Creative Processes Explained – The Product Development Process

Creative Processes Explained

The Product Development Process

Important to understand, often mis-understood. The creation of a product needs to factor in more than you think . . .

Following on from our post on the Branding Process we traverse into the world of Products, specifically digital products in this case, and we look to dissect what it takes to get a product from first thought into first hands. Not only do we delve into the process we also look at the commercial aspects that surround a product and the broader impacts and changes that are needed in order for them to work harmoniously.

So, let’s dive in. What is Product Development?

Product Development refers to the process that needs to be followed in order to get said product to market. There are several stages with responsibilities shared across teams. The Product Development process iterates continuously within a larger Product Lifecycle process.

Once a product is ready, or nearing readiness other teams can kick start into action looking to answer and consider the after-effects, which are:

  • How does the product stay competitive?
  • How does the business support the product and its customers?
  • How does it scale?
  • How is profitability optimised?

Many questions here, some of which we will touch on further in this post and others we will address separately. There are however a myriad of considerations to take into account.

Product Development can, at times, seem like an endless capital drain, but in order to make it big you do need the financial backing to shape the organisation that will help it flourish, accelerate and grow. This is where funding comes into play but we’ll talk about this another time.

If we take a glance at a theoretical product cost vs. profit model we would most likely see something not to dissimilar to this:-

Of course profit all depends on when the revenue will start to come in and that will depend on your development methodology and product strategy.

Strategy: Development Methodologies

Here we look at Agile vs. Waterfall. Two common approaches, but one more suiting to today’s fast paced markets.

In brief, Agile is about pace and iteration. Agile was developed due to the growing frustrations that Waterfall presented. It is collaboration-heavy, requiring feedback both internally and externally, ultimately aiming for client satisfaction. This approach works on the basis of continuous evolution, delivering features continuously through iteration. Agile suits efficiency and allows teams to prioritise in a much more granular level.

Waterfall on the other hand, now considered outdated, was and has been the most traditional, due to its plan-driven, sequential steps. Waterfall would involve the successful completion of all requirements planning, design, feature scoping and documentation before anything actually went into development. The drawback to this clearly being that one phase would need to be completed in its entirety before the next starts, so should there have been a mistake or a need for any changes, then the process would need to start again in its entirety.

Which is then the best to adopt? Most teams adopt an agile methodology nowadays, and this really plays into the concept of smaller iterative steps, review, test, measure, iterate. Given the advances in the capability of continuous integration teams can now build, test, release and report at lightning speeds. This optimised, efficient control helps products and teams deliver MVPs (minimum viable products) as a base to which features and add-ons are then rolled out in continuous succession.

MVPs allow sales and marketing to get to work, looking to drive both revenue and customer support, knowledge initiatives and organisational training.

Product Development Steps

If we look at the steps of Product Development we can actually see some similarities with our last post, The Branding Process; but let’s review each in isolation:

Requirements – what are the problems we are trying to solve?

Prior to getting creative or indeed pressing go on any kind of coding, you need a clear requirements analysis.

A set of definitions around the problem you are trying to solve, along with desired outcomes, potential high level solutions, tools, languages, as well as the benefits that the solution will deliver.

Important to understand your user personas indentifying how the solution will impact each one and their daily routines.

Requirements clearly define the parameters of the project and therefore identify all apects that fall in as well as out of scope. Input from all stakeholders, customers, sales, industry experts as well as engineers is a must.

Planning & Design – What is the solution and how do we get there?

With a clear set of requirements to hand the team can start to plan, outlining the costs and resources required to deliver the requirements. Here, a variety of strategies can be hypothesised which will typically result in some form of MVP specification.

With a plan and specifiation defined the design team can get to work.

Design isn’t just about a visual look and feel. Design covers all kinds of product aspects from user journeys, wireframing, architecture, prototyping, workflow definition, integration design, call to action, data sets, copywriting and more.

Design is critical stage not to be overlooked and should be the point where engineers are involved as well as client teams so there is communication across the business as to what is in the pipeline.

Having engagement and sign off at this point is vital before development begins. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in higher costs, milestone overruns, and at worst case scenario total project collapse.

Develop – let’s create our desired solution

This is where development finally begins. With clear parameters and guidelines, each developer can map out their individual tasks and timelines.

Test – does the solution deliver what was intended?

Here we test for defects and errors. Testing can be carried out in a number of ways from user testing to automated testing using defined inputs and outcomes.

In short does the code that has been developed meet the requirements in the plan.

Typically once the developer is happy with their tests, the product or feature is pushed to a beta/staging server where additional testing can proceed by other teams and stakeholders before being officially launched.

Deploy – let’s use what we have realised

At this stage the aim is to deploy the software to a production environment so users can start to engage and enjoy all of the benefits the software delivers for them.

Review – lets reflect and think if it can be improved

Post launch an information gathering exercise can commence, gathering feedback from users, stakeholders and support teams alike. How do we improve? Are there more features to define?

The review will typically provide the very requirements analysis needed which will then restart the process.

The Product Lifecycle

As mentioned earlier, the Product Development Process falls into a larger Product Lifecycle and so I wanted to briefly touch on this here as it has a commercial relevance which needs consideration.

Typically, when a product, MVP or new feature is ready to launch, there are a number of activities and events that the hosting organisation needs to put into action in order for the launch to take effect. The first phase post ‘Development’ is ‘Introduction’. It is here where Client facing, Sales and Marketing teams can begin to build and extend the brand, implement go to market strategies with a view of growing the customer base. Other aspects include building out documentation, knowledgebase, video and demo guides to ensure there are the relevant resources for the feature to be adopted quickly and easily.

Off the back of a successful launch, you will see ‘Growth’ in the next phase. Growth across adoption, demand, revenue, profit, as well as competition; the objective here is that once you start you need to stay ahead of the competition and so the iterative development process needs to be robust and aligned.

At a point, ‘Maturity’ will be reached, and usually this is when sales peak and growth stabilises, of course this is when focus turns to retention, before any ‘decline’ occurs. In both of these phases there needs to be a review of feature innovation and evolution or perhaps even a retirement in which new products are launched in replace of others. Iteration doesn’t always need to extend, they can launch entire new versions of an existing feature with a view that it is more stable and secure than the previous version. Worth noting here, the bigger the product, the bigger the technical debt, therefore the bigger the team that is needed in order to maintain it.

Business Organisation

I’ve mentioned already in this post how there are different overlays within these processes and lifecycles, but there are a series of factors that are not addressed in them. What needs to be added into the mix is also the concept of organisational design; ways in which organisations need to be structured in order to continuously innovate, maintain and manage products, cycles and processes in the most effective and efficient way.

If we reflect on each of the Processes/Cycles so far, they are cyclical, i.e. iterative, but this new model is based on evolutionary stages of a product and so the cycles prior to this thinking can iterate many times in each segment. The model was put forward by Simon Wardley, to articulate the different types of talent needed in a business as a product evolves from inception.

You may think this is a stretch but by analysing the talent that is needed at each stage of a product you can begin to align the Organisational design to make sure they fit enabling the business to continuously evolve and innovate.

Looking at the model – we can see the three distinct segments of evolution which we’ve then aligned to the Product Lifecycle – so we can see exactly where/when energy is needed in order to analyse the organisational fit.

Pioneers

This is the point of ‘Genesis’; you could think Ideation, Design or Prototyping, but certainly early stage ‘Product-Led’ thinking. At this point there is little interaction with customers, as this stage is often operating in new, undefined territory.

This is experimenting with the unknown, looking to build components that solve a common problem. Ideas can change frequently, looking for difference, usability and performance, forecasting the potential high future value return post launch.

The product finalisation point from Pioneers is a ‘Custom Built’ set of components. Very much innovation in its rawest form. The components can be very functional at this stage and so need to be moulded into something users can actually buy.

Settlers

From a set of components emerge the makings of a Product. The Settlers arrive, creating products from components. They look to drive profits from increasing adoption through increased customer education, clear product delineation, new market growth, trend spotting as well as interacting with customers.

Here you can see ‘Settlers’ taking raw components and positioning them in a way that makes customers want to buy them. Certainly, innovation is in play here, but innovation with a different sense. Being creative with components and packaging them, pricing them and situating them with different buyer personas in mind.

Town Planners

Onto the final segment as well to look at what they capture from Settlers. As you can imagine they operate in well defined, well documented, well experienced areas of operation. They look deeply into analytics, utilisation and efficiency, looking to industrialise and commoditise productised components, turning products into utility items, something that can be rolled out on a mass scale. Here, standardisation and automation are needed to ensure there is little hands-on effort required from teams. This being the point of high profitability…

Conclusion

To say it mildly, bringing a product to market is no easy task. Not only are there the complexities within development to realise the product in the first place but also then the challenges faced to the other teams and services alike.

What is clear however, is that there needs to be a well structured organisational design in place to ensure that each team can focus on the right parts of the process. There needs to be clear handover points, clear strategies behind the go to market plan and clear, uncluttered resources that can hold down timelines to ensure the delivery takes place.

At Digital Creative, we’ve been through every stage of all of these processes with great detail. We can help to identify, structure, manage and evolve your Product Development Process, ensuring there is the right process, controls as well as people to ensure it’s a market success.

If you need Branding expertise or need to transform your User Experiences, then we want to hear from you! 

Get in touch or call +44 1491 913 873. Let’s get the conversation started!