Some products and services seem destined to fail. Quite what the makers of pizza scented body spray or cheese flavoured lip balm were thinking is anybody’s guess, but suffice to say they did not remain on the shelves for very long. It seems that their market research failed to pick up on the fact that people did not want to smell like a fast food restaurant or apply cheese to their face. However, some new products and services which are genuinely good ideas can fall by the wayside by being released too soon. If you come up with a new idea for a product or service it is important to get it tested rigorously by people you trust before you go too far.
There is a trend to act fast, launch early and be ahead of the game. Better to fix glitches later than miss an ideal window or opportunity. The original iPhone, when launched, did not support apps, MMS, the ability to copy and paste, and other features. People still queued up outside stores to buy one though. It was the first genuine smartphone and, as there was no alternative available yet, people were happy to wait for features to be added later. With the range of smartphones available now, people would have looked elsewhere and the product would have been a flop.
This approach only works if your product or service offers something genuinely new. Microsoft paid the price for not thoroughly testing their Vista operating system. Many of the glitches and compatibility issues that it suffered were eventually rectified but not soon enough. There were numerous other operating systems available to customers, including Microsoft’s own, earlier Windows systems. Why buy something flawed and wait for the patches, when perfectly good alternatives exist?
Launching a product or service that hasn’t been sufficiently tested also risks harming your reputation – even if the problems are eventually fixed the damage can be done. Given that Obamacare was and is a contentious issue in the US, there was a lot riding on the healthcare.gov website. Instead of appointing an IT contractor as Systems Integrator, who spend on average 5 months testing sites before launch, the Medical Services decided to do it themselves and test for 6 days. Given that the programme was not universally popular in the first place, for the website – a key component of the programme – to be initially unworkable was disastrous.
It’s also very important to test for the future and continue to apply the same rigorous standards should your product or service take off. The initial testing of American Biophysics’ insect trap, Mosquito Magnet, was successful and they went ahead with the launch of a potentially life-saving new product. However, due to the success of the system, they had to rapidly expand in order to keep up with demand and the overseas factories they contracted to produce their product did not apply the same stringent tests undergone by the original. This was not merely a tool for controlling pests at barbeques, but a system people were relying on to protect them from West Nile fever and Malaria, and customers would not stand for faulty equipment. The company went into receivership as a result.
This may be a list of scare stories and negative examples, but that is the purpose of thorough testing – to avoid such problems. Testing your product or service is not likely to add any particular value, but it serves to help you dodge pitfalls like these. Yes, there is a danger of ‘missing the boat’ by delaying a launch and the effects of rushing testing do vary depending on the industry (a glitchy operating system is not as serious as a faulty parachute), but great ideas can be completely undone if not properly tested before release. If there are serious flaws in your product, cutting corners to meet an earlier release date can be like jumping the queue to the gallows. Think very carefully about the potential risks of forging ahead regardless and listen carefully to your trusted advisors.