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The root cause of new product failures and a cure

Studies have shown that the failure rate for new products across most industries runs between 40% to 90% of the time. And most failures are due to non-technical reasons.

The root cause of product failures

According to Dr. Robert Cooper , a thought leader in product innovation,  89% of products that fail are due to non-technical reasons.  That astonishing!  But when we examine  the root causes of product failures we observe recurring themes:

The product was an undifferentiated “me-too” product

The new product provides no compelling reason for customers to switch.  People don’t like change, and they are likely to stick to what they know, unless they can see a compelling reason to change. (see my article Your New Innovation Promises to Change the World – But..)

Just take a walk through Fry’s in the Wi-Fi section and try to figure out which new wireless gizmo is right for you. You will be faced with lots of choices. But chances are you will stick with a brand you already have knowledge of and trust. Otherwise you will probably look for the best price on the hope the product does what it says it will.

The product was a solution looking for a problem.

The  marketing and development team failed to understand who and why customers would want the product. This is especially true with new technologies.  Just because the development team wanted the product, doesn’t assure that the market will agree.

Sometimes a “solution looking for a problem”  is an early market adoption issue. The ecosystem and social attitudes for the new invention to thrive isn’t there yet.

If that’s the situation, there are a set well-known strategies and tactics (game plan and plays)  companies can execute to create new markets.  It takes time and resources, but the end game can be quite rewarding when done right.

The new buzz around autonomous automobiles is a good example.  Society and the infrastructure (underlying technologies, attitudes, trust, and legal & liability policies)  aren’t ready for significant adoption yet. But the future looks promising. Though the future may look completely different though, then what we imagine it to be today.

And then there was Segway. Sure it was a cool invention, but what problem did it really solve?

It certainly didn’t  get the important job of traveling short distances in an urban environment done better than what was already available. After all, walking is a pretty compelling and affordable solution with lots of benefits including cost, simplicity and health benefits.

Nobody knew about the product – or what the product solved

The marketing team either failed to define a compelling customer value proposition (the solution looking for a problem) or lacked the marketing skills and resources to communicate the value proposition. Thus prospects never become aware of the solution that could help them get an important job done.

It’s the old “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door“. Maybe in Emerson’s day, this marketing strategy worked, but not today.

No problem, no profit

I believe the major reason behind high failure rates for new products is that companies don’t invest enough time and resources upfront to really understand the specific problems customers are trying to solve.

And/or they lack  a repeatable and reliable front end process that allows them to gain deep insights into the customer’s problem set, and a method to translate these insights into relevant requirements they can innovate around.

Instead the development team moves forward in launching their “promising” idea based on assumptions – versus facts obtained by real people with real problems. No wonder success rates are disproportionately low!

Jobs-to-be-done innovation framework increases your odds of success

Clayton Christensen, argues that people and companies have “jobs” that arise regularly, they look around for a product or service they can hire to help them get the job done.

“It’s the marketer’s task is to understand the job the customer wants to get done, and design products and brands that fill that need.”

Clayton Christensen

Increasing the odds of launching successful innovations

Jobs-to-be-done provides a broader, deeper and more external perspective of the customers problems, their desired outcomes, and circumstances that prevent customers from achieving 100% satisfaction.

When we achieve an empathetic understanding of important jobs people want to get done, we can create products that uniquely help our target customers get their important jobs done perfectly.

Using the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory as the foundation for innovation, I can guarantee your odds of launching successful new products will improve dramatically.

Remember, no problem, no profit.

Here’s to understanding what customers really want.


Want to learn more about the jobs-to-be-done innovation framework?  Then check out my new book “The Innovator’s Playbook: Discovering and Transforming Great Ideas Into Breakthrough New Products.  Available on Amazon and as a PDF download.

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