Having an excellent idea, wanting to disrupt the status quo, and aspiring to become a household name might be solid enough reasons to keep us motivated every day. Yet to build a digital product — to build a great digital product — also requires perseverance and hard work. A lot of it if you don’t work smart.
So to avoid wasting any precious time, resources, or enthusiasm along the way, your vision needs to be well-defined right at the beginning. The starting point is knowing what, why, and how you’re doing it — and then defining those in the clearest possible way. Simply put, asking the right questions will lead you to the right answers faster.
Doing so may get a lot easier now, as you’ll find those right questions as well as some tips below. So go on, define your right answers. Because doing this will inform, guide, and verify the right path for your great digital product and turn your process into one that’s utmost effective!
Step 1: Define what problem you’re actually solving
Can you state the problem clearly?
Being able to explain your idea in one or two sentences is a great indicator that you’ve defined your what, why, and how. You know what the problem is, why a better solution is needed and how you’re going to solve it.
Have you experienced it yourself?
It’s always going to be a big advantage if you’ve encountered the problem yourself — as you’re already well educated on the topic. Your experience with the situation and frustrations associated with it will inform your decision-making.
Is there a part of the problem that you can solve now?
Working towards your grand plan can take years. So remember to define which fragment of the problem you can solve right now — that is what you should bring to market the soonest.
Is the problem solvable?
By analyzing every possible customer route according to predefined customer criteria, you can prove if the problem is solvable and your solutions are viable.
Step 2: Describe your customer
Who am I solving this problem for?
Never say your solution is for everyone — you’ll only be diluting the impact of it by trying to appeal to everyone. Instead, define your target audience — the particular group your product is aimed at.
How often do they have the problem?
Is the target audience faced with the problem daily, weekly, yearly, or just once in their lifetime? It will indicate the amount of potential demand for your solution. And yes, the more frequent the problem, the more frequent the need for your solution.
How intense is the problem?
How urgently do they need a solution? Is having a solution that can solve their problem a priority to them? If it’s an intense problem, they’ll be more likely to seek a solution.
Are they willing to pay?
If your target audience experiences the problem frequently and intensely, they are more likely to pay for the solution.
How easy is it for your customers to find?
You can’t just build the product and expect the customers to find it. Inevitably, you’ll need to find ways to reach them. Perhaps you’ll consider the benefits of great Brand Storytelling.
Step 3: Question whether your MVP actually solves the problem
Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is the not-yet-polished version of a product. This version has enough features to be just about usable by early customers. They can then provide feedback for future product development, which helps the company avoid potentially lengthy and unnecessary work.
Does your product solve the problem?
You need to give your minimal viable product to customers early on to test this. Having their feedback will help you see if your product really solves the problem and if your solution is still worth working on. Their feedback will also inform what iterations you should make.
Which customers should you go after first?
The best customers are the ones that need your solution the most. They are the most desperately impatient ones — whose business is going to go under first because they don’t have your product right now? Keep them close.
Which ones should you run away from?
A small portion of your customers may be the most difficult to please. These are the ones that are constantly complaining or have unrealistic expectations about your product. It’s a sign that they need an entirely different solution, so let them go.
Should you discount or start with a super low price?
Never give your product away for free because it signals that you may have no value to offer or may not have enough faith in your product.
Step 4: Set up metrics
Google Analytics or events-based metrics?
Google Analytics will let you see how many people have visited your website, how many pages they viewed, and which country they’re in. Additionally, you should be able to identify what people’s actions were. Did they click this button? Did they leave something in their cart? Did they scroll down this screen? For this, you’ll need an events-based metrics product, such as Mixpanel, Amplitude or Heap.
How many stats shall I monitor?
You should pick 5-10 key stats. Also, make sure everyone from your team has access to them. The sooner they can frequently be checking on this data, the sooner they can be making well-informed decisions.
Should I make these stats a part of the product spec?
Always make the data collected a part of the product spec as soon as you have them. You’ll see how the new product release performs and how/if its features are being used. If you do this too late, it may then reveal that you already possibly went off-track. And of course, you want to avoid this.
Step 5: Maintain a good product development cycle
If your process revolves around long development cycles, never writing specs or ideas down, and arguing about what to work on — you’re doing it wrong. Here’s what a practical approach looks like:
Set a KPI Goal
Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement — it’s a number that you track that reflects how well your company is doing.
The rule of thumb is: if you charge money for your product, you should track revenue, and if your product is free, you should track usage. Once you decide on your KPIs (e.g., tracking the number of new users, user retention, or new content created), set the goals for each of them. It will allow you to measure the success of your product. Then you can focus on moving one of those numbers in the right direction at each brainstorm.
A so-called Sprint is a framework for productive brainstorming sessions. Brainstorms are a great way to problem-solve, often utilizing Design Thinking and First Principles thinking. Define what problems you need to tackle, collectively come up with as many ideas as possible, analyze each one against your product goals and decide which ones you’re going to work on.
Split your brainstorms into categories (e.g., new features & iterations on existing ones, bug fixes & maintenance, A/B tests), which will help to remove the perceived enormity of the entire product build.
Good brainstorms are ones where all ideas are taken into consideration and written on a board, regardless of who comes up with them. Bad brainstorms are ones where dismissing ideas without offering any feedback, or constructive criticism is commonplace. It’s not only counterproductive, but it’ll also shut everyone down. More on this below: Step 8: Make time for a reality check.
Once you have your board filled with ideas, then go ahead and label each of them easy, medium, or hard. Labeling ideas will help everyone understand how long these tasks will take to complete. Also, keep in mind that the ideas initially labeled hard can likely be reformulated into easier ones later.
Which one of the hard ideas would impact the KPIs the most? Which medium one? And which easy one? Once you have decided, you’ll then get down to work.
Write down the spec
Having decided, you have to make sure everyone understands what the focus is going to be right now. Specify what ideas you’re going to work on and what tasks need to be accomplished. Write detailed specs and assign them to team members.
Step 6: Introduce a solid working system
Establishing a solid working system is extremely important. It equals focus. It minimizes the chances of going off-track and wasting time and resources. Having the system allows everyone to stay informed, happy and productive.
To work smart when building a great digital product, you should consider using a good project management tool. For example, Notion is worth mentioning. You can run entire brainstorming on it: create your Kanban boards and add labels and categories to individual cards. You can create databases on it, too: create and link multiple documents, embed videos, and create bookmarks. You can also collaborate: assign tasks to team members, comment and take notes, set due dates and schedule notifications, and track your stats and progress. All Notion’s features are customizable; therefore, you can set it for your team’s particular needs.
Step 7: Understand when to iterate or pivot
Remember that you’re building something people have never used before, so don’t feel you need to change the whole idea as soon as the first feedback comes in. Keep in mind that your solution is novel, and inevitably it’ll take a bit longer for people to realize that a solution like your one exists. Therefore it will take longer for them to start using it and gather enough feedback.
On the other hand, it’s probably time to rethink if things are still not picking up and not going as intended after two years. In that case, you should:
Iterating means changing the solution. Iterating is common — you have the right problem and the right customer, but your MVP was not that great, and this one version didn’t work.
Pivoting means changing the customer and/or changing the problem. Pivoting is rare — it means you should start a new company.
Step 8: Make time for a reality check
A conviction that your genius idea is worth working on is what fuels your determination to succeed. Yet believing that every single one of your ideas is perfect the way they are, is, to say the least, delusional. Do your ideas, ways of working, stress management, or interaction with others ever provoke arguments? Or, on the contrary, aren’t people challenging your ideas at all? Are the deliverables often a bit hit and miss? Then, yes, it’s about time to have a bit of a reality check. If you choose to ignore it, you’ll be in danger of ruining the company’s culture — and the product’s success.
In the process of building a great digital product, you’ll often face problems big and small. You’ll constantly be looking for solutions. So present your ideas, but be sure to pick the right one. Simply put, have some humility and lose the ego. Building the best product possible means letting the product benefit from good teamwork and collective expertise, experience, and ideas.
Building a great digital product isn’t the most straightforward job in the world, but, damn, it’s so rewarding! Now you can follow this guide, work smart and tackle any problems while building your great digital product. Remember that no matter if you’re an inventor, CEO, software developer, designer, intern, or tech industry enthusiast, you can always become an even better one. That said, let’s get working on that excellent idea, shall we?
Having an excellent idea, wanting to disrupt the status quo, and aspiring to become a household name might be solid enough reasons to keep us motivated every day. Yet to build a digital product — to build a great digital product — also requires perseverance and hard work. A lot of it if you don't work smart.
Hi, I'm Bara. I'm a digital product & brand designer using holistic design and psychology to help startups, businesses, and entrepreneurs manifest the full potential of their businesses and successfully grow them. You may already be familiar with my design & psychology work. And you may now book business, design, and mindset mentoring with me!
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