Picture this: you’re a CEO, working in an industry that relies on direct contact with your customers.
2020 was a harsh year for you: a global pandemic changed your way of life & had you close some brick-and-mortar stores. Business is going up and down; uncertainty is looming at every step of the way.
Due to these conditions, customer behavior changed significantly. In turn, this makes your industry start digitizing at an increasing rate. Customers are staying in and ordering products online. Your competitors have now switched to online stores. You are in a situation where you have to build one if you wish to continue to do business.
How do you go about building an online store? Or any other digital product? You will probably find an expert to make it for you: a digital product studio, development agency, freelancer. Your focus is on finding somebody with the knowledge and tools to help you out.
Bringing a product to life
You have brought your people in, presented the idea, laid down the base rules, and started to work on the problem. After putting some effort into the search, your company found the right person or team for the job. They have agreed to your terms and are about to start the journey of bringing a new product to life.
Now picture this: you’re the one they brought in to help with building the product.
Your job is to create the best possible digital product. You can only do it by getting to know the company, their work, and their situation. To complete this task successfully, you have to start learning as much as possible in the shortest time possible. Gradually you come to figure out that you can not do it all alone and that you’ll probably have to involve more people in the development process.
Who are the people that should take part in shaping this product to its final form? Does this mean that we should go and ask the office cleaning lady for branding advice? Maybe not.
Let me rephrase this sentence: you have to involve people whose contributions can advance the new product’s development.
Sounds simple, right? Just as your upcoming digital product, there’s probably more to this than it meets the eye.
Who do we mean by “everyone”?
If you take a look at our title, you will probably ask yourself:
Who do we mean by “everyone“?
Why is it necessary to include “everyone“?
For the first question, we’re talking about all the stakeholders in this particular business effort. There are various stakeholders, but from our experience, we can generally boil them down to three major groups:
You know, the one who contacted you for help in the first place. In most cases, they only need help with the “building” part as:
they are the domain experts, knowing the business side, and having sufficient experience within their respective industry;
they have already established relationships: with their customers, suppliers & other industry partners;
they have a track record of successfully launching a product/service and have industry insights across different teams.
Besides working for your client, you’re also working for their clients. Your clients’ customers will use the product you’re developing at the end of the day. If possible, try to include some customers in the development process as you’ll have the chance to:
know the existing product better: existing customers from the brick-and-mortar shop will tell you their likes and dislikes;
generate fresh ideas: details from these conversations can help you bring novel ideas to the table, such as new features or changes to the existing ones;
highlight areas in need of improvement: let’s say that their customer service is taking a hit due to slow response time – maybe your digital product can help improve that with a simple change in the flow.
Product development team
They are the ones who help the client to build the product: in our scenario, this is our team. We think that you should include both design and development teams from the beginning as this will:
help you prepare a better estimate of the project,
spot any potential issues before you start working on a project,
build rapport with your clients and this way strengthen the business relationship
Why is it necessary to include “everyone”?
We’re now at the second question: why is it necessary to include previously mentioned stakeholders?
There are multiple reasons for that, as seen in the examples above. To further illustrate, I’m going to focus on a couple of them:
We are safe to assume that the stakeholders deal with the same (or very similar) problems like you daily.
There is a high possibility that they’re already working on the same problem as you, just approaching it from a different angle.
Lean into this and use it to your advantage: gather more information, review and use it in providing more context to the development process.
Example: if your job is to increase user engagement by building a new feature for the online store, ask the stakeholders in direct contact with users for opinion: sales, customer success team. Their feedback may give you new ideas or use it as a compass: to provide a general sense of direction where to apply your efforts.
As the saying goes: “Different strokes for different folks.”
Different viewpoints can uncover potential problems, solutions, or possible optimizations in today’s competitive business environment. Your product can gain added value by just listening to the people closest to the existing product or service.
When in the product validation phase, seek an opinion from more than just potential customers – internal feedback from your team, other departments across the organization, 3rd party contractors can be the tipping point in making the upcoming product successful or not.
The best description for short-sightedness? I’ll go for the saying “missing the forest for the trees.”
The same applies to our work life: look at a problem for a long time, and you may miss potentially more significant issues.
We can see an example of this in software development, where long-term contributors can gradually develop a blind spot for issues.
It can also happen to us during the ideation phase: if we have similar profiles of people working on the concept, we risk polluting the idea pool with the same set of ideas. Similar thinking will, in turn, fixate the products’ future development to a path that may not suit the base customer needs long term.
The same problems may also occur in later stages of a product lifecycle – did you ever hear the sentence: “That’s the way we’ve always done things around here”?
The inability to change your viewpoint can be detrimental to the newly formed digital product. There are a plethora of different scenarios, visible in larger companies, like for examples:
colleagues from technical departments not being exposed to products end-users feedback and focusing on non-essential features,
sales team not being involved in the product teams work and therefore lacking a clear overview of available features;
the marketing department not understanding the technical complexities of proposed solutions.
When you don’t include all the necessary stakeholders, you increase the risk of missing out on some critical detail. In some cases, this may cause a snowball effect, leading up to minor errors, severe delays, or, worst-case scenario, even product cancellation.
The reality is that you can’t do everything by yourself, especially in building digital products. It is a team effort, requiring different skillsets and time. You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day but through centuries. By an entire civilization, not by one man – if you think about it, that’s quite some people.
Nobody is flawless – at some point in time, you will unwillingly introduce errors in your product. It can happen for a multitude of different reasons: blind spots, lack of experience, tiredness. Having multiple people involved in building the product will:
increase the chance of spotting errors made by others,
make the product more resistant to unpredicted events in the future,
make other stakeholders more committed to building the best outcome possible at that time.
How do I include everyone?
We at Clover Labs believe in the workshop model. Before we start working on a new digital product, we get together with our client for a detailed workshop, where we try to:
understand the clients’ industry from their perspective,
determine their business model,
align their wishes for the product into a development plan.
After conducting the product workshop, we should ideally define the client’s new digital product and start working on the MVP.
Listed below, you can find some suggestions from the Clover Labs team. We wrote them based on our years of experience with clients: learned by trial and error, some sleepless nights, and plenty of cups of coffee.
Based on our previous experience, these workshops provide immense value. Besides getting a feel for their approach to work, we also get to:
better know the clients’ organization and other stakeholders,
assess the size of the project more accurately,
determine the “knowns” and “unknowns” of the product.
These things are the ones that will play a pivotal role in the successful continuation of development.
Bring them together
Quite simple: bring them together into a shared space. Meeting room, parking lot, Zoom call, doesn’t matter.
The reality is that every such digital product holds an unknown degree of complexity within itself – by digging around and picking the stakeholder’s minds, you’re assessing the size of this product and things both known and unknown.
Get them to talk
Got them in a room, altogether? OK, good job!
Now ask them:
“What does this product do? What do you want it to do? What do you think about the X feature of the product?”
Move from general questions to more specific questions to slowly understand what people want, wish, and how they envision the key features.
Doing a simple workshop with the client can provide significant benefits for them. A simple task as drawing out the customer journey will make the product owners think about the logistics of the said product, customer touchpoints, which activities take place at what point in time, etc.
Give back feedback
Having a conversation is a two-lane road: Asking is only one part of the equation – to ensure quality communication, you’ll have to respond to the answers.
Once done with the questions, think about the answers. Prepare a simple overview, sketch out feature, do a demo to the person you’ve talked to earlier. Ask them again. Watch their reactions; plan your next action accordingly to their response.
If their faces light up like a Christmas tree at your demo, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
Check the pulse regularly
It isn’t hard to keep the communication lines open – the biggest problem is maintaining the quality of the conversation.
Devise a sensible plan of communication and make sure that this arrangement works for both parties involved. We need some time to gather, examine, and digest the provided information. Maybe you would like to reconsider those chat messages and calls when a simple e-mail would suffice.
Appoint a single point of communication: if there are too many chefs in the kitchen, you can be sure that the result will not be as pleasant as we would like. Try to limit communicating to one responsible person, be it a project or product manager, sales representative, or other.
Follow the set plan: you’ve agreed on weekly video-calls with the product manager and – don’t go and send unnecessary e-mails, phone calls, and disrupt the established flow. If you don’t stick to your own rules, you’re setting a bad example and allowing the future.
Don’t forget: all of this is and should be an iterative process – follow each step, observe and improve them regularly. This way, you will create value on every step during the process, make your clients happy, and continue to run your business smoothly.
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Simon is a full stack startupper. With several years of startup experience ranging from being in the core team of a startup building a dual-sided marketplace with over 100k of investment to working as a business consultant in an incubator helping startups grow and develop, to co-organizing the biggest startup conference in the Alps Adriatic region.