When organizations fall in love with their solutions, they tend to create products no one cares about. Learn how to overcome common digital product challenges and become a champion for your users.
By Elli Rader and Pat McClure

Remember the avian flu? Relenza was perceived as the antidote in the medical world and seemed ready to rake in the cash. It only had one competitor, it was more effective, and it was cheaper. But, surprisingly, it lost. Why?
Its form and delivery method, a diskhaler, negatively affected people with respiratory problems. Add to that its side effect warnings and people fled to its sole competitor, Tamiflu. Relenza lost sight of its customers because it fell in love with its superior product. This blinded them to the fact their customers didn’t feel comfortable taking it.

This serves as a timely reminder for businesses trying to create a digital product. While you may start with a business problem, it’s easy to fall in love with what you’re creating and lose sight of the goal.

Organizations must build digital products that solve business problems, and they usually fall under three categories: business challenges, consumer challenges, and experience challenges. Solving these problems with digital isn’t easy. Why?

Organizations can build at scale but have a hard time innovating

To build digital products that solve business problems, organizations must fill the skill gaps in their team. Mid-market enterprise organizations may be effective at developing things at scale over time. That is a very different skill set, however, from what’s required to invent something new or innovate for the consumer. To innovate, companies need to create ideas, test them, and weed out the losers (e.g. less viable concepts) quickly.

Innovation is necessary for business growth, but companies aren't always structured to do it. Teams often won't have the resources in place to manage the product a partner is helping them build. These resources range from a trained team to a technology solution. One advantage of a good technology partner is they can help create the resources to support a new product when it’s ready to take to market.

Another way organizations can counter the challenges they face is by getting a fresh perspective on their market. Companies are usually adept at understanding their industry, but bringing in an outside partner can help them identify and understand how similar problems are being solved in other industries. Apart from a fresh perspective, clients often benefit from getting support with:

1. Creating and developing the product strategy and vision
2. Validating the product strategy and vision
3. Vetting and preparing a design team to go ahead and build the initial release or the MVP

The right partner can help an organization take their product vision to the next level by applying modern development principles to it, validating it, and then developing it further. Still, organizations need to be wary of the challenges associated with creating digital products.

6 challenges that organizations face when using digital to solve business problems 

The reality about attempts to be innovative is that you usually uncover other issues along the way. This is because true innovation requires you to create products quickly and efficiently, which isn’t easy for companies that weren’t born digital. Here are six common challenges organizations face when building a digital product.

1. Dated systems.

Mid-market enterprise companies tend to have dated systems, meaning they’re building onto and off of an unsophisticated service layer system. They are also dependent on the user interface that goes with the enterprise software they purchased for their company rather than tailoring user experience to meet their needs.

2. Long development cycles.

Mid-market enterprise organizations tend to have long development cycles and the wrong team structure for an agile approach. Their agile teams are organized around systems and not consumer experiences — creating duplicate effort and slowing down development cycles.

3. Funding challenges.

It’s common for teams to approach funding initiatives in a project-focused way. The mindset is: Once something is delivered, they don’t need to invest further (commonly a CFO or CEO mindset). This doesn’t work for modern product development.

4. Adopting the continuous development mindset.

Your competitors used to be other companies in your space. Now you’re competing with the best-in-class products people are interacting with every day. To keep up with ever-rising consumer expectations, you must be willing to continue developing your product.

5. Access to users.

Continuous development and discovery should always be centered around real people. However, branding, PR, marketing, and customer service concerns often make it a challenge for the development team to get access to users.

6. The right level of detail in the agile enablement phase.

You can’t be agile if you're trying to define the entire system at every single level of detail before building anything. In fact, the more you try to define everything at the start, the less you get it right in the end.

While these challenges are common, you don’t have to accept the status quo. Product leaders can take steps to ensure product success. That’s not to say it’s easy.

It’s time to fall in love with the problem and prepare to rock the boat

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere.”
- Frank A. Clark

To create a successful digital product, you have to get the leaders around you to think differently about building digital products. During the most successful engagements, the clients said: “I’m probably going to get in trouble a lot.” Being agile and rocking the boat is more difficult, but it's a better path for building digital products the right way. The right partner should surround you with the right information and strategies to help you have those bold conversations with peers and leadership.

Another key to success is to be in love with the problem instead of the solution. It’s easy to fixate on how you’re going to build X product. But it’s crucial to take a step back and first identify the problem the product is going to fix. Loving the problem helps organizations and individuals think creatively about solving the problem since they’re focused on outcomes instead of defined deliverables.

If you're building digital products the right way and what you’re doing is valuable, you’re going to rock the boat. Digital is not for those who just want to blend in at their company. Be bold and build a digital product that solves real business problems and adds value to the lives it touches.

Key takeaways

  • Find a partner that will challenge your assumptions and beliefs about how it should work. 
  • Find people who genuinely want to solve the problem. People have to believe in the problem to get creative about solving it. This helps it feel fun even when it’s difficult.
  • Get comfortable with testing. This process demands that everything you put out there won’t be polished.