The journey of an Idea to a new software product or service could be complex.
What will be the duration of my journey? Does it take 6 months or 6 years for the journey to complete? How does the entrepreneur/ promoter know at which stage of the journey his/her idea is? Here is an attempt to define measurable slices of the journey. I have tried to visualize it in these 6 simple stages.
The (ETA) earliest time of arrival in most cases may not be Predictable, but these 6 steps would help you establish where your idea stands in the journey. Each step has a distinct character, and the team working on the idea would need a change in the style of thinking, and style of working. I have seen product companies decide to change the leadership, or organization structures when they enter the next phase of the journey.
Here are the 6 phases of the product development lifecycle.
- Problem: Identify a Business Problem Worth Solving
- Concept Solution: An Innovative Solution or a Product Idea
- Demo: Tangible Demo of concept Solution
- MVP: Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Design & Development
- Customer Experience: Customer Experience Management of the Solution
- Steady State: Successful Product Steady state
Let’s decode them one by one…
1) Problem: Identify a Business Problem Worth Solving
Product Promoters or Startup teams most of the time do have a fair idea about which business problem they want to solve. Could be something they have struggled with or know someone who has that problem.
Stating the problem is the first step. There are multiple ways to write the problem statements. There are many problems worth solving, sometimes asking will someone pay for solving this problem is also equally important. A well-researched and articulated Problem is the best way to start the journey of a solution. Five W’s almost always are helpful here. (5 Ws)
- Who is the beneficiary?
- What is the exact need?
- When was the problem found?
- Where is the context of use?
- Why will the customer pay for this?
After you get answers to the above questions, your Idea has arrived at this stop.
2) Concept Solution: An Innovative Solution or a Product Idea
Once the target user and their exact problems (worth solving) are established, next comes the solution. There could be multiple ways of approaching the solution for any problem. At this stage could you should try ‘Lateral Thinking’ tools. Structured brainstorming sessions, done in teams are the best way to put your foot forward. Looking at how similar problems (in other domains) have been solved, is also useful.
Brainstorming techniques, Ideation exercises, Hackathons, are some of the proven tools to reach the solution. The most interesting part of this journey is having multiple options, and ALL of them may take you to the next stop. exploring options before you have invested heavily in the solution is the key.
Even if you think you have a clear concept solution in mind, trying out different approaches and documenting them will surely pay off. Trust me, if you fail on this journey, these options could still put you on the right path again.
3) DEMO: Tangible Demo of concept Solution
Once you have finalized the concept, the next step is to make the whole idea tangible. How do you explain your product idea? How to get an estimate of efforts from the development team? How to demonstrate the benefits of your solution to your target customers? How to showcase the idea to potential investors?
Creating a proof of concept demo is the next stage in our journey. The demo could be just a few UI screens created by some drawing tools, or sometimes even simple paper sketches are useful. Depending on the time and budget available, teams could select their favorite tool, but creating a tangible demo that can explain the benefits of the solution is super useful.
The demos come in many avatars.
- A clickable prototype of the software product
- A before and after concept video
- An explainer videos how the solution will work
- Even a physical working prototype if the solution involves a physical product)
In short, any possible tool or medium that elaborately explains the Concept solution to the target Customers, Users, or even Investors, qualifies to be a Demo.
After your Demo is ready, present the demo to select potential customers to validate whether the solution makes sense to their use case? and will they pay for this solution? should be the next step. This is an iterative process, the more feedback you get, the clearer the features of the solution become. It’s relatively inexpensive to modify the demo prototype as compared to changing the fully developed product.
Make sure you get sufficient feedback on your demo before declaring the completion of this step. If you think, you are equipped to explain your concept solution with the demo, Congratulations, you have arrived on this step of the journey.
4) Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Design & Development
The MVP step is the most talked-about in the journey of product development. There are hundreds of books, experts have written on how to arrive at this step.
After the demo is reviewed and the feedback is incorporated back into the prototype, it’s time to jump into this crucial step of the journey. This step would attract some serious amount of effort from the design and Development side.
Your product manager would play an important role here. S/He has to negotiate with development teams, on deciding on what features qualify to be part of the MVP. MVP should have enough working capability that users/customers can start using. It may not solve all the desired problems but, give a clear taste of the solution benefits. This is where the Trio of product development works together to create a working product. UX Design team, Product Manager, and Development Team are the three supporting pillars of product development.
Some serious development efforts are required at this stage, and depending on the complexity of the solution, may take a sizeable amount of time. Some organizations choose to bootstrap all of these efforts themselves or choose to get some Angel investments for developing the MVP product.
Agile development methodologies will allow you to make changes at every step, rapid development and validation cycles are proven to be much more beneficial than one big bang development cycle. Giving access to some trusted potential customers is key to testing your MVP product. This also can be termed as the ‘Proof of Concept’ stage, because, the customers may not be paying customers but can solve some basic problems with the help of your solution.
After several iterations, review cycles, Once you have a functional product ready that can be used by your target customers, and solve at least some of their problems, you have arrived at this step of the journey.
5) Customer Experience Management of the Solution
After the ‘Proof of Concept’ product is released, and customers start using the product, you will realize the value of designing and developing all the touch-points of the customers. This is the time to start Selling and Scaling your solution. Understanding and creating a map of your customer lifecycle is very important here. The typical customer lifecycle cycle of Acquisition > Engagement > Conversion > Loyalty will be helpful here.
- How does a potential customer know about your solution?
- How to engage the customer who is aware of your solution? and assure them of the appropriateness of the solution for their specific use case.
- How to Convert this potential customer to a Customer
- Once the customer signs up, how to make sure they can use the product themselves, and all users in their organization understand how to perform their tasks easily.
A lot of product companies start investing in ‘Customer Support’ departments, and customer support teams make sure the new customer is onboard easily, their users can learn how to use the product rapidly. Some customer-specific needs might come up and quick hack solutions have to be built.
In short, this phase is a little messy for product teams, and they might need different sets of skills to sail this crucial step.
If you have thought through the whole customer experience, and have a clear picture of the Service Map of your product that you have implemented, Then yes, you have arrived at this step.
6) Successful Product Steady state
If you have passed the 5th step, Congratulations! you would have started generating decent revenue from your product, and your marketing and sales teams are already talking about revenue targets quarterly or annually.
This phase is for consolidating your resources, setting up matured processes to meet the growing customer demand. Additionally, Test and Improvise are the Mantras at this phase. Be it an additional feature requested by several customers, or simplification of an existing workflow, handling all of these requests in a systematic manner will take you a long way with your product.
Are you already thinking of the V2.0 of your product? do you have some blueprints of how to get the next set of customers? or trying to explore how your solution could expand into an adjacent or an altogether new domain?
Congratulations! you have arrived at this stage of the journey.
The uniqueness of this journey
Unlike a regular Air or Train journey, which typically proceeds from step 1 to step two, to step 3, and so on till the last destination; The journey of an idea to a successful product is not always linear. Sometimes jumping back to the previous step also proves beneficial.
- After your Tangible Demos has been reviewed by customers and some constructive feedback is received, you may think of going back and revisiting the real customer needs again.
- After arriving on the MVP step, if you get sufficient customer feedback, there is always a possibility of going back to step 2 and reconsidering the concept.
- Even at the last step, most product teams go back to re-evaluating their concept solution, so that version 2.0 of your product might address certain needs of the users those are not met with the existing solution
Which Stage of the journey your product is at?