7 Ways to Build an Awful Product

No one sets off trying to build awful products. Every product manager feels the pressure to develop their category’s leading product. They’re all chasing monikers like “best in class,” “award-winning,” “ranked #1 by blah blah magazine.” Let them. Category dominance might be fun, but getting there is going to take a lot of hard work.

And here’s something you’ve probably never considered. Nobody’s competing for the middle slots in their product category. Or the bottom. So without much effort at all, you can own those positions. Here’s how…

1. Design by committee, the bigger the better.

Hey, if two heads are better than one, imagine how much brainpower you’ll have if you put 10 people to work on your product strategy. Or 50. The more minds helping to craft your product strategy, the better a product you’ll develop. It’s simple math if you think about it.

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The more minds you have strategizing, the better a product you’ll build — it’s simple math. #BadProductAdvice

Or think of it this way: Every time an issue comes up for discussion — the product’s name, what the logo should look like, who your key personas are — you’ll have not one but 50 ideas.

With your 50-person product strategy team able to weigh in on every last product decision, it’s statistically almost inevitable that you’ll land on a brilliant idea every time.

“But I don’t have 50 people in my company,” you might be saying to yourself right now. That’s okay. Don’t panic. Work with what you’ve got. Our advice? Just grab as many people as you can fit into your largest conference room to achieve design by committee.

2. Take your time.

Product managers are in such a rush these days. What lunatic came up with the idea of a Sprint, anyway? Run, run, run!

The longer you let your developers tinker, without worrying about trivial matters like release dates, competitive pressure, or budgets, the more likely they are to hit on an inspired idea. Besides, if your product is good enough, your investors, executives, sales teams, and customers will all wait for it. Once you ship the product, your job is done. Relax and grab a drink!

3. Don’t talk with your customers.

This is a mistake many new product managers make. But for goodness’ sake, your customers have no idea what they want. That’s why we need product managers in the first place.

Did Thomas Edison meet with prospects to ask them if they wanted to light their homes after sundown? First of all, how could he? Where could he? As soon as everyone was done working for the day, every home and public square was pitch black.

Edison worked alone, buoyed by his own enthusiasm and at a safe distance from the incoherent ramblings of the so-called “user personas” for his light bulb. Using this customer-free method of product development, after only a few thousand tries, Edison invented the light bulb. No SurveyMonkey needed, thank you very much!

Plus, don’t forget, while Edison had only his own mind fixed on the light bulb project, you will have the combined brain wattage of your entire 50-person product strategy team. So we ask again: Who needs to hear from customers?

4. Include every feature you can think of.

Yeah, yeah, there’s plenty of talk about “feature bloat,” whatever that means. And in product strategy meetings, someone always brings up the fact that Steve Jobs kept his products simple and wouldn’t allow any unnecessary features.

And that’s why the iPhone still can’t find your socks, make your house smell like lavender or read your mind. Can you say missed opportunities?

Keeping features out is just another way of saying no to that customer who expects her phone to find her socks. She’ll just go elsewhere. Trust us, if you leave a feature out of your product, some competitor will include it in theirs, and steal away your customers.

5. Copy your competitors.

Hey, unless you’re the product manager for the wheel, you’re probably developing something that’s already out there.

So why waste company time, not to mention all of the refreshments you’ll need for your 50-person product strategy team meetings, by starting your product strategy from scratch?

Just take a few ideas from this competitor’s product, a few others from that one, and the rest from the competitor over there… and, voila! You’ve got a product roadmap!

Some lesser product management experts might call this creating a me-too product. Yeah, whatever. We’ll take that argument seriously as soon as either Coca-Cola or Pepsi goes out of business.

6. Don’t worry about ease of use.

Look, if you’re developing a product that makes your persona’s life easier, they’ll spend a few extra minutes figuring out how to work the thing.

Amazon.com spends a fortune in development money just to make sure we don’t spend one second more than absolutely necessary buying a jump rope. But let’s be honest. If we really want a jump rope, are we so lazy that we won’t click a few more buttons to get it?

Yes, thank you for the great shopping experience, Amazon, but you’re wasting your time with all of these ease-of-use bells and whistles. You had us at “Delivered to your door.” (Actually, maybe we are lazy.)

Also, don’t forget the theory, widely held by marketing experts, that the perceived value of products and services goes up in proportion to their cost. Well, having a difficult time using your product is a cost of sorts, isn’t it?

So you could make the case that designing your product to be difficult or even frustrating for your users only adds to its perceived value.

Bottom line: Make great products, even if they’re really hard to use.
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7. Ignore feedback.

And finally, a word of caution: When you release your product into the world, be prepared for a torrent of “feedback” — a euphemism for whining. Ignore it and keep developing.

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Product “feedback” is a euphemism for whining. Ignore it and keep developing. #BadProductAdvice

Your creativity can’t fully express itself if you’re spending some of your mental resources fending off user complaints, criticisms, and demands.

We’ve also already established that your customers had no idea what they wanted before they started using your product. So why should you assume that their feedback is valid now?

Besides, most of this early-stage complaining is really just your customers getting acclimated to your product. It’s new. They’re new to it. These things take time.

Yes, you could spend a big portion of your development cycles fixing so-called “bugs.” Or, you could do the smart thing — and just let your customers get used to them.

If you have other fun ideas on how to ship awful products, please leave a comment.