F.A.I.L.: lets talk about the F word

MAA1
4 min readOct 22, 2023
Image Credit: Marc Abraham

At this year’s Mind the Product conference I spoke about something that we don’t talk about enough: product failure. As product people we should accept failure and embrace the concept of ‘failing fast’.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham

However, the reality for many of us is that there’s little or no room for our products or features to fail. There are many types of pressures that lead to this: commercial, competitive, resource constraints and brand concerns. The result is a tug of war between product managers wanting to fail fast and organisational stakeholders that want the exact opposite.

Image Credit: Andrej Lisakov on Unsplash

Another reality is that a lot of businesses, products and features will fail. We typically tend to avoid talking about the F word, since failure is widely regarded as bad for the reputation of a company or as a blemish on the reputation of a product manager. I believe this a wrong way of looking at things; product managers need to be skilled at calling time on a product (idea) at the right time.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham

“Risk management” is another aspect of product management that we don’t talk about enough. Being on the front of foot when it comes to assessing, prioritising and mitigating risk is a key skill that product managers need to have in their locker.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham

We need to make sure that our products don’t fail in vain: making sure that we test our critical assumptions early and often, that we are clear on desired impact and the decisions to make based on this impact. The learnings (and related product decisions) that we need to generate boil down to these four data points:

Image Credit: Marc Abraham

I’ve created a simple framework in F.A.I.L. which unlocks valuable information and learnings that we need to ensure that even if our products do fail, they don’t fail in vain.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham

In my presentation I offer practical tools and techniques you can use as part of the F.A.I.L. framework. Use the candy-vitamin-painkiller analogy — for example — to test the severity of the problem that your feature is aiming to solve. Or the pre-mortem technique to identify, prioritise and mitigate assumptions about critical risks that could cause your product to fail.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham
Image Credit: Marc Abraham

The faster we can work through the different components of the F.A.I.L. framework the bigger the chances of our products not failing in vain. We need to make sure that a chosen problem is indeed worth solving, we test our critical assumptions early often and that we established desired impact and learnings from the offset.

Image Credit: Marc Abraham
Image Credit: Marc Abraham

Main learning point: Whether you’re working at a startup or a large corporation, on a director to consumer or a B2B product, applying the different components of the F.A.I.L. framework will ensure that your products don’t fail in vain and ultimately deliver tangible value to your customers and your business.

View the full presentation

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MAA1

Product at Intercom, author of "My Product Management Toolkit" and “Managing Product = Managing Tension” — see https://bit.ly/3gH2dOD.