For the past year, we have been heavily focused on the lean concept of first developing an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and then iterating on that product as our affiliates use it. This has served us very well; however we’ve noticed that it’s really difficult to determine what the minimum number of features is. This can cause us to cut corners on some of the features. We recently began an initiative to address this and take our products to the next level: Instead of thinking of our first pass as an MVP we made the switch to MLP (Minimum Lovable Product, credit spotify for this idea). This switch to loveable made us ask how can we start to determine what lovable means. It was through these efforts that we came across the concept of value demand and failure demand.

Most of the time we think of demand as a good thing for a product. More demand = more money, right? Well, not always. Professor John Seddon came up with the concept of failure demand to describe what he noticed was happening whenever the release of a new feature actually produced more work changing that feature. So to put as clear as I can:

Failure demand is caused when the consumer doesn’t get their problem solved correctly or up to their standards the first time.

This is fundamentally different from value demand (the good kind!). Value demand is caused when consumers are using your product successfully and they discover that through this use they need additional features. It’s important to note that these features are outside of the intended outcome or problem that you set up to fix with your original product. This intended outcome is a key differentiator between failure and value demand. On paper it seems obvious the difference but as soon as you go to actually categorize your feature requests the line can get a little blurrier. That’s why it’s always important to ask yourself when you get a feature request what outcome were we trying to solve for this product or this individual feature. Once you understand the outcome it’s easier to determine if you failed to meet that outcome or if your consumer just wants something that is completely new.

Let’s see how this works with an actual example.

Hypothetically you’re designing a ‘smart watch’ and one of your intended outcomes of the ‘watch’ is to track the users exercise levels in order to help them become healthier. So you design a screen that shows them how much time every day they spend standing, walking, and running. Now in this scenario, an example of failure demand would be if you only showed them the number of minutes they spend standing in a day and not how this compared to the number of minutes they spent standing the next day. Without being able to compare different days, the user can’t accurately track their exercise levels in order to help them become healthier (the intended outcome above.) The reason this is failure demand is because the way you designed your product did not achieve your desired outcome. Ok so what about value demand? An example of this would be if as people are using your ‘watch’ they realize that they want a way to challenge their friends to do more exercise. The reason this would be value demand is because this is outside of your original desired outcome. You set out to let them track their exercise levels. The outcome for challenging their friends would be extra motivation, not just simply tracking and comparing.

So how bad is failure demand?

In today’s market, there are so many options out there for every type of product. If a consumer doesn’t like what you got, they’re just going to move on. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure that your products are loved. In order to for this to happen, you need to make sure that the products and features that you choose to make are great at what you set out to do. They might not have every single feature but the ones that you chose need to be incredible. This is where failure demand sets in. The more failure demand you have, the more your consumers are telling you what you set out to do, didn’t solve their problem aka your product isn’t great. Additionally, failure demand is a form of waste. Just like bugs that surface months later and cause you to go back and redo old code to fix the problem, failure demand causes you to go back and redo your old designs. This isn’t good for velocity as you now have to stop the work that you are currently doing and get reaccustomed to your previous thoughts in order to fix the problem.

One final point I want to make is that simply eliminating or reducing failure demand won’t make your product loveable. It’s a bare minimum if you want any chance of having your consumers love what you give them.