Over the years, I have been approached by a number of companies feeling the pressure to revitalize or modernize their software. The business drivers cited have ranged from a need to improve user experience and increase engagement to combatting increasing marketplace competition, and in some cases the execution of a new business model. In every case, each of these companies felt compelled to embark upon a software modernization project in the pursuit of “innovation”.
In working with these companies, the most striking factor that has stood out is that even the most successful organizations sometimes forget the “obvious”. What is the most obvious thing about product innovation, we noticed? Innovation does not stem from implementing new technology or from a design face lift, it is a direct result of clarity around business objectives and customer value-add. Why do business objectives and customer needs tend to fall by the wayside during product development discussions? The reasons have ranged from operational cost and timeframe pressures, to plain old fashioned human fallibility . Irrespective of the reason, the process that guides product innovation should be shaped by business goals, customer needs and budget. Despite the fact that every approach will be unique, there are a few key factors that every company must consider to successfully reinvigorate their product offerings.
1. Have Key Conversations Up Front
From a practical standpoint, it is inadvisable to get users and internal stakeholders involved in every small design decision. What is critical to success is to start with a discussion on what users and use cases matter most and why in relation to business goals. In certain instances, there may be business reasons for talking about “edge cases” to reveal the limits of technology or ensure a holistic review for product completeness. However, this does not mean these scenarios deserve the same level of attention as primary use cases or usage scenarios.
Examples of types of topics might be worth discussing to achieve stakeholder alignment around objectives and value includes:
- Product and Business Goals;
- Customers Goals and Value Proposition;
- UX goals;
- Technical Considerations and Implications;
- Measuring Success;
- Schedule, Milestones;
- Users, Usage Scenarios, Product Ecosystem;
- Roles, Activities, Deliverables, Schedule; and
- Next Steps, Agreements, Actions.
2. Course Correct Along the Way
Even when product development projects are initiated based on clearly articulated business objectives; it is easy to gradually lose sight of these priorities. People tend to get caught up in their respective areas of specialty or in what they love to do. Therefore, it is key that the agreed upon business priorities serve as a constant guide for all the required design and technical decisions throughout the product development lifecycle.
3. When You are Done – Begin Again
The last point is to ensure that you need to plan ahead of time to be checking in on the product success metrics that were defined at the onset of the project. Every functional group involved should have had specific goals tied to the overall business success of the product.
Success benchmarks should be identified well ahead of time in addition to direct measurements on how to check in on those goals or at least some indicators. Again the same agenda that started the project – or at least a portion of it – is great for driving what you’ll be measuring in the field when you are nearing release. Ideally you’ll have talked about this way ahead of release and you’ll just be tweaking the details when you release the product.
In summary, keep a focus on the business and customer goals throughout the design and development process and beyond by taking a little time up front to not only define some of the key goals and their implications, but to monitor them throughout. Then adjust the software based first and foremost on the business goals.
Don’t get caught in the trap of believing that design and development decisions are as urgent or as important as they are made out to be. Make it your job to have the organization systematically perform a business goal alignment throughout design and development.
The Product Innovation Challenge
In this whitepaper, we propose three considerations to think about before launching into your annual product roadmap planning process.