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3 lessons to learn from Amazon's Fire Phone

06 Feb 2015  | Eric Winquist

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Amazon's Fire Phone has lost its flame in the market, but engineers can learn a thing or two from this experience.

There's been a lot of speculation in the press about what went wrong with Amazon's Fire Phone. We are often taken aback when one of the world's most successful companies unsuccessfully brings a new product to market. But it reminds us how incredibly difficult it can be to get every aspect right when it comes to product delivery.

It's no secret that failure rates are high—in the neighbourhood of 80 per cent—especially for complex technology products. So, what can engineers do to get their products right and minimise the potential for failure?

Some in the industry believe Amazon's problem with the Fire Phone stems from its initial design. Rather than building a product that addressed customer's needs, the phone may have been designed for only one person, Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos.

Before development starts, engineers need to ensure their initial requirements are solid and then remain true to that vision as development teams navigate the journey from concept to launch. It sounds simple, but defining business and product requirements is the more challenging aspect of development. In the Amazon scenario, it was the CEO, but in every situation, multiple stakeholders have a voice in product delivery, and they each bring different perspectives about which elements are most important.

The complexity quotient is ramped up even more after the business case is translated into actual requirements and then broken down for the development team. As engineers get into building the product and understanding all the context going into their tasks, it's easy to see why poor collaboration is often the downfall of products.

Here's what engineers can do to ease the development process and deliver the right products:

Avoid Failure of Premise: When I meet with customers in the design phase of their products, I often cite the insights of an early Google Engineering Director, Alberto Savoia, who describes "failure of premise" as one of the key reasons products fail. In this scenario, the initial concept is flawed and the wrong product is built from the start.

In reality, a lot of things were done right—the product did what it was designed to do and the development teams did a great job building a solid and reliable product. However, customers soon determined they didn't really want it because it wasn't engineered with them in mind from the beginning.


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