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Overcoming the Challenges of Product Development

Many early stage entrepreneurs nowadays are facing the problem of not knowing how to get from point A to point B once they have an idea for an innovative digital product. Starting to work on a new opportunity knowing nothing but the destination is not that different from crossing an unknown territory without a navigation system or even a map. Innovators have somewhat of an idea where they should get, but can’t tell if the road they’re on is safe, or even if they’ve chosen the right route.

In the context of digital product development, entrepreneurs’ uncertainties are related to goal segmentation, the roles that should be brought into play and their respective skillsets, and the tasks that take place in each product development stage. According to Mckinsey, on average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. Judging by how many projects get challenged, it seems that setting milestones and having a clear release plan are also demanding tasks.

Planning the Functionalities

First and foremost, it’s difficult to plan from the very beginning what features and functionalities will go into the digital product. Having a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and a consultant or a Product Manager onboard helps a bit. A good approach is to segment the product development into stages, each stage pursuing a specific goal, while keeping in mind that the nearest goals are the most accurate and the furthest away goals are the fuzziest. After determining what functionality goes in which stage, entrepreneurs have an idea about what roles might be needed for implementing each functionality.

Getting the Right Team

Finding the right people for the job is the next challenge. Entrepreneurs should focus here on the necessary roles, skills and level of expertise. All of these differ dramatically from one product development stage to another, so segmenting them accordingly might be a good idea. Besides, certain roles are needed throughout the entire project, and being able to move them seamlessly between the stages is very important.

How many designers are needed? How about developers? Who will answer the business questions related to the product t? How are the project and the process managed and by whom? Entrepreneurs who are looking to build their first digital product might have a difficult time answering all of these questions and many others. Besides Roles and Skills, a very important aspect is how the team members work together and if they are truly aligned in terms of purpose, values and beliefs.

Choosing a Methodology and a Process

The methodology and the process to be used require particular attention. An approach to digital product development is to segment the entire process based on the deliverables. These are as follows:

  • Zero to Product Design
  • Product Design to MVP
  • MVP to One stage.

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During the Product Design stage the focus is on choosing a technology stack, figuring out who would use the product, and designing a prototype. It all culminates with creating user stories for the functionalities to be found in the minimum viable product (MVP), the version that has sufficient features to collect validated learning about the product and its continued development. This is the part of the software development process that requires lots of user interactions to establish what the right product is.

On the path to MVP, the team focuses on implementing a limited set of functional requirements collected in a Backlog while accommodating non-functional requirements. At this stage the team needs to start implementing an iterative development process like Scrum and engineering approaches such as Continuous Delivery. It is best to start writing automated tests at this stage and to maintain them together with the product code.

Having clearly defined stages, each with its own goal allows for a few actions to happen in-between, like validation that our product is inline with a real market need and that the experience we are aiming for has a place among our competitors. It is not uncommon to realise that we need to pivot as early as the beginning of the MVP to One stage. During this product development phase, the team develops additional functionalities based on the feedback gathered from the early adopters and suppliers. The focus now is on finding solutions on how to make the product and the business grow, in order to be profitable.

To achieve product/market fit, we start with the MVP and grow and polish it until we land in the right spot. During this stage we stop talking about a Backlog and start planning using a roadmap and Milestones. Based on these, we improve the aspect, as well as the functionality of the product. Getting testers on board and knowing exactly what we should change can prove problematic. This is why at this stage we shift our main focus back to the user and his experience, needs and wishes. Ultimately, once the product hits the market, the startup has to focus on rethinking, redesigning and reworking it, in order to stay relevant.

Placing Everything on the Same Board

Bear in mind that the stages were only summarized above and are actually far more complex. For startups developing their first digital product, they can be really overwhelming. Without proper guidance, a startup can get overwhelmed by ambiguous, complex activities that put an end to whatever productivity and enthusiasm there were in the beginning. Such guidance could come in the form of a board that contains all of the details placed in a logical order, so that the path towards successfully launching a digital product becomes much clearer.

Early stage entrepreneurs can use a framework such as the SaaS Execution Map to crystallize their ideas by placing all of the product development components on the same page, so that they can minimize uncertainties related to roles, skills and processes when building digital products.

The entrepreneurs you know probably use tens of different apps and methods for the planning, analytical thinking and analysis of the digital product development process. Each entrepreneur has arguments for why their chosen solution fosters productivity the best, but you don’t have the time to test them all. Which one is truly worth your attention?

By Mihai Pintilie – Product Consultant at Thinslices

Mihai is a passionate, committed and highly focused Product Consultant with over 13 years experience in the industry and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of product development process.