Killing product ideas can be fun – a case study

Sometimes there isn’t a clear winner

In the Data Analytics Innovation team’s latest project our aim was to discover, define and validate a new commercial data product.

After concept testing a few ideas with users, there wasn’t a clear winner and we learnt that the solutions to problems we were trying to solve already existed, or the problems weren’t problems at all.

But we felt compelled to proceed with something. We looked for the reasons to continue with each idea – picking out the valuable parts that could hopefully turn into a product. But after some digging we didn’t have enough to create something meaningful and struggled to see a way forward.

The ultimate test to survive

So, we tried something we hadn’t done before – we flipped our thinking from “reasons to go for it” to “reasons to kill it”. If we did everything we could to kill a product idea and it still survived, then we had something worth pursuing.

This is how the Product Death Flow evolved; a flowchart which asked a series of questions to help us find reasons to stop. For each idea, we would start at the beginning and go through the questions as a group. If we said “No” to any of the questions, then work stopped immediately. If we couldn’t answer yes or no, this prompted us to do a piece of work to figure out the answer.

These questions were:

  • Is there a clear problem?
  • Do we understand the problem well enough to continue?
  • Is this a big problem?
  • Is this a problem that no-one else is solving? If not, does our solution offer more value?
  • Does it make sense for us to solve this problem?
  • Are we able to solve this problem?
  • Does our solution solve the problem?
  • Is this a problem we want to solve? Does it excite us?
  • Is there value for us in return?
Image showing the product death flow we used.
The Product Death Flow (click to expand).

Discussions around each question were open and honest and once the decision to stop had been made I wanted to avoid a future scenario where someone says “I still think we should do…” and the team struggles to align behind a new direction.

So to draw the line in the sand, we held a virtual funeral for each product idea. One of us found a death certificate online and we dropped it into Miro, filled it in and signed it while a power ballad played on Spotify. This signed document became an agreement to say goodbye to the idea for good.

Image showing the product death certificate we used.
Product death certificate (click to expand).

When one door closes, another opens

Making the decision to stop working on a product idea that you’ve invested time and effort in can be difficult to do. The process we put together made it easier and quicker to come to that decision as a group, by externalising the important questions and making the end of a product idea a fun celebration, rather than a failure.

When a product idea survived, the process strengthened the decision to proceed and created a joyous moment for the team.

Author – Ben Harvey, UX designer

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