Conducting an Autopsy for Medical Device Launches that are Heading South

The Story

In the last post I made mention of a “Launch Autopsy”. I received several inquires as to what I meant by that term. So here is the answer with a high level look at the process that I have developed to figure out, “what went wrong?”

The first product I ever launched went south. That was in the 80’s. I was committed to determining what went wrong and what I could learn to prevent it from happening again. That is the first time I formally dissected the activities that lead up to a failed launch. I became a fan of “de-briefs”, regardless of the level of success that was obtained. A commitment to constant learning and refining of my skills was to become a hallmark of my life. If you’re curious what went wrong with my first launch? The short answer, pricing.

A “Launch Autopsy” is the name that I have assigned to these de-briefs. The name came from an article I read titled, “The Anatomy of a Good Product Launch”. I figured if we have anatomy, we can have death and therefore an Autopsy.

Launch Autopsy, Defined

A Launch Autopsy is the formal process one uses to investigate an under performing product that was launched within the past 12 months, it doesn’t have to have failed (died) to have an autopsy performed (perhaps I should rename it).

Why do Product Launches not Achieve Success?

Invariable the launch failures distill down to a “miss”. A miss in the classic aspects of Marketing:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Promotion
  4. Place

It might seem a bit old school, but it works. Each one of the four P’s has additional levels below them. The ‘what’ is level one, the ‘how’ is level two, the ‘why’ is level three.   It might make sense to think of Process as the fifth P. To modernize the thinking I also add two Cs, customer and competition.

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Promotion
  4. Place
  5. Process
  6. Customer
  7. Competition

I find that if you interview 5-10 key players in the launch, looking for the ‘miss’ in the seven categories’ identified above, you can write a good hypothesis to explain what went wrong.


Beware the Motives

If this process is to be used to conduct a witch-hunt, it will fail to deliver an optimized result. If the goal is to genuinely figure out what went wrong, then it can be a great learning experience for the organization and will improve future launches.

A High Level View of the Process

  1. Read the Quality manual – understand the Quality System well
  2. Scan the DHF paying close attention to the customer inputs (VOC)
  3. Interview the Product Manager and their supervisor
  4. Interview the person that initiate the autopsy
  5. Interview the top sales person
  6. Interview the best historic salesperson who has not done well with this product
  7. Interview the clinician customer that has bought the most
  8. Interview the clinician customer who evaluated it and chose not to purchase
  9. Develop a hypothesis or two that fit the puzzle pieces together
  10. Test the hypothesis
  11. Draw your conclusion(s) and present the findings


  • Pull on every loose thread that you discover
  • Focus on the blocking and tackling
  • Note but don’t focus on the names
  • Focus on the process of the work and the content quality

“Experience is what you get, right after you need it most.”

Make it a great day,

Tim Walker

Tim Walker is the Principal consultant for The Experia Group. A small consulting firm that specializes in providing experience and expertise during critical device commercialization phases to increase the probability of success.


© 2015 The Experia Group, LLC

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