Managing product risks

When you create and manage products and services you face a number of risks that could result in undesirable outcomes such as:

  • Customers don’t value them enough to pay for or use them
  • Customers can’t use them
  • Your organisation doesn’t have the resources or skills to deliver them
  • They don’t result in the outcomes for your business that you need them to
  • They may cause harm and have unintended consequences
  • They may break the law

I like this idea of framing these as risks as much of the work we do in product discovery is about trying to reduce risk of failure.

It would be interesting to give stakeholders £100 each and asking them to tell you how much they want to invest in exploring each of the areas of risk.

This would to help to uncover what they are most uncertain about and where to focus you efforts in exploring further..

In Marty Cagan’s book ‘Inspired‘ he discusses how important it is to explore the threats posed by each of these risks in order to create a product that your customers will love and that also works for your business.

He identifies these as what he sees as the four biggest risks.

Viability riskHow confident are we that this product/ service will deliver what the business needs it to?

Value riskHow confident are we that people will value the benefits it provides enough to buy it or choose to use it instead of alternatives?

Usability riskHow confident are we that people will be able to figure out how to use it ?

Feasibility riskHow confident are we that we can build and deliver it with the resources and skills that we have ?

There are many other kinds of risks you may choose to explore but I think these two are really important additions:

Ethical riskHow confident are we that it will have no harmful unintended consequences for people, the economy or our planet?

Compliance riskHow confident are we that we are not breaking the law in any way?

The best time to start exploring risks such as these is as early as possible during your product discovery where you can begin to get a feel for what represents the biggest potential threats to the success of your new product ideas.

Interestingly, Marty identifies ‘value risk’ as the toughest risk to mitigate, which highlights the importance of getting ideas in front of potential customers as early as possible to understand if they solve real problems for people in ways that people value enough to find them useful and are willing to pay for them.

The ‘weight’ of insight

I want to acknowledge something I’ve experienced that definitely feels like a ‘thing’ when conducting research.

I’m thinking about is as a ‘weight of insight’.

Let me explain.

I’ve been doing lots of research recently with people who are living with some sort of mental health issue.

I’ve heard some incredibly harrowing and personal stories about their lived experiences of trying to get support from mental health services.

They’ve shared these altruistically in an effort to ensure that things that have happened to them don’t happen to other people in the future.

As a researcher you act as a messenger, carrying insights between service users and the people who have the power to make things better.

The weight of insight isn’t just about the amount of insights you’ve learned, it’s the pressure of wanting to do them justice, communicating them effectively so that they have the same impact upon your stakeholders as they had on you when you heard them for the first time.

‘Weight’ feels like an overly negative term but it definitely feels like something that you carry and this can come with a cost, particularly when you’re researching emotional topics such as mental health.

Ironically the empathy that makes you a good researcher and helped you to extract the insight in the first place can also be the thing that increases the impact of the insight upon you.

Sharing this weight really helps.

Conducting research in teams ensures that it’s a shared experience that both shares the knowledge and the weight of insights.

Conversations after research sessions to debrief and decompress are also a really simple and beneficial thing you can do that helps.

Another way of reducing this weight is to ensure that your stakeholders watch the research first hand so that they hear the insights from the source.

Remote research has made this easier than ever allowing stakeholders to participate from anywhere using tools they will probably already have access to.

Good safeguarding practices also help to reduce the weight of insight, ensuring that you preempt the impact of what you might learn and how you can protect the people involved.

UXBristol talks are now online

We had a fantastic day of short talks at UXBristol this year.

Hopefully we managed to capture the essence of the event despite the online format – fingers crossed that we can get back to a face to face event next year.

Thanks again to all of our wonderful sponsors (Kaluza, cxpartners, Hargreaves Lansdown, ADLIB, Mace & Menter & Smaply) who made the day possible.

If you missed the event, you can catch up by watching the recording of the entire livestream or jump straight into specific talks as below.

Chui Chui Tan – Offering a better, localised experience for your global customers

This talk is about the steps you can take to make sure you can offer the best, localised experience to your customers in different markets. It covers why it is important to have a clear holistic understanding of your global audiences and their context. Practical tips will be provided to guide you through this process not only to inform your design, but also your marketing or other business strategies.


Ben Holliday – Asking design questions 

Design questions can be the real practical superpower of impactful UX and design work in all parts of an organisation.

In this talk, Ben Holliday will explore how anyone can start to ask design questions in the places and situations that they work in.


Flow Bohl – How to present design work to non-designers

A good presentation could get your design approved, or quickly dismissed if you don’t present it right.

In this talk, Flow will outline six useful steps to successfully present design work to non-designers.


Kat Husbands – Imposter syndrome in User Centred Design

Imposter syndrome: an insidious, inner critic. At best it sucks the joy out of a job well done, and at worst it can cripple your career.

Kat surveyed 100 user centred designers about their experiences of imposter syndrome and is here to share what she learned about where it comes from, who it affects the most, and of course how to beat it.

Tom Ridley – Beyond the Beeps: Designing with Sound

Tom demystifies the field of Product Sound (think: Alexa, your Microwave, that person on the train with their keyboard clicks turned on), and provide some fundamental principles, ideas and techniques, such that any design practitioner, without a shred of musical ability, could begin to explore product sound and put it to test.


Abby Covert – How to diagram

This talk aims to help rid the world of bad diagrams by teaching the purpose, process and craft of diagramming. Because your diagrams might suck, but they don’t have to.

Use this simple method to identify your riskiest assumptions

Imagine being the boss of the internet only car dealer Carzoo.

Your entire business model relies upon people being happy to buy what is typically their second most expensive purchase, without seeing it or test driving it first.

It’s really interesting to consider some of the assumptions that need to be true in order for this business to succeed ;

  • People will happily buy a car without seeing it ‘for real’ and test driving it
  • A money back guarantee will be enough to make people feel comfortable to spend thousands online
  • People will prefer shopping for cars in this way because car salespeople have such a bad reputation
  • People will be happy to buy cars online despite there being no physical dealership to go to if things go wrong

I wonder what research Carzoo did to explore these assumptions in order to get to the point that they were happy to launch the service?

As with every product and service, there are always a bunch of assumptions that need to be true in order to succeed.

On a recent project, we ran a really useful exercise designed to flush out our riskiest assumptions.

Critically, it also helped to identify how much confidence the team had in each of them being true.

It worked like this.

  • Ask everyone to list all of the assumptions that they feel underpin the success of your product or service (If people are struggling ask them to pretend they are funding it with their own money and watch the assumptions flow!)
  • Take each assumptions in turn and plot it on the following matrix by asking yourselves two simple questions:
  1. How important is it that this assumption is true for us to succeed?
  2. How much confidence do we have that this assumption is true?

A matrix that allows people to plot their assumptions based on how important the assumption is and how much confidence they have in that assumption being true.
Assumptions importance/ confidence matrix

The more assumptions that you have in the top left of the matrix, the more might be feeling that your business model might be build upon a house of cards!!

We used our top left ‘most important / low confidence’ assumptions as the key areas of focus for our user research in order to learn more about them.

We also chose other assumptions to explore from the top right of the matrix to check whether our confidence in them remained.

After the research we reflected on all of the assumptions and re-plotted some of them based on our new knowledge.

It’s important to note that it’s hard to validate assumptions completely as being ‘true’ or ‘false’, in reality you use research to look for signals that will give you more or less confidence in them.

A useful way of thinking about them is as ‘rolling assumptions’ in that you continually explore the most critical ones until others become more important.

The ‘assumptions board’ that this exercise gives you is a useful tool to update throughout the product lifecycle as it gives you a useful reminder of your riskiest assumptions and helps you with where to focus your future research.