Product Development Strategy

Great ideas happen. When working with a new product idea, this is the Product Development process I like to go through.

When great ideas happen, it’s important to be ready with a Product Development Strategy so that your idea can grow into a product.

Who doesn’t love a step-by-step guide? When I’m working through a new product idea for myself or a friend, this is the process I go through.

Step 1: Definition

Define your inspiration

Every idea has a story.

I was playing table tennis in my office not long ago and tracking the results in the world’s most complicated spreadsheet. That’s when inspiration struck! What if there were a web app to help you track office ping pong tournaments?

Pretty soon, we’ll be rethinking this idea from the ground up, and it’ll turn out nothing like I first imagined. The idea itself isn’t important right now. What matters is the story.

A good story will help later on, when it comes time to pitching and marketing. It may help shape the product’s voice, or give it meaning and purpose.

Whatever your story is – the very first Product Development step is to write down your inspiration.

Define your problem

Now’s the time to take your great idea and throw it out. Your idea is a solution, not a problem. Not only that, but it’s likely to be the very first solution that came to mind, and unlikely to be the best one.

The real gold is hiding behind your solution: It’s the problem that your idea solves.

Let’s go back to our table tennis example. The problem here is:

It’s hard to track scores for casual table tennis groups.

That’s a good start, but it’s very specific. Does this problem apply to other sports, too? As we begin to define what the problem is, we should try to be as broad as possible in our definition. After teasing it apart, we might end up with something like:

It’s hard to track scores and view stats for head-to-head social sports, which are played without a scorekeeper.

This will soon be very useful information. Remember to write it down.

Define your audience

Who experiences the problem?

The trick here is to forget about your solution’s target market, focusing instead on the people who have your problem.

Create a persona (or two). You might have heard of personas – they’re a common tool used in product development and marketing. A persona is a fictional representation of your a person in your target market.

Creating a persona will help you better understand and relate to your audience. It will be a tool that you will use over and over again as you develop, improve, and market your product.

There are a number of different persona templates and formats floating around, but I like mine to include:

  1. Identity – A name and a profile picture
  2. Personal details – Demographic, job title, characteristics, and behaviours
  3. Fears & Values – What are the persona’s objections, and what will they resonate with?
  4. Goals & Challenges – What is the persona is aiming to achieve, and what is stopping them from that?

Lastly, research where your persona spends most time online. Are they on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat? This is your target social media channel. It will become an important means of communication with your target audience.

Like your inspiration and problem, it’s vital that you write everything down.

Step 2: Validation

Validate your audience

So you’ve got a persona – that’s a good start. But how do you know for sure that people like this exist?

Use your target social media channel to learn more about your audience, and try to determine your target market’s population.

In my social-sports scoring example, I could search for statistics on non-commercial ping pong table sales, look how many Redditors subscribe to /r/tabletennis, or find out what percentage of offices have a foosball table.

At the end of the day, this will invariably involve some assumptions, but do your best to come up with a reasonably quantifiable estimate.

Validate your problem

Now you know that your audience exists, but are you sure that they are experiencing your problem? Validating the problem can be hard. Here are a few ideas:

Is there any competition? Check for existing products that solve the problem. If there are others already trying to solve this, that’s a good sign that the problem exists.

Run a survey. Remember your target social media channel? Run a survey there to gather some qualitative data from your audience.

Use Google Trends. This service allows you to gather qualitative data for search terms specific to your problem. For example, I could find trends for the search term “scores app” to see if there’s any need for a social-sports tracking solution.

Step 3: Solution

Create a hypothesis

Only after defining and validating your audience and problem should you think about a solution to your problem. Phrase your solution as a hypothesis: If this, then that.

Unlike the broad problem you defined earlier, your hypothesis should be extremely specific.

If offices or clubs which participate in regular social games of table tennis could use a web app to track their scores and view statistics, then they would choose this service over paper / whiteboard tracking.

Using this hypothesis, scope out the minimum viable solution, and then build it! This is called your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Remember, this is just an experiment. The goal here is only to test whether your hypothesis was correct, so the feature set will most likely be sparse.

Test the hypothesis

Now that you’ve got a problem, an audience, and a proposed solution, it’s time to start the experiment and see if your solution works. Start gathering data (beware of vanity metrics) to see what’s working and what’s not.

You want to find a range of both quantitative (hard facts) and qualitative (user opinion) data. Some of the things you can be looking at are:

Analytics (Quantifiable). How many users do you have? How often do they use your service? What is your sign-up conversion rate?

Feature Use (Quantifiable). Which is the most used feature or your product? Which is the least used? This can inform the focus of your next iteration.

User Feedback (Qualitative). You can collect user feedback in-app, or with a survey. Ask questions like “How satisfied are you with this product?” and “How can this product improve?”.

Iterate

You’re done! You have an audience, a problem, and a solution. It works, or it doesn’t. You can kill it, you can leave it, or you can iterate on it.

Once you’ve gathered data from your testing, search out the points of failure. Don’t worry! In this case, failure is a good thing. The point of an experiment is to learn something new, and we learn most from mistakes.

The points of failure will be things like “We converted 5% less than our target”“Nobody uses feature x”, or “Feature y is missing from a workflow”. Using these, you can iterate and repeat.


So that’s my go-to Product Development Strategy. Now it’s time for you to take it, change it, test it, implement it, and let me know how you use it!

Author: Luke Carbis

Luke is learning to trust his intuition, value Practice over Theory, and write.