When you’re trying to deliver a new product to market, you’re probably focused on just that — the product. What is it? What does it do? Why does it need to exist? Who’s going to use it? Is there a sufficient market to sustain this business model? All of these questions demand answers before you can even begin to think about development.
But let’s say you’ve already answered these questions, or at least have a list of assumptions that you’re ready to test. The next logical step would be to start building your product; but that comes with an even bigger list of questions: Who’s going to build it? Should I hire a team or outsource? Should I go balls to the wall, or build in small, iterative sprints? The list goes on and on, and if you’re a first time product owner, developing your software product can suddenly turn into an overwhelming task. That’s why we recommend new product owners focus on three areas of development: people, process, and tools.
People: The Human Side of Software
There’s an old saying that “you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” and nowhere is this more true than in software development, where there are a million moving parts to track, daily discoveries to be made, and plenty of personalities to juggle. However, the people you should think about first and foremost are your users. Who are they? Are there multiple customer segments you’ll need to appeal to? Who is your early adopter? And who will you get feedback from? The answers to these questions are absolutely essential to the development process; but when it comes to building the actual product, you’ll need to lean on a completely different group of individuals.
Who are we talking about? These are your designers, developers, engineers, and managers. In short: these are your experts, the people who will build what you’ve envisioned, and the ones who will keep your project on track. And unless you’re a wiz at software development, you probably won’t be able to build your product without a similar team of professionals, whether they’re based in-house or hired through outstaffing. But how do you build this team? Where do you even find the talent you need?
Every software development project is different, so there are no uniform expectations or requirements for talent. Instead, you must align the skills of the developer or engineer with the needs of your product. When it comes to our client projects, we assign teams that are:
- And focused on delivering value to you and your customers.
It may appear to be a vague benchmark, but it works within the realm of ever-evolving software development, where teams often need to transform ethereal or conceptualized ideas into material products or services. And since we often help startups and larger businesses with their staffing needs, we’ve also developed our own process for integrating our developers, engineers, and account managers into a client’s development process as seamlessly as possible, while still providing maximum value. In addition, we believe that the very best product developers take customer service that much further by caring not only about their initial client, but about their client’s customers as well. This benchmark should be the goal with any hire your bring on board: Do they add value to your development process? And will that value be recognized by the end user?
Process: Getting From A to B with As Little Waste As Possible
Once you have your staffing needs met, it’s time to put those individuals to work building your product. But where should they start? Some developers may only work one way, while others may be more flexible. Some product managers will prefer one methodology over another, while some designers may demand free rein. Every team and every project is different, which is why at Distillery, we prefer a more flexible process. Yes, we can work Agile; but we can also approach a concept with an open mind and adjust to fit your unique needs. In the end, it all boils down to your product.
- What features will I absolutely need to appeal to my user?
- What benefits will my user receive from these features, if any?
- When will I contact my user for feedback?
- How will my team and I respond to that feedback?
- How can our business expand and grow over time?
- How will we market our product to the user?
- How will we provide customer support or educate our users down the line?
The answers to these questions can inform not only your product but also your process for development. Here are three processes to consider:
- Consequent (aka Waterfall)
Waterfall is a step-by-step process that requires the completion of one task before moving on to the next. Products are only tested at the end of the development process, as opposed to during.
- Iterative (aka Agile)
The Scrum framework allows for an incremental approach with short sprints led by self-organizing and multi-functional teams. What this means is that your team will be composed of narrow-specialized members who, combined, can provide all of the necessary skills for development without drawing from external resources.
- Mixed (Consequent + Iterative)
This is a mix of Waterfall at the beginning, and Iterative towards the end. In other words, concept, requirements, and design will be conducted step-by-step, while architecture, construction, and testing will be done in iterative sprints.
What to Expect: With a Consequent process, you’ll struggle to control the Budget. For instance, if you need a certain Scope to be ready by a certain date, and something goes wrong in development, you should anticipate paying more money to meet deadline. And since you don’t get your product until the end of the process, you may be surprised to find that no one really needs your product once it’s out in the marketplace.
What to Expect: With an Agile development process, you can’t really control the Schedule, but you’re free to play with Scope on the fly. And since you will have a working piece of software at the end of every sprint, and you almost always pay per sprint, you can stop developing whenever you feel the time is right. However, you can’t really determine when the development process is actually finished. There’s no benchmark for “done.”
What to Expect: While this process is a compromise of both Consequent and Iterative processes, you won’t get any real software until the design phase ends. However, once you have solidified a design, you can get a far more accurate estimate of Budget and Schedule moving forward, allowing you to plan your product with greater precision.
Keep in mind that the process you choose can make or break your software development. Again, we believe it’s best to keep an open mind and choose the process that works best for the product you’re building — but always test to ensure that what you’re building actually has market feasibility. We’d hate for you to go through all of the trouble of building software only to discover there’s no market for it.
Tools: Effective Trumps Flashy
A man walks into a hardware store to buy a power drill, then goes home to drill some holes into a wall. What did he really purchase? In this case, he was essentially buying the holes he needed to complete his project — not the drill. The drill was simply a means to an end. And through this perspective, we can see that even tools for software development aren’t what they seem at first glance. In other words, what are you using the tools to do?
Sure, you can purchase all top of the line equipment with seemingly infinite gadgets and capabilities, but if you only need it to do one small, highly specific thing — and it can’t do that — then the value of that tool plummets. So how do you choose the right tools for your project?
Our goal here at Distillery is to provide our employees with the best tools for productive work so that value can be delivered to our clients in the most robust and effective ways possible. And that means using the right tool for the right task at the right time — not just purchasing whatever instrument is “hot” right now. So far this has been a winning strategy for our clients, and we believe it can work for you too.
But what do we mean by tools? Well, tools can be anything you use to:
- Define your information architecture
- Understand your user journeys
- Build your app’s user interface
- Code the logic of underlying features
- Create a database or data model
- Or synchronize information
Just be sure to focus on effectiveness when searching for tools, and think about what you need that tool to do. Do you need to drill holes? Or do you need to saw boards? What does your product require, and what will empower your team to work smarter?
And, sure, maybe all of these questions are still overwhelming. Maybe you have no idea where to even acquire tools for software development, or how to determine which process is right for you. That’s why Distillery exists: to provide the people, processes, and resources you need to get the job done right, the first time. Think we might work well together? Reach out for a quote. We’re here to make your vision a reality.
About the Author
As Distillery’s Director of Business Development, Matt Cowan is passionate about working with clients to address their business needs and achieve their strategic goals. With a diverse background working with companies of all sizes across many industries, he prides himself on his ability to see things from the client’s perspective.