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Product development – key lessons learned

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Product development – key lessons learned 

We outline some of the key lessons learned or common mistakes made by business owners, entrepreneurs and corporate product owners when building a new product to take to market or when evolving existing products to be better suited to existing customers.

Strong product owner

The product owner role for product development is critical.

What is a product owner? Definition: the product owner holds the vision for the product. They have good knowledge of the market towards which the product is targeted, who the competitors are and what they are doing, what the gaps in the market are, who is the customers and what do these customers want. The product owner also knows the requirements that need to be implemented and the priority in which the requirements need to be developed in order to launch a successful product. In theory, the product owner will also directly work with the technical team responsible for building the solution. In corporate, in reality, the product owner often works with a proxy business analyst that work with the team to describe requirements. For entrepreneurs, the product owner do work with the solutions team directly. The product owner is ultimately responsible for making the product a success and for the Return-On-Investment (ROI) of the product.

A product owner needs to know what he or she wants. They needed to have done research in the market and thought about the general concept and features of the product and be clear on what we are trying to build and ultimately achieve. What are the pitfalls if the concept are not clear and we start building the solution?

  • Money wasted: once a solution is built it is harder to change features and it takes longer to make those changes, which chases up the cost of development for the entrepreneur or corporate.
  • Slow down launch: it results in taking longer to get the MVP product out to market.
  • A product that does not make sense: the features implemented do not package well to form a solid MVP that solves the right internal problem for the business or meet the needs to your targeted customers.
  • Solving the wrong problem: for corporates we often do not look at what is the biggest problem within a particular area. We have a target we need to meet and we choose the wrong thing to address to meet that target. Make sure you first look at what makes the business work more efficiently internally, before building externally faced products, that might not be used.

Minimal viable product (MVP)

The inability of business owners or entrepreneurs or corporate managers / product owners to determine and only focus on the core product features that add enough value to the customer to launch a sensible MVP. What are the pitfalls if we are unable to define a value adding MVP:

  • Lack of value to customers: The minimal features launched do not add value to the customers and they do not buy or use the product.
  • No solid MVP: The overall MVP just do not make sense to customers and will not sell till some substantial rework is done.
  • Money wasted: we build more than we need to launch and this often results in features that customers do not use anyway.

Market validation

The product owner needs to engage with our existing and potential customers to understand their problems and pain points. For existing businesses this could include pain points with our current services and product offering. The product owner needs to establish a strategy and plan to engage with real customers to determine the problems they face and to validate if the envisaged product will solve their needs.

What are the pitfalls if we build a solution that we think the market wants, but we never actually validate the concept with potential or existing customers before launch:

  • No sales, because no value to customers: since we are not solving any real problems for or adding real value to our perceived target market, they simply do not see the value of buying or using the product and we never get out of the starting blocks.
  • Complete wrong product: since we think we know what the market needs, but we do not necessarily have experience within this particular space, we could end up building a product that will never be used by any customer.

Example of a real pivot of a complete wrong product with an entrepreneur we worked with:

Original idea:

Knowledge base of chronical medication and the ability to see which ones cancel others out, so that if you are taking a lot of medication you know if the medicine is working as intended.

Final idea:

Instant delivery service of chronical medication to people wherever they are.

Luckily in this instance, due to proper market validation, the right product was built and launched.

Technology stack

The product owner does not have a technical background or more specifically not a software development background or they have not been involved in any software development projects before.

To minimise investment, they find an independent developer to build the product, sometimes only working after hours as they have a daytime job. This causes the following issues:

  • Wrong tech stack: we often see the worst of decisions made around the chosen technology stack. For instance language. The language chosen has few developers interested in it or not a good fit for the business.

For some insights into the languages developers love see: Stack Overflow 2018 Developer Survey.

Independent developer

We often work with entrepreneurs that made their money elsewhere and who takes some of their hard earned cash to start a new business and build some product.

This causes the following issues:

  • Slow turnaround on delivery: as this is not the main source of income for the developer and their own life gets busy, they have less time to spend on the development of the product. So the saving of money, now becomes irrelevant, as the lack of time to market is now costing you money.
  • No support on go-live: as the business might not be making money yet, the business often cannot employ the developer full-time. This creates a risk of not being able to support the product successfully post go-live and no one else with the knowledge of how to support the product post go-live.

Not enough money

This hype around startups and technology businesses has lead to a misperception amongst entrepreneurs that it is easy to start a tech business. We often see that the entrepreneur does not have enough money to get the business of the ground. They run out of money before the MVP is complete or do not have money to support the product post go-live and make changes or they do not have money to market the product. It is really sad to see all of that effort invested into a business that has a really good offering, but they cannot get it visible to succeed.

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