Blown budgets and burnt dreams. Without a clearly defined product roadmap, that’s where many great ideas end up - a story we’ve heard from several clients with whom we’ve been privileged to work. Their story generally follows the same narrative: we had a great idea, a decent development roadmap, but we never understood one thing. Will. It. Sell.
The Development Factory has helped countless - literally, we’ve stopped counting - clients add structure to this process and their creativity. We don’t guarantee success. That’s not it at all. What we do is add predictability to the product development process. Something we’ve done repeatedly in our history, hitting a lot of home-runs along the way.
Lessons learned? Ya, we have a few. Here are five simple steps we apply to product development engagements. Use them. Seriously. They work.
1. Curiosity is king
Clients don’t accidentally become successful entrepreneurs or SME’s by snapping their fingers or rubbing a magic lamp. It takes a little gumption. A little intelligence. And a lot of curiosity.
Ideas are usually born from something personal. An experience had while out running. A cup of coffee sipped staring out a window. A desire to make something better than it already is.
You have your billion-dollar idea. You’ve tested it at parties, at a bar. People respond positively to it. They love it, actually. But do you know if it will sell? Like we’ve seen in populist elections around the world, sometimes the ideas we hold dear inside our own circles aren’t widely shared. While you may think yours is a worthwhile investment of both time and money, others may disagree.
Do you know for sure? Or is it just a hunch? A crucial fail we’ve seen repeatedly is an unwillingness, or worse, a failure to validate ideas with others outside our own sandbox - the difference between dampening your curiosity and seeing it through to its fullest and farthest reaches.
Is your business scalable? What will actually make a customer buy it? How will your idea make the lives of people who use it easier?
By being curious and pushing at the periphery of your idea and answering these questions early on, you will dig deeper than initially thought possible, informing your idea far beyond it being a hunch or a feeling.
This is so important. Now, why do so many start-ups skip this crucial stage? Enthusiasm, likely, but it’s a must if you’re to understand your idea’s full potential.
2. Never ever stop testing
Once your product idea starts to crystalize, best to get a good understanding of your customer. Why would they buy it? Who are they? What kind of lives do they lead and where?
Creating a small circle or people you know (and people you don’t) and testing ideas with them is a good way to start the refining process. Ask them questions and record the interviews if you can. What do their reactions say about your idea? How - at this early product development stage - could your idea be smoothed out a little, refined into something your sample group deems valuable?
Have you addressed all of their feedback? Are you willing to? Once the sample testing is out of the way and the idea more fully articulated, where are your developers at? How are you going to actually Frankenstein this thing into something someone will buy?
If it’s time to engage a product development company, good - that’s a great idea at this stage. Like the Development Factory has done for a decade, product developers can lend a critical outside perspective to this process, validating, testing, researching, and testing some more the idea(s) you’ve created to date.
Perspectives are important at this (and every) stage. Professionals will tell you what you need to hear: what are people responding positively to? What needs more refinement? What additional discovery is needed? What process is best followed so your idea becomes more than a giant sinkhole? What trends have you overlooked? What experiential frameworks will further guide the product development lifecycle you’re about to jump on?
There’s a lot to think about and measure still at this early stage. With that done, you’ll want to put some numbers against your idea so that - drum roll, please - you’ll start arriving a very clear, succinct and considered value proposition, which spells out your potential position in-market relative to what others are selling.
From here, clients we’ve collaborated with often build crude renditions of what they’ll be selling - be it custom software, a product or something in between. It lends a little added cred to your idea if people can actually touch it, taste it and experience using it first-hand. What do they like about it at this stage? More importantly, what do they find strange or lacking that needs fixing?
All these steps are furthered with constant testing and refinement. Something that will clear later-stage blind spots and set you up for success as your idea matures.
3. Management or strategy?
A cross-roads lay ahead: you’ve got a great idea, it’s ready to be nurtured, you’ve engaged a development team, hopefully ours, and you need to decide on which critical function to invest in next. Is it product management or strategy? Or both?
While product management connects customer needs with your idea, strategy looks at the bigger picture around that product. Both are critical levers. So when to pull one versus the other?
That’s a process you need to understand and keep an eye on constantly. Knowing how they are intertwined and when to engage one versus the other in custom software or product development is critical to product success.
And yes. We also do that.
4. Strive for clarity
Ok. We jumped the shark a little. Knowing and clearly understanding the players in your space is key to formulating your biz strategy. It’ll also act as a bit of a compass as you inch closer and closer to whatever direction you’re headed.
You’d never build a house without a blueprint. Product development is no different, and this is the key function of strategy development, looking at the road ahead holistically so future thinking is also focused and clear.
Software development can be inexpensive and move fast. Having a strategist on hand to challenge the objective of each stage is a necessary checkpoint to ensure time, money and energy isn’t wasted on timekills.
Once strategy is defined, refined and tested and it’s time to execute, you can confidently hand that work over to the management team, knowing you’ve armed everyone with a decision-making framework to guide their work.
5. You’ve gotten this far, right? Now go further
You’ve come a long way since iterating on your idea in stages one and two. You’ve followed a process, worked with professionals, built an iron-tight strategic framework. Now it’s time to take it further by believing in it.
It’s with complete confidence that you should be moving into actual product development and beyond. Your work to date has proven market need and your ability to solve it. Never stop being curious. If you don’t have complete belief that what you’re doing is real and that it will be real, stop. Step back. Test again before going further. This is not a test run. It’s your life. Your idea. Your dream.
Product development is an iterative process. Some say it’s never finished. But it has to mature to bring ideas to market. That’s why the Development Factory exists. See the idea through and you will never look back.