Proactive instead of reactive product development

Large organisations are often found reacting to the needs of their users or business.

A reason but not an excuse for this is that legacy systems need maintaining. Anything ‘new’ is bolted to them which creates significant challenges over time.

By doing this they end up in a journey of reactive product development which is almost impossible to get out of.

Rarely are they seen being proactive by working towards future needs or innovation.

Reactive product development

A large organisation may have a roadmap for ‘Product X’. ‘Product X’ is a newer version of something they created 10 years ago. Groundbreaking to the organisation, yet, to the general public there is no change.

They are reacting to a potential need which will take far too long to produce. By the time delivery happens the need may well have changed. It could take them anywhere from 1-5 years to deliver due to the challenges they may face along the way.

Proactive product development

Organisations that are innovative and proactive can push new products out in 6 to 12 months or less.

Agile organisations need the foresight to identify existing needs. These may be un-met or their audience doesn’t know they need it yet.

The latter is risky. If you know your audience and understand how things may align with some degree of certainty then this can be de-risked.

Making sure your product is underpinned with newer, more stable technologies will hopefully avoid any challenges.

Some examples

To provide some context, here are some proactive product examples;

Electric car (Tesla)

The electric car has been around for many years, and for the most part has been ahead of its time. So much so that many car manufacturers until recently (recently==years) have been less inclined to pursue. Partly due to a huge burden from a cost perspective. Yet, companies like Tesla who joined the market solely looking at an electric car offering may well seem ahead of the time. But in years to come they’ve had the foresight to identify and meet an unknown consumer need.

Apple Watch

I believe the Apple Watch or any wearable device (not dependant on manufacturer) is ahead of its time. Wearables will become the norm in the future and will advance to implants. There is a known un-met need, consumers are just not yet aware of it.


Everyone in tech was excited by the prospect of tablets. I still remember the first generation iPad. I still remember people taking them back or selling them as they didn’t need one. Years later, tablet usage is at an all time high. An unknown un-met need was met at a later date.

Monzo – A new type of bank

And it’s not just Monzo now. For a long time the financial industry space has been ripe for disruption. AI driven banking… the opportunities are endless. Your traditional banks are yet to even remotely get on top of this.

Blue Horizon/SpaceX

Launch a rocket into space. Launch a rocket into space with a satellite a top of it. Launch a rocket into space with a satellite a top of it and then have the rocket land to be re-used.

This is all in the past 3 years.

The innovation in this is mind-blowing.

Getting stuck

I could go on and on… but one thing is for sure, older, larger organisations are stuck.

They react to user need based on their current infrastructure. Big change rarely happens. Integrating with things that already exist elsewhere because “someone else is doing it”.

When was the last time you saw a massive overhaul in banking from one of the large institutions? When was the last time you experienced ground-breaking change in the medical industry? When was the last time you saw a change in the way your local council interacted with you?

When I say ‘large organisation’, I’m talking about age-old very large institutions. They’ve had ‘their way’ of doing things for 5, 10, 15 or even more years.

We’re currently in a time where ‘agile’ is more-a-less the norm. Some are doing agile and others are being agile.

By being agile you can iterate and deliver in the same fashion.

Yet, a reactive product development approach for a large organisation looks like this…

Business need for ‘X’. User research begins on whether ‘X’ is viable. It seems kind of viable so design and development starts on ‘X’ and takes 2 years to deliver. 2 years later, ‘X’ is still in development on. It has been live for a month and user and business needs have changed. ‘X’ doesn’t look like it’s required anymore.

I’m yet to see a large organisation that does something different from that.

That approach is wrong.

Being reactive can be beneficial in certain circumstances. As long as you’re iterating, measuring, delivering and improving.

Service design and proactive product development

Service design and user research should be embedded into every product or service.


Because you will be able to visualise and recognise met and un-met needs.

Once these are recognised you will then be able to ask questions like;

How will we meet the needs of our users in 2, 4, 6 or 10 years?

What are potential changes in society which may have an effect on our product or service?

How can we meet the needs of those changes?

Are we in a good place that we can design something which changes the behaviour of our users for the greater good?

What is the problem that we’re trying to solve and can this be done iteratively?

The future

It’s all well and good to do digital transformation, but that is not innovation.

We need to be proactive. We need to push, we need to be bold, we need to be nimble and keep moving forwards.

We need to build on our transformation with innovation and then maybe, just maybe we’ll get somewhere.