How do you succesfully modernize legacy systems and launch digital products that work?
Here I'll explore seven steps that can keep you from wasting time and money in digital transformation and software development.
Subtract until it breaks.
It's easy to add ideas and features, especially once the brainstorming juices are flowing. But what happens if you take an idea away? Does the whole strategy collapse?
Having a clear product vision is your polestar for assessing whether features are mission-aligned. Consider: if your goal is to be the world's simplest to-do-list software, does a lengthy onboarding process aid or hinder that vision?
You’ve got a team conceptualizing a great idea. They’ve mapped out features and functionality and everything’s coalescing. But at what cost? Is there the right balance between both critical levers? Sure, it’s nice to have your idea featured in Wired, but has enough consideration been given to end-user functionality vs. your feature-set?
From the get-go, if product strategy isn’t crisp, if you don’t have a clear understanding of your market, the tech press won’t spare a pixel on your prowess. Nor will your customers.
Are there any redundant features that could be eliminated? Has each use-case been scrutinized? Has the modernization been planned in detail? Ask yourself these questions. Really ask yourself. If you can’t answer them easily, quickly and confidently, you’ve not thought about them enough. Press pause until you can discuss them easily over small talk.
The utility of each feature must be obvious. Take the time to understand value - particularly through the lens of your customers. Understanding the granular implications of each feature and change is a litmus test through which every subsequent decision can be evaluated - something both fast-moving teams and end-users will benefit from equally.
Inclusivity in critical
Product design is like Jenga. Each piece plays a part if the thing is going to stand up.
Without active participation from key stakeholders, it’s easy to gloss over the needs of each one. Giving managers, product designers, strategists, engineers - anyone with skin in the game - a voice early on will ensure end-user needs - and the needs of your team - are covered.
Validate inputs by establishing checkpoints as work continues. This will ensure perspectives are captured as development and product nears commercial readiness.
Everyone. Please form a queue.
If yours is an agile environment, great. You’ve already recognized how quickly things change and how much better you adapt as a result. Kudos. This is a great place to be. But are you changing for changes’ sake, or are you being nimble and reactive to make functionality better and satisfy your customer needs?
Be clear on why you’re implementing change. Death-by-being-different is a common way companies bleed cash. They allow too many “while we’re at its,” which slows software development and drains budgets.
It’s a careful balance, sure, but you have to walk it nimbly and prioritize to ensure a linear development path. Project managers are essential in this regard. Make sure they understand the criticality of their role. Agile is a great development methodology, but you have to balance its flexibility with product demands, never sacrificing one for the other.
If you don’t, be ready to suffer the next time one of your stakeholders has a “big idea” you just have to implement.
Marie Kondo your product and process
Is there anything superfluous on your development roadmap? Anything that could impact the end-user experience?
Just like you want your life focused on the essentials, do the same for your product. If something is in the development queue, there must be a strategic rationale for it. It can’t just be the whim of an executive. Similarly, ask yourself about your environments. Each use-case and user environment has their own requirements. Strip out unnecessary builds unless they’re strategically imperative.
If you don’t understand the players, get out of the game
When Pepsi started selling soft drinks in 1898, do you think they did it blindly? Or did they have a pretty good handle on Coke, the recipe, its customers and why people drank it?
We’d venture it was the latter. A meticulous reading of the tea leaves before going to market. The same principles apply to modern-day product development. Being unaware of what competitors are doing and how they’re doing it is a lousy reason to waste money or fail altogether. Get a clear grip on what you’re selling and to whom.
What are they key points of differentiation and how will they help you gain share? How are you different? How will you simplify the lives of end-users? What digital touch points are needed for success?
They might seem simple and straightforward, but few companies take the time to articulate answers to these questions. Don’t be one of them.
Creating a successful customer journey
Creative entrepreneurs usually fall into one of two camps. Some have advanced degrees and have spent time building big careers. Others have hustle and drive and an ability to see ideas to their end. If they’re lucky, they have both.
Either way, often times they have way more sectoral knowledge than their end-users, simply because they’ve lived and breathed it for so long. Don’t scoff at customers for this discrepancy. Part of your job as a product developer is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you can successfully onboard and educate customers about product utility and use. To overlook this strategic step is to put your needs to introduce and sell your product ahead of your customer’s needs to understand them.
Somewhere along this gap, you’ll have to meet your customers in the middle. Without education or simplification, you risk alienation and disconnect - a worse-case scenario. Iron this out in focus groups, product design workshops, detailed use-case analysis - but do iron this out.
Without it your product is unlikely to succeed.
Don’t believe the hype.
There’s literally nothing worse in product development than a product that doesn’t meet expectations at launch. If yours isn’t market-ready, if there are shortcomings you’ve spotted putting yourself in the position of end-user, hit pause on your launch strategy. You’re just not ready. The reputational risk you face is just too great.
Product launch is an exciting phase of the development cycle, especially if your accelerating it because of financial or other pressures. But mismanaging the message before your product has had time to fully bake is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. If you’re product needs more time, skip the big, over-budget, I-can’t-believe-we-just-spent-that launch strategy and try a soft launch instead. Give yourself the breathing room to get things right as if you were the customer buying them. You’ll avoid one of the biggest, most expensive product development mistakes in the process.
Do you want to learn how to lead effective software release? Contact us today to learn more about our product management workshops and training.