Rick Meekins is the Managing Partner at Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy, an Atlanta, GA based small business consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Implementation and Managed Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations.
- There is a chance it could fail. Accept it. Go back to the drawing board and try again.
- Just because you build something doesn’t mean that people are going to know about it. You’ve got to tell people about it and help them understand why it is beneficial to them.
- The first product out of the gate usually isn’t the winner. There are normally refinements that happen over time.
That said, while many people can probably throw something together rather quickly such as a course, or something like that, often to build something substantial, you will want to take a more strategic process that allows you to walk through a number of stages of development which, in the long run, will help make the overall product development more efficient.
A Tale of Two Products
Let’s talk about this in terms of software app development.
The First Approach
There was a team that decided to bring a software product to market. They went around their circle of friends and showed them drawings of what it would look like, told them wonderful stories of what it would do, got feedback and promises for commitment and all of that stuff. (By the way – never believe your friends and family when they say they are going to buy what you are making. If they do, consider it a nice surprise. No offense mom and dad!)
They feel like they have a great product that would serve the needs of an industry where there appeared to be a great need, so they approach a software development firm to develop the software. Long story short, they got the software developed. It was a beautiful piece of work, but they opted not to take steps during the final stages of development that would have provided them with crucial feedback about the app and allow them to pivot, they didn’t market the product and they didn’t plan for refinements over time.
The Second Approach
A second approach to software development: our client had an idea for an application that they also felt would fill a unique need in the marketplace. This team also went through various phases of prototyping, but instead of using friends and family, they used primary research – went to the people who didn’t know them, who would potentially use the software and got feedback and input from them. This was valuable feedback that they used to improve the prototype before they ever went to the software development firm.
Once they had prototyped their minimum viable product, they took it to the software development firm to have it produced. During this time, they began developing the financial models that would help them understand all of the costs and expenses associated with the product, what level of investment would be required, what level of marketing would be required, etc., in order for the product to have a shot in the marketplace. They understood that there are hundreds of thousands of products in the marketplace, and to make some noise…get some visibility, they were going to need to do something different and do it well.
This firm did a beta test…and a second…and a third. By the third beta test, they were confident that they could go to market. They turned their marketing machine on and were able to a) convert beta testers and get them to become advocates, b) reach early adapters, who they knew would be a critical group to capture and c) get enough momentum to push through to the early majority of customers.
What it Takes
The goal of a product development process is to maximize the likelihood that a product or service will be successful.
It starts out with understanding the need in the marketplace. Sometimes it will be an improvement on something that exists, sometimes it will be taking something that exists and applying it to a new market and sometimes it will be something that is brand new. Believe it or not: the “brand new” items are typically the most difficult to sell!
When you’ve created your hypothesis about the marketplace need, you need to determine how to fill it. Come up with ideas. Lots and lots of ideas. Group your ideas together into meaningful ideas. Shape them…mold them…find something that makes sense and start working with it. You may come up with 5 or 10 potentially feasible ideas.
Test your ideas: what will it take to produce them? How much will it cost? How complex is it? Is it something that can really be done? Throw out the ideas that don’t work. Press forward. If nothing works, go back to the drawing board.
With your remaining prototypes, it is time to build it and test it out. This is known as the prototyping phase. With a solid prototype in hand you can go back to the dozens and dozens of people you interviewed before to see how much they love it. Explain to them that their feedback is critical in the development of the product. You are looking for both the good and the bad.
Then take it to people you don’t know and get their input. (It goes without saying that you don’t want your secret getting out before it is fully baked, so you need to make sure to take the necessary precautions to protect your investment.) A successful test means that you can move on to the next phase. If it is unsuccessful, do not pass go. If there are adjustments that need to be made before moving forward, do so. If you need to start over, then do so. Remember: these people represent your target market. If they don’t like it, no one will.
With a good, tested prototype, it’s time to do what you might call a limited access launch, a beta test or a trial run. Define the terms, define what you want you want to measure, understand that it may cost a bit more to run this per customer, simply because you are still learning, but it is important to monitor these costs so that you end up with a product that can work as you scale up production. During this phase, it will be important to collect feedback from people and begin to understand what tweaks and adjustments need to be made. Again – understanding your KPI’s Key Performance Indicators will help you understand if the product is really feasible. If you have inconsistencies, cost overruns, etc., and cannot figure out how to control them, you’ll want to go back to an earlier stage in the product. If all is good…
You are ready for Primetime!
Roll out your marketing. Do your product launch. Make sure that your audience(s) know that you have a unique solution to meet their needs at a price that works for them. Get your testimonials from your beta testers and make them part of your overall marketing campaign. But most importantly, continue to listen to your customers. If you are hearing a consistent thread from people about a particular feature or missing feature, make updates quickly. And continue to evaluate it as people are actually using it. You will likely see some things you can do differently or better.
While many people can put some ideas down on paper based on what they think
their audience needs and produce something, those who are going to be truly successful in serving their markets are those who are going to take the time to listen to their market, take their product development through a phased approach, and continue to develop and refine it over time.
Business Catalyst Masterclass
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