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.
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.
If you take a look at our title, you will probably ask yourself:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
These things are the ones that will play a pivotal role in the successful continuation of development.
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.
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.
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.
It isn’t hard to keep the communication lines open – the biggest problem is maintaining the quality of the conversation.
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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