We live in a digital world where businesses are either actively working to innovate and progress their digital transformation or where digital natives are relying on good products that will allow them to succeed. Regardless of a company’s digital maturity, ambition or desired outcomes, “getting product right” is difficult – strewn with unknowns and risk.
Xoomworks Technology, now part of Accenture, has been partnering with organisations to develop innovative digital products for more than 20 years. During that time, we’ve seen many successes, some false starts, and a few complete failures.
Here’s what we’ve learnt.
#1 Product strategy really does start with understanding what users need
It’s a more common mistake than you think for business leaders to presuppose what people want. They may over-rely on their knowledge of the sector and years in the role to assume that users are unhappy with what they already have. They convince themselves that what users need is enhanced features and better functionality, when in reality, end users may want something totally different from what they’re currently using or just an easier, simpler way of doing things.
Building or enhancing a successful digital product innovation begins with fully understanding the job users are trying to do and how they want to do it. Your product or product innovation strategy must start by getting to know the people using the product and engaging them through interviews, questionnaires and simple discussions. And this needs to happen long before you start thinking about wireframes or prototypes.
#2 Engage users too late and you won’t know what they really think
Users are not always easy to engage and tend to take the path of least resistance. A common mistake is to assume they are engaged when they’re not. If you wait to engage them until your idea is too baked – when someone has already gone through the process of guessing what their needs are and mocked up wireframes – it is too late. As soon as it starts looking like a real product, your end-users are more likely to endorse what you’ve done rather than questioning if it’s fit for purpose.
Once your users are engaged, keeping them invested in the product with a fast feedback loop and good ongoing communication is essential. By asking clearly and often what they are trying to achieve and how they are doing it, you will quickly get a sense of which direction will help take your product to the next level of maturity.
#3 Successful product innovation is about building incremental value
When it comes to digital product development, the best results come from working in “product mode” – a way of managing software development that differs significantly from the “project” approach.
What’s the difference?
A project has a plan with specific outputs and fixed timescales; that means you’re focused on getting the work done and the order in which you’re doing it. “Product mode” focuses on outcomes rather than outputs – there’s no fixed scope or endgame for what the product will look like when it’s finished.
Digital product innovation relies on “test and learn”. It’s very hard to know what to build next until you’ve built the thing before; it’s why digital products need to be very fluid in scope. You build the minimum viable product (MVP) and then use the insights from deploying that to discover what to build next.
The surefire way to get honest feedback from users is to give them something and let them use it – they’ll be quick to tell you what they don’t like about it! No matter how many times you ask users up front: What do you need? What would be helpful? What could be better? – you won’t get that same level of engagement. Give them something that isn’t quite right to try, and the feedback will flow.
#4 Agile helps ‘bring order’ to product mode test and learn
The test and learn approach is inherently chaotic, which is why most people and businesses find it is hard to do properly. For businesses, it feels uncontrolled and risky; individuals may struggle with its unpredictability, lack of clarity around what is expected, and a workload that is difficult to predict.
Working within an agile framework gives both businesses and product teams some levers of control over the project. There is a budget, the workload becomes predictable, risks are identified and managed, and expectations are much clearer, which is reassuring for all concerned.
To understand the Xoomworks Technology approach and our role in helping businesses create compelling and inclusive digital customer experiences, get in touch.
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