Product Marty Cagan

The Importance Of Failing

Recently a friend of mine sent me a link to this short video from totally outside of the technology field.  The video is called “Why You Need to Fail” and it’s by Derek Sivers.  Even though the examples are from very different domains, I thought that this short video very eloquently made one of the most important points in creating great products, and I strongly encourage all of you to watch it (especially the second half).

Really.  Go watch it and then come back.

I argue with product owners and designers about this all the time.  I’m constantly pushing them to just take their ideas and get them in front of users and customers, and to do this quickly – generally much more quickly than they are comfortable with.  I’ve written many times about this fundamental concept.

Note that I’m not suggesting they ship what they’ve come up with in only a few days (although sometimes I do), but rather, I know that the real learning starts once you put your ideas in front of real users.  And all this time we spend trying to get it just right takes away from the time we have for real learning, and mostly we’re just digging a deeper hole.

There are some people that get hung up on the “fail fast” wording because they think it gives people encouragement to give up fast.  When I read this article it was actually April 1 and I thought he was joking, but unfortunately he wasn’t.  And this is a smart guy so I don’t doubt him when he says that he has met entrepreneurs that are confused by this.  But of course the whole point is that by failing fast we can actually dramatically increase our chances of getting to success.

I personally prefer the language around “learning fast” but when you tell product people they need to fail fast it does help to prepare them to show their ideas early, and understand that it is normal that it takes several attempts before they can expect to have a solution that actually works for the users.

In the UX community we have long had some old-school people out there that didn’t quite buy this, for various lame reasons.  So I was very happy to see that Jared Spool recently published a very clear, compelling and what will be for many of his readers a controversial piece acknowledging their findings of where the real learning happens.

If you are on one of the many teams that I work with, you already know that my biggest hot button is when I find that a user test happened and the product owner and designer were not present at the test, or if they were, if they were not allowed to interact directly with the user.

I am hoping that Jared’s article puts the final nail in the coffin for the long obsolete concept of not including product owners or designers at user tests.

There has never been a better time to work on products.  The technology, the platforms, techniques from lean startups, customer discovery, product discovery, and agile development are all combining to help a capable product team learn faster than ever, and converge on our ultimate goal which is to create a product we can be proud of and that our customers love.