In today’s technology-focused world, market trends and user requirements are constantly shifting. Thus, every growth-oriented organization is centring on a continuous and iterative digital product development process.
An iterative process enables businesses to innovate and improve the value and usability of their products and achieve long-term viability. It is the best way to keep your product relevant and competitive. If your organization is not leveraging digital product development or is inconsistent in its approach, it’s time to rethink your business practices.
In this post, we will understand the digital product development process in detail. We will also discuss the specific product development models that you can choose from, depending on your business needs. So, let’s get started.
Digital product development is the process of creating software-driven user experiences that improve the user’s journey. In other words, the process involves delivering a better user experience through the use of digital products like mobile apps, web apps, web pages, and digital dashboards.
Typically, the development process uses agile methodology to deliver products at speed while regularly testing and iterating them based on the end-user input. Having a robust product development process has become indispensable for organizations.
According to McKinsey, the organizations that employ a traditional approach to business instead of deploying the latest tools and technologies record much lower earnings and growth as compared to their digitally-forward counterparts.
Here, we will describe the product development process as a series of steps to reach the end goal. However, the reality may be very different. The different stages of new product development may appear in a slightly chaotic way, where the team members may have to go back and forth between the various stages.
But once you have successfully been through them all, it will be time for the product launch.
The process of product creation begins with defining an initial concept for the product. At this stage, the various stakeholders meet up to conduct a systematic search for new product concepts and ideas.
Typically, every business generates hundreds of potential ideas. So, all the employees, managers, partners, and customers come together to identify a handful of good product ideas that can be worked upon. The stage helps the product owner get an idea of the possible products that are suitable for both, the customers and the business partners.
Some of the most common sources of good ideas can be:
Brainstorming: You can bring together a cross-functional team and leverage their brainpower by ticking off new product ideas. Make sure the group is diverse but not too big. For instance, Amazon uses the “two-pizza” rule. It only gathers so many people for brainstorming sessions that can be fed by two pizzas.
The Five Whys: This is an effective idea generation technique that gets the thought process moving faster. You simply need to start the discussion with a problem you are addressing and ask ‘why is this happening?’ whatever response you get, ask five sequential ‘why’ questions, with each springing from the previous. This will help you get to the bottom of the problem and gather unique product ideas.
Rapid Ideation: Ask all the participants in the group to write as many ideas as they have in a specific period of time. After that, collect the responses and share out the ideas aloud. This will help to identify the most obvious ideas as well as some unique ones. At the end of this stage, you will have a list of potential digital product development ideas. It is advisable to create a document for all the gathered ideas before moving on to the next stage.
With various product ideas in your mind, you may want to proceed to the production stage. But without validating your idea, all your efforts could end in vain.
Conducting thorough market research to validate your product idea ensures that you develop a product that people want and will willingly pay for. It will ensure that your time, money, and other resources don’t go to waste over a product that will not sell.
Typically, the step involves processing different data sets to decide whether your product idea is worth a shot. The process of market research has become relatively simple because of the practice of open data. Several reputed institutions are offering free access to their datasets to deduce numbers and build up a quantitative view of the market for your specific product.
During this stage, the product owner must:
The essence of this stage is to align your digital product plan with the market needs and expectations.
After you have identified the most potential product idea, it’s time to determine the product’s look and feel.
Most people are visual when it comes to understanding and accepting new ideas and concepts. A prototype helps to create a non-functional model of the solution that enables all stakeholders and investors to visualize the final product. It enables the design team to understand the product’s function and alter the design as per requirements.
If a digital product is nearing completion, introducing drastic changes would create delays and increase the budget. But by using prototypes, the design teams can make changes early on, reducing any additional costs and effort.
Also, prototypes allow for user testing. This provides the design team with valuable feedback about their product. Once the prototype is ready, the team can easily run tests with the target audience. It is advisable to build a clickable product prototype for presentation and testing using HTML/CSS/JS to replicate a final product experience.
The stage also includes customer journey mapping and feature set identification. You can outline the set of features that you want in your digital product. Make sure to integrate features that are not only innovative but also add value to the user’s experience.
When your prototype is ready, it’s time to proceed with the technical specifications. Here, a full development team will begin working on your product. Using all the data gathered from the above steps, a good development team will follow the process of experience-driven transformation, keeping the needs of the end-users in mind.
You will start with developing an MVP, i.e. Minimum Viable Product. As the name suggests, it is a product that integrates the bare minimum functionalities required to address the problem. Based on the feedback obtained from users, you can gradually add layers of UI/UX and functionality to deliver a fully functional product.
Moving on, there are many different approaches to digital product development. As the product owner, you can choose your own approach and even adjust it, depending on the precise project requirements. Some of the most popular ones are as follows:
In this approach, each step represents a distinctive stage of product development, and each stage typically finishes before the next one begins. Mostly, the waterfall approach is feasible for large companies having a huge budget and strict requirements to tech stack, documentation, and timeline.
Agile Development: This is one of the most popular approaches to digital product development. It focuses on the quick delivery of software by dividing the entire development cycle into small tasks called sprints. Each sprint has a well-defined duration (typically weeks) with a list of deliverables planned at the start of the sprint.
The best aspect of this approach is that it offers parallel progress of various teams and leads to a reduction of time and costs. Generally, this flexible approach involves the following steps: Concept, Inception, Iteration, Release, Production, and Retirement.
Lean Product Development: This development approach involves developing products that emphasize waste reduction, quick delivery, increased profits, and optimal customer value. The approach is based on a set of Lean principles that ensure benefits like communication, visibility, quick feedback, zero multitasking, and early warning of delays.
Typically, the lean digital product lifecycle includes the following steps: Ideation, Exploration, Validation, Growth, Sustaining, and Retire.
Hybrid approach: Another very popular product development approach is a hybrid of agile and waterfall techniques. This approach enables you to customize the methodology and tailor it as per the precise project requirements.
It is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for digital product development. In fact, many startups use a blend of methodologies such as agile, lean, and waterfall to deliver the optimal solution.
No matter how streamlined your work processes are, mistakes are a usual part of the creative workflow. So, to ensure the quality of your deliverable, it is important to conduct regular and repeated testing of the product during the different development stages. This will help to eliminate bugs and fix any errors in the code. It will also eradicate potential security issues, user issues, and other vulnerabilities before the actual launch.
Typically, the stage involves the following market testing strategies.
Pilot Testing: This testing is aimed at refining the digital product before it is released to the beta users. It helps you to understand how the end-users will respond to the product. Also, it identifies the tweaks that are most urgently required.
Alpha/ Beta Release: Alpha is the first working prototype of the digital product. It is meant for internal testing of design and functionality. This prototype is followed by a beta release that gathers feedback on the UX. The goal of both these is to develop a functional and bug-free product that can be released to the end-users.
Apart from this, rigorous QA testing is performed to remove any bugs and defects. If any issues are detected, they are resolved before moving on to the final product launch stage.
This stage involves unveiling the product to the end-users. Often, with digital products, there are still many bugs in the first product form. So, being a little wary and maintaining a low profile can help you scale more efficiently. After all, it is very difficult to win back prospective clients after a prominent product launch flop.
Moving on, there are three approaches you choose from to launch:
Soft Launch: In this, the first product version is only made available to a limited group of individuals, who are often called early adopters.
Hard Launch: In this, the first product version is released to the entire market with a full marketing strategy in place. This approach is seldom recommended for launching MVP products.
Dark Launch: In this, the MVP has already been released but a new set of features is launched in a dark mode to some select individuals only. This helps to determine the user’s response to new features.
The digital product development process does not stop after launch. In fact, after launch, the product begins to mature and more and more users try it out. This results in more user feedback and an increasing need for updates, improved performance, security, new features, and better UX.
Ideally, the post-launch phase should include the following:
Collecting user feedback: The end user’s interaction with your digital product provides useful insights into the product’s performance. It is a must to use this feedback to further improve the offerings.
Boosting Marketing Efforts: To reach more customers, it is imperative to have a full-fledged marketing strategy in place.
Determining the Product Cost: You must document all the costs required to bring the product to market. Ongoing testing: This is the key to ensuring your product stays relevant. At every stage of growth, conduct rigorous testing to validate your product and make it as viable as possible.
The digital product creation process is not just limited to a build and release approach. It is important to constantly monitor the product and make sure it adapts to the shifting environment and customer needs.
As discussed above, the digital product development approach varies from one organization to another. However, most companies that deliver successful products rely on certain best practices. Here, we will look at such practices that can help you create and deliver a successful product.
Digital product development is a long and ongoing process. No matter the type of product you are building, every single stage, i.e. ideation, market research, prototyping, development, and launch requires thorough efforts. Make sure to plan things out and have a robust development and marketing strategy in place. This will ensure a successful final product with constant demand.