Nerdery CEO Tom O’Neill discusses how to turn opportunities to innovate into successful digital products with senior software project manager Adam Witter.
O’Neill: Where do some idea-makers fall short as digital product creators?
Witter: Creating a successful and profitable digital product takes careful planning – from the birth of your idea to ongoing development after launch. Yet many innovators watch their ideas fall short, due to lack of planning, market insight or technical partnerships that offer true digital orchestration. There’s a step-by-step process to creating a digital product – whether it be an app, website or custom software – with key actions along the way to position organizations and their product for prosperity.
O’Neill: How do you start a digital product out on the right foot?
Witter: “Why” is a good place to start, but also “where” – where is this idea supposed to take you? Test your idea by asking how you’ll define your digital product’s success. Pretend you’re from the future, stand at the finish line and ask, “What competition did we overtake? What problems did we solve? What differentiators did we deliver? What was our ROI and how do we know?” This mindset puts you in a place where novelty and infatuation with the “idea” is replaced by the criteria by which you’ll have to defend your decisions moving forward – because part of any sound business decision is proving its worth.
O’Neill: Ask these questions up front and you also stand a good chance of changing your solution by changing how you look at the problems. Launching a digital product is one thing, but what about the long haul?
Witter: Launch is a longer process than what most people think. It may take multiple iterated releases to tune your product for broader adoption, so it’s important to budget for this process. All too often, products stall from a minor speed bump, or miss a major market pivot because of a budget cycle. Feedback cycles are important, and not just for adoption. Retention can only be maintained through constant diligence. A digital product is either green-and-growing or slowly dying. Don’t forget that markets and competitors change even while you are building. Innovators must constantly work to stay useful and relevant to their user base. Turns out, innovation is a lot of hard work.
O’Neill: Other than asking fellow stakeholders if they’re sufficiently obsessed with your customers, what questions should a business address for a successful product kick-off?
Witter: Clearly define your mission and goals to align your internal team with your design and development partner. Clarify who’s calling the shots in your organization. Is it IT? Marketing? Both? Great, but determine who’s the business decision maker who’ll settle conflicting priorities and uncover any surprise stakeholders. Determine timeframes for product launch milestones: alpha; beta; soft launch – or whatever makes sense for your product. Have a project plan that delivers what you need when you need it. A good technology partner will care about the success of digital products they’re creating. Being open with, and available to your technical teams, will lead to a greater ROI for your digital product with a faster, more effective push to the marketplace or internal ecosystem.
O’Neill: So, we’re live already … now what?
Witter: The launch of your digital product really marks the start of your digital product journey. Be intentional about setting up a cycle of input, build and release. Be sure your product roadmap is informed by both feedback received, as well as strategic direction. Feedback might be paying attention to reviews and customer feedback to pinpoint areas of frustration. Broader market trends and opportunities may dictate your strategy on future features. Establish a healthy mix of quick wins and forward-thinking features to give your customers and users incentive to stick around knowing the future of your application is bright, not stagnant.
O’Neill: But logistically, what do I need to do to maintain a digital product?
Witter: You’ll need an ongoing maintenance plan and team in place. Customers notice quick fixes and will stick around for upgrades and new features. For internal digital products, the same benefits play out – keeping employees’ trust is just as integral for business success. Don’t assume just because they have to use your software, they will. Focus on opportunities to allow your product to be a multiplier for your organization. Roadmap how long it will take to ramp-up staff to support your plans to ensure both the product and the support arrive at the same time. In a competitive landscape, misaligned resources and goals can leave gaps for others to capitalize on – or even replace – your position in the marketplace.