Most startups fail. Whether it’s due to an overly saturated market, a premature product launch, or just an expensive ping-pong table. Yet some of the most costly mistakes are often on the product side, be that due to a lack of concept definition, little expertise, or over-engineering.
Everyone has ideas, yet not many know how to execute them well. This means first defining your product development process – as building a product without one would definitely be a recipe for failure.
Product Development in Four Quick Steps
A well-structured product development process will force you to answer the tough questions that will better define your product and your overall strategy. Here are four steps to help you flesh out your product development process.
Stage 1: Setting up your project
Your first step is to decide on the type of product you want to make. Many teams tend to focus on Scalable Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). These are MVPs with an architecture that’s easy to build on top of. Yet in the early stages, they only have the essential features needed. While Scalable MVPs lack the completeness of a finished product, they forgo the bugginess of Disposable MVPs (such as a DIY landing page made with Unbounce).
Before moving on to build your user experience, be sure to have a clear understanding of your timeline and budget. You should always be diligent in trying to stick to both of them.
Stage 2: Building up your user experience
This is where most founders go wrong. They often get lost in the big picture and forget about their users’ experience. Creating user stories can help to visualise who are your users and what their needs are. It’s as simple as filling out this template: ‘As a <who>, I want <what>, so that <why>’. For example, ‘As a freelance developer, I want to see a map preview of the co-working space, so that I know how to find it easily.’ This clarifies for us that the app should feature a mini-map for the co-working space. While this is quite specific in shaping the user’s’ experience through features, we may also create user stories for validating larger concepts. For example, ‘As a freelance developer, I want to work remotely, so that I can travel the world.’ This is a broader way to verify why a co-working app would be useful for freelance developers.
The next step is to bring your user stories to life! The best way to visualise your potential features is through actual sketches of the user’s experience, also known as wireframing. When creating MVPs it’s crucial that we prioritize our features. Use a simple ranking system, rank each mockup based on cost, complexity, and impact on your initial goal (the bigger picture) – it’s as simple as that. A ranking system helps us to prioritize features so that we avoid the common problem of over-engineering.
Congratulations! You should already see your product taking shape, with the highest ranking features clearly defining your concept.
Stage 3: Designing ‘Quick & Dirty’
While it’s tempting to spend a considerable amount time designing your product’s branding, you need to hold back that instinct. The key to this step is speed – you need to get your MVP out fast – so go for the ‘quick and dirty’ yet efficient design process.
‘Quick’ means choosing a few key design elements to define your product; a font, two colours and the type of imagery you want to use. The ‘dirty’ part of the process involves learning from your competitors and replicating a few of their best aspects. Sometimes creating target personas can make the ‘quick and dirty’ process easier, as it helps in establishing who you are designing for. Need to fill in those wireframes? Then some useful image banks for copyright-free images are pixelbay and unsplash.
The design process should ideally be overseen by someone who is an expert in your target field and can advise you on integrating a good user experience into the designs. This individual can help optimise your process by reducing decision-making time, as they instinctively know the type of FAQs to include and the ideal position of a CTA button.
Stage 4: Developing in an agile way
Many founders are not diligent enough with this stage. Choose your tech stack and start with the backend development process. It is important, especially if you outsource your tech, to maintain clear and explicit communication during the development phase. Remember to heed the advice of your developers and take into account what they have to say. Hiring a project manager can also be good option as it leaves founders with the time and resources to further develop other aspects of their business.
Remember to develop agile – keeping in mind that (ideally) there should be no major changes afterwards. As soon as you have the software developed, start testing. You cannot avoid bugs, so prioritise which ones to fix and focus on those – ideally, you should create a standardised process for dealing with them to save a lot of time.
Also, if you lose a couple of minor users along the way, don’t let it deter you. It’s important not to get fixated on retaining every one of your initial users, remember that this is an MVP and not your final product.
Final tip: Remember the ‘30% Rule’
From the inception of an idea to the launch of the MVP, you’ll probably struggle with deadlines at every step of the way. The ‘30 per cent rule’ is often used by agencies to better estimate their projects and it’s a quick and effective rule to keep in mind. Simply overestimate the amount of time and resources for each project by 30 per cent, and you’ll save yourself a lot of unneeded stress and frustration.
Lastly, iteration after iteration, bug after bug, you will never succeed unless you diligently work your way through every setback. Get comfortable with continuous development long-term.
Marc Clemens is the founder of CodeControl.io, which matches top-tier freelance developers and designers with companies. As a Berlin-based serial entrepreneur, Clemens loves building products, and everything related to tech and the future of work.