Productization Plan: Preventing Product Failure

Productization-planGreat product ideas surface every day. Sketches are drawn, teams are formed, new companies are born, business plans are written and everybody gets to work. The product varies – it could be a physical product, software, a new service or a complete solution – but the goal is always the same. A successful product.

Enthused entrepreneurs frequently delve right into the design and development process, often misunderstanding the importance of asking the critical question: Exactly what am I designing and producing?  Design teams may have well developed concepts, great sketches and lots of documented features ideas. But without a formal Productization Plan clearly delineating the required product features, use cases, user interface requirements, technical components (and other key considerations described below), the product development process is destined to undergo costly pitfalls, creating strain between developers and their customers, employees, and investors.  It is often difficult to recover from these unexpected glitches – especially for a startup, but for larger entities as well. Lack of this Plan is why many product developments fail.

A good way to understand Productization Plans are to first describe what they aren’t:

Productization Plans do not address “why”

Product requirements are often confused with product strategy. The strategy comes first, with roadmaps and business plans. Addressable markets, potential customers, financial models and competitive analyses. None of these activities drive the detailed product requirements.

Productization Plans do not address “how”

Product requirements are also confused with technical documentation. Documenting how something is designed –  its drawings, theory of operation, calculations, etc. does not explain the requirements. Often teams try to distill the requirements from how something works (or is supposed to work) but this ultimately leaves requirement gaps.

And then, what they are:

Productization Plans DO address “what”

The Plan defines the exact product requirements from the user’s perspective. Here’s a great outline and summary of necessary content for a Productization Plan:

  • Executive Summary: Briefly describe the product, the customers, how it is used, and the value it adds. All of this should already be contained in your strategy.
  • Use Cases: Describe every possible way your product will be used by every kind of user. Users are not always just your end customers, but could be support and manufacturing personnel along the way.
  • Human Factors:  Describe all the aspects of the product that interface with a user.  Ergonomics, buttons, shapes, graphics, look and feel, colors, texture, branding, sizing, layout, etc. 
  • Technical Definition:  Describe the technical aspects that are required.  Be careful to avoid actual design work in this section.  Examples may include operating systems, microprocessor performance, memory footprints, wireless connectivity, interfaces, etc.
  • Accessories and Peripherals:  Describe the ecosystem in which the product will exist. 
  • Manufacturing:  Discuss features in the product intended for manufacture, testing, modularity, scalability, etc.
  • Environmental:  Specify all of the environments the product must survive, including sealing, temperature, vibration, drop, shock, etc.
  • Regulatory:  Think through all the regulations the product must pass.  Some regulations are required by law while others are demanded by the market.  This includes UL, FDA, CE, and FCC regulations.
  • Quality:  Determine the quality and reliability of the product, explaining the typical lifecycle and obsolesce model.  Discuss warranty and mean time between failures.

Products fail for a number of reasons.  Sometimes the strategy is wrong, other times the technical execution is subpar. Often the up-front market analyses and user studies have not been thorough or aren’t current. Thorough productization planning won’t solve these underlying issues.  But quite often, the failure to properly define the requirements up front is the main reason some amazing products never seeing the light of day.

Coupled with great strategy and execution, products that create a Plan enjoy a much greater chance of being successful. While no one has a crystal ball to predict everything that can go wrong, the Plan can help mitigate those risks. Ironically, creating the Plan usually takes only a few weeks depending on the complexity. But it reduces significant waste and resource inefficiencies down the road. When your clients, engineers, designers, investors – all your stakeholders — have the Plan spelled out in front of them, the professionally executed Productization Plan brings refreshing clarity to an otherwise difficult process. Fewer Surprises =  A Happier, More Successful Process.

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