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How to build a great digital product

How to build a great digital product

Having an awesome 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, in fact, if you don’t work smart.

To avoid wasting any precious time, resources or enthusiasm along the way, your vision should be well defined right at the beginning. The starting point in this process is knowing what, why and how you’re doing it — and to define those in the clearest possible way, you need to be asking the right questions which will then lead to the right answers.

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 digital product, and also turn your process into one that’s utmost effective!

 

 

What problem are you solving?

 

  • Can you state the problem clearly?

    Being able to explain your idea clearly in one or two sentences is an indicator that you’ve defined your what, whyand 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 quite educated on the topic. Your experience with the problem 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 what smaller part of the problem you can solve right now — that is what you should bring to market the soonest.

  • Is the problem solvable?

    By analysing many possible customer routes according to customer criteria, you will prove if the problem is solvable and your solutions viable.

 

 

Who is your customer?

 

  • Who am I solving this problem for?

    Never say your solution is for everyone — you’ll be diluting the impact of it by trying to appeal to everyone. So, define your target audience: a particular group at which your product is aimed.

  • How often do they have the problem?

    Is the target audience faced with the problem daily, weekly, yearly or just once in their lifetime? This is going to 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 solving the problem important enough 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, the more likely they are to pay for the solution.

  • How easy is it for your customers to find?

    You can’t just build the product and then expect the customers to find it. Inevitably, you’ll need to find ways to reach them.

 

 

Does your MVP actually solve the problem?

 

Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is the not-yet-polished version of a product. This version has just enough features that it can 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?

    To test this, you need to give your minimal viable product to customers early on. Having their feedback will help you to see if your product really solves the problem and also 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 desperate 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. This is a sign that they actually 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.

 

 

How to set up metrics?

 

  • Google Analytics or events based metrics?

    Both. 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 important stats. Also, make sure everyone from the team has access to them. Once they can frequently check on this data, then they can make well-informed decisions.

  • Should I make these stats a part of product spec?

    You should make the data collected a part of product spec as soon as you have them — you’ll see if the new product release is actually being used and how. 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.

 

 

What is 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 an effective 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 what your KPIs are (e.g. daily use: tracking the amount of new users, user retention and 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.

  • Brainstorm often

    A so-called sprint is a framework for productive brainstorming sessions. Brainstorms are a great way to problem solve, often utilising Design Thinking and First Principles thinking.Define what problems you need to tackle, collectively come up with as many ideas as possible, analyse each one against your product goals and decide which ones you’re going to work on. It’s advisable that brainstorms are also split up 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 considered and written on a board, regardless of who comes up with them. Bad brainstorms are the ones where dismissing ideas without offering any feedback or constructive criticism often take place. It’s not only counterproductive, but it’ll also shut everyone down. More on this below in the section: Time for a reality check

  • Define easy/medium/hard

    Once you have your board filled with ideas, then go ahead and label each of them easy, medium or hard. Labelling them this way will help everyone understand how long each of these tasks will take to complete. Also keep in mind that through this process, the ones initially labelled hard can likely be reformulated into easier ones later.

  • Decide

    Which hard idea would impact the KPIs the most? Which medium one? 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 — clearly specify what you’re going to work on and what tasks need to be done. Write detailed specs and assign them to team members.

 

 

Why is a solid working system important?

 

Establishing a solid working system is extremely important. It equals focus — it minimises 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, you should consider using a good project management tool. For example, Notion is worth mentioning, because it allows you to run entire brainstorms on it, set your Kanban boards, add labels and categories to individual cards, link multiple documents, assign tasks to team members, comment and take notes, embed videos, create bookmarks, set due dates and schedule notifications, track your stats and progress… All of Notion’s features are customisable, so you can set it for your team’s particular needs.

 

 

Shall we 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 even realise that a solution like your one exists — and to start using it. It takes time to gather enough feedback.

On the other hand, if after two years things are still not picking up and not going as intended, then it’s probably time to rethink. In that case you should:

  • Iterate?

    Iterating means changing the solution. This is common — you have the right problem and the right customer, but your MVP was not that great and this one version just didn’t work.

  • Pivot?

    Pivoting means changing the customer and/or changing the problem. This is rare — it means you should start a new company.

 

 

Time for a reality check?

 

A conviction that your genius idea is worth working on is what’s going to fuel your determination to succeed. Yet believing that every single one of your ideas are perfect the way they are, is, to say the least, wrong. When it comes to your ideas — as well as your ways of working, stress management and interaction with others — do any of these provoke arguments? Or on the contrary, aren’t people challenging your ideas at all? Are the deliverables often a bit hit and miss? 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 product, you’ll often be faced with problems big and small. You’ll be constantly looking for solutions. So present your solution, but be sure to pick the right one. Simply put, have some humility and lose the ego. Building the best product possible means letting it benefit from good teamwork as well as collective expertise, experience and ideas.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Building a product isn’t the easiest job in the world, but, damn, it can be so rewarding! Now that you have this guide, working smart and tackling any problems while building a great digital product shouldn’t be that difficult. 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 awesome idea, shall we?

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