Most people are familiar with some major product flops. Does the name Edsel ring a bell? Ford launched this car in 1957 and pulled it off the market three years later due to anemic sales. And the Edsel wasn’t just a product failure — it damaged Ford’s brand as well. 

What about New Coke? I remember back in 1985 when I was in Navy Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Coca-Cola launched New Coke as an alternative to the slightly sweeter Pepsi.  New Coke was so horrible I bought cases of the old stuff before it disappeared. While market research had indicated people wanted the new formula, three weeks later Coca-Cola went back to the original product with the new name “Classic Coke.” 

Common Cause of Product Failure

What was the common cause of failure? Both companies did market research prior to launch, but to quote Theodore Levitt from Harvard Business School, “People don’t want to buy drills. They want to buy quarter-inch holes.” In other words, as succinctly stated by Anthony Iannarino’s in his blog, Why No One Wants to Buy Your Product:

 “Outcomes drive solutions. Outcomes drive the choice of product. But most important is the fact that outcomes drive the need to change.”  

Failure to focus on outcomes explains the failure of the Edsel and New Coke.

Design Thinking: A Framework for Success

In order to be successful you need the:

  • Right Product
  • Right Market
  • Right Time
  • Right Price

In order to meet these goals, it’s important to follow a proven framework for success. My favorite framework is Design Thinking, which ensures a mindset that focuses on creating an experience that is desirable and provides value to the customer. Design Thinking focuses on the problem to be solved rather than the market for a product. Design Thinking asks the questions: What problem are we solving? What solution are we creating? And, what is required for the product to remain viable, sustainable, desirable and ensure continued success in the marketplace.

Empathy and Experimentation Focused on Outcomes

Design Thinking is a great framework for solving a complex problem or one that is unknown or ill-defined. Developed by Stanford University’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design, Design Thinking is comprised of five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. 

1. Empathize

Empathize is where we bring in the concept of Customer Centricity because customers are the ultimate consumers of our product. By focusing on the customers and understanding the customer’s needs, we can begin to think and feel like the customer thinks and feels. We do this by doing both Market Research and User Research. Market Research drives our product strategy by focusing on the who and the what while User Research drives product design by focusing on the how and the why. 

How does a person design with empathy? We all have our own world views and perceptions, so in order to design with empathy, we must put away our preconceived notions and develop solutions that meet the needs of people who may be much different than we are. The expression, “Know your customer, and you’re not it,” is appropriate. When designing a product, it’s important not to design for every person because so many variables exist. Pick one or two personas and design for them. Those personas may be wildly different from you, but based on your Market Research and User Research they may be more indicative of the appeal for your potential product. Consider using an approach such as The Apprentice, from the book Innovation Games, by actually doing the job of the customer to gain an understanding of the customer’s needs.

2. Define

Define your product after you have gathered the information from Market and User Research to determine what is the customer problem you are trying to solve. State the problem to be solved from the customer perspective. Rather than saying, “We need to increase our market share among working moms by 10%,” a better way to express the problem might be, “Working moms need a meal option for their family that is quick and nutritious so they have time to spend with their families.”

3. Ideate

When ideating on the solution, use many different tools such as the ones mentioned in Innovation Games. Examples include Product Box, Give Them a Hot Tub, and Start Your Day. The idea is to get into the head of the customer, or even better, get real customers involved in the ideation process. Recently I had a client who involved real customers (attorneys) in their ideation process for the first time. This led to tremendously successful results that had never been achieved before using only internal employees, many of whom were attorneys as well. The most striking result was a ten-fold increase in customer usage post launch.

4 & 5. Prototype/Test

When you prototype your product, don’t forget to go back to those same customers who provided the initial input, or even different ones who resemble the same personas, to have them review and test  your product. Remember that the point is to avoid rolling out a product that one one wants, so spend the money having customers evaluate your prototype before you roll it into production and potentially waste even more money. 

Download Framework Design Thinking


Design Thinking is similar to playing the board game Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes you slide back down the ladder and have to work your way back up to the finish. Agile is an iterative process, and that applies even when designing a solution.  The chart above summarizes the Design Thinking process visually, and we also provide a downloadable framework you can use. 

Want to Learn More about Design Thinking and Product Development?

Below are some additional resources if you would like to explore this topic further: 

Are You Selling Something Nobody Wants to Buy?

9 Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Validated Their Business Idea

10 Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Target Market

Why No One Wants to Buy Your Product

25 of the biggest failed products from the world’s biggest companies

Three main reasons why your product fails to sell

Product and Solution Management

Top software failures in recent history

Lessons learned from 13 failed software products

Planning a Minimum Viable Product: a Step-By-Step Guide

5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process

Additionally, contact us to speak to one of our Product Owner experts, or check out our available Certified Scrum Product Owner® classes, or our Advanced Certified Product Owner® and Certified Scrum Professional – Product Owner® programs.