What I Hope for Product, Development & Venturing in 2021

14 Dec 2020 by Scott Middleton
What I Hope for Product, Development & Venturing in 2021

As we start to close out 2020, the mind starts to turn to 2021. I took some time out from my usual deep dives into product development topics to contemplate what I’d personally like to see happen in 2021 and beyond for us folks in product, development and venturing. 

These aren’t predictions; instead, these are general directions that it would be good for us product and development folks as a community to move in. 

Product Discovery Budgets on Par With Product Development Budgets

Most companies find it easy to justify funding the development of a product, but struggle to justify adequate funding to discover if they are developing the right thing. 

If companies could allocate equally or thereabouts between Product Discovery and Product Development in 2021 then we’ll be that much closer to a significantly higher quality of product being produced. 

Product Discovery all too often gets dismissed as unnecessary – “we know our customers”, “we know what we need to do” – and then development all too often fails to achieve what the business had in mind. 

I get it; code is tangible and understandable. Weeks of customer interviews and revisiting the value proposition is hard to comprehend if you haven’t seen the magic it creates.  

Product Discovery has a range of benefits like helping to reduce development costs, delivering better value, better articulating your product, and more.

“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Less Top-down Strategy, More Bottoms up Customer-led Discovery for New Products

Strategy teams and strategy consulting companies have traditionally been the keepers of identifying The Best New Strategic OpportunityTM. This is still valuable, but organisations need to invest an equal amount in bottoms up customer-led discovery.

This bottoms up approach where customer problems drive innovation has been proven again and again as an essential element in a product team’s arsenal. 

I’d like to see more companies investing in customer interviews, customer observation and throwaway prototyping as they do in great looking spreadsheets created by desktop research wizards.

What I Hope for Product, Development & Venturing in 2021

Less Fixed Application of Agile, More Actual Agility

I’m squarely taking aim at 3-month increments or release trains here. More than once this year I’ve seen short initiatives targeted at solving customer problems blow out and become delayed because “our agile methodology says 3-month agile increments, so to be agile we need to plan 3 months of work in one hit”.

This focus on process has distracted from solving the customer’s problem as quickly and effectively as possible. In other instances, it’s meant internal teams delaying minor feature releases quickly that others are dependent upon, so the organisation as a whole misses out on an opportunity. That is, small, rapid releases aren’t possible because the agile process stops it.

In the future, I’d like to see organisations move to a more pragmatic application of agile (and dare I say more agile application of agile for a laugh). 

Getting Better at Understanding Constraints

Many organisations continue to ignore constraints, and it’s almost a case of the bigger the company the greater the propensity to ignore more significant constraints.  

I wrote recently on the corporate forces that affect new products and new ventures, and there is plenty of information available from others, like Steve Blank, on this topic. There is also a rising awareness of the benefits of unconscious bias training. 

I’d like to see more willingness of organisations to acknowledge, accept, and lean into their constraints. This is how better results will come with new products.

It’s about not taking constraints as criticism, but rather understanding that they’re often the result of success in other areas. Then working with them.

Scott Middleton
CEO & Founder

Scott has been involved in the launch and growth of 61+ products and has published over 120 articles and videos that have been viewed over 120,000 times. Terem’s product development and strategy arm, builds and takes clients tech products to market, while the joint venture arm focuses on building tech spinouts in partnership with market leaders.

Twitter: @scottmiddleton
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/scottmiddleton

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