well… just please stop, please. This can help you get a rough estimate for how much a certain amount of work will cost, but by all means do not build your entire budget around this. Creating digital innovation is akin to going on a journey; in order to properly budget and fund this journey you must ask yourself: “What will it take for me to figure out all the unknowns and problems presented so that I can deliver what my users want and need?”
As a final bonus point, I’d like to mention that digital innovation also fails due to being overly rushed. Remember when you were a kid, eagerly awaiting your mom’s Saturday morning pancakes? You hovered around her at the stove like a hungry gremlin waiting for those delicious hotcakes, and she continually reminded you that if you rushed her, they would burn and not taste good. Well, rush your digital innovation and see it give your users an upset stomach on release; ultimately resulting in said users rejecting your fancy new digital product regardless of how innovative it may be!
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