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Christy Ennis-Kloote and Alex Jantz

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August 22, 2018

Failing to Connect: The Three Reasons IoT Projects Fail

How to recognize and avoid the biggest pitfalls that cause IoT products to fail 

Avoid IoT Failure team drawing

Illustration Credit: David Schofield

Creating a connected product will test your organization in ways you probably haven’t imagined – and the challenges go far beyond choosing the right technology.

In many cases, a connected product journey aligns with the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Teams start out with a high level of confidence, but quickly plummet into the Valley of Despair. When OST started working with organizations on connected products, we had the technical chops to pull off anything. Being so honed into our crafts made us think this work would be easy. It wasn’t.  

When you look at the three big reasons IoT projects fail, it’s not which software stack they chose or sensor technology, but instead on the less tangible: vision, credibility, and intimacy. These three areas have the ability to bring an IoT project to a screeching halt if not established from the on-set.

1. Lacking a shared vision

drawing - a shared vision sets the course for success

A shared vision sets the course for success

Early on, we were engaged in a project that had a solid product strategy. We didn’t realize until it was too late that the client’s business strategy was seriously lagging behind. There was no market buy-in. The project was canceled half-way through.

The moment we learned there may be no market or consumer, we should have sent off flares. Today, one of our first exercises with new clients is to drill down into the “why” and understand the real strategic business opportunity their connected product will provide. Occasionally, it has meant that the client decided there was no value in this project for them, which put us out of a job. But usually, it means that everyone internally and externally is aligned with the project goals and organizational business strategy. The team is driving to a shared goal and the organization understands what outcomes need to be achieved to be successful.

Methods to establish a shared vision:

Product Vision – Work to establish a shared language around the meaning and value the product has for an organization, where it fits into the ecosystem of offerings, and what position the product has in the market.

Roadmaps – By setting milestones together as a team, while also communicating the potential unknowns of the future, the project team can move efficiently and have a lens for addressing future challenges as they arise.

Organizational Planning – Organize around the team, the program, and the portfolio. Working through a plan that sets clarity on the dependencies between all aspects of the work is required to successfully move teams to deliver themed goals in tandem.

2. Lacking credibility in the organization

Building credibility requires little wins

Building credibility requires little wins

On one IoT project, the hardware team came into the fold too late, leading to an unstable platform and a lot of re-work.  Fortunately, this team had established small wins along the way that provided the credibility necessary to shift accordingly.

Why is it important to build credibility? Inevitably, things don’t go according to plan. By working through challenges together, teams gain critical advocates and investors that they need to build momentum. This gives teams the chance to be vulnerable, experiment, and shift plans as needed.

Utilize validation tools like Riskiest Assumption Tests, MVPs, proof-of-concepts, integration tests and user testing. These tools can help you realize incorrect assumptions, avoid costly mistakes and establish credibility along the way.

Methods to build credibility:

Find an advocate with influence – Find a person that is a stakeholder in the business to help move ideas forward. This person has reach, access, and authority to remove barriers and influence decisions.

Proof-of-concepts – Validate and demonstrate user need, architecture, and patterns for a fit. The proof of concept helps to address any skepticism and puts the proof-of-value to the test.

Riskiest assumption tests – Quickly test your biggest assumptions and their impact to the project.

3. Working in silos

Drawing - Intimate teams know and anticipate each other’s needs, avoiding blind spots

Intimate teams know and anticipate each other’s needs, avoiding blind spots

Connected product projects require internal silos to be broken. When everyone is focused on their own piece of the puzzle, they lose the ability to see how it all fits together. Such disparate teams also lack intimacy, with no shared experience, shared vision, or relationships to fall back on in tough times. When inevitable challenges arise, this dynamic makes difficult problems more difficult.

This isn’t always an internal issue. One connected product we worked on had 5 separate partners, all initiated as separate RFP’s from the customer. Each partner worked as separate delivery teams focusing on UX design, UI design, cloud development, mobile development, and hardware/firmware development. Waterfall-esque requirements from the customer led to slow builds and integrations.

Through this we learned that a strong team is cross-functional, with a product owner at the center who owns the product vision.  These cross-functional teams have an intimate understanding of the business strategy and product strategy, which is then expressed through the digital experience and the well-architected platform. By knowing and understanding the dependencies between each work stream, the development between all areas becomes seamless.

Methods to build intimacy:

Cadence – Establish time spent together to build a rhythm to the work. In doing so, you are able to understand habits and mindsets, have a shared place for solving problems, and a shared clarity on ownership.

Team structure – Creating clarity and autonomy empowers team members to make decisions and set a direction because of their findings or experience.

Delivery – With a shared understanding of the priorities and a commitment to flexibility, the team can redirect and pivot as necessary with an eye on the larger impact to the outcome.

Proximity – Teams that work together face-to-face have been shown to increase productivity by 20%.

drawing - teams that work together are more successful

IoT success is so much more than the collection of the parts. Don’t get caught up in the technical aspects of connecting a product before considering the ‘why’ for the organization. Once the ‘why’ clear, keep a close eye on creating a shared vision, building credibility, and establishing an intimate cross-functional team. Trust in everyone’s abilities while also helping them to work differently than ever before.

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Want to explore IoT with one of our experts? Contact our Connected Products team.

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About the Author

Christy Ennis-Kloote is a Director of Product Design at OpenDigital. She is an eternal optimist with a high capacity for details. Her background in Industrial Design, drives her to seek out users' needs and answer them in the execution of the product.

Ennis-Kloote uses her passion for sharing with community as the local leader for IxDA Grand Rapids and as Co-Founder of Ladies that UX Grand Rapids. Ennis-Kloote is also an Instructor at CoLearning for professionals teaching concepts and methodologies of product design through various digital formats from as mobile to desktop applications and embedded experiences.

Alex Jantz is a Data Solutions Architect at OST in Grand Rapids. He specializes in designing and building cloud IoT solutions. He started his career as an Electrical Engineer consulting in Aerospace for Boeing and Airbus. He eventually made the move to software and joined OST in 2012.

Alex enjoys spending time with his family, 3 boys Huxley, Everett and Beckett and wife, Jensen. When not chasing children, or remodeling the house, you can find him relaxing up north at the family cottage.