Having discussed the main challenges non-IT corporates may experience taking on a new software development project, let’s now turn our attention to some suggestions how to improve and optimise this process.
Software ≭ Other forms of Engineering
Software development has almost nothing in common with other types of engineering like buildings or infrastructure. Software product management is very counter-intuitive.
While designing buildings and infrastructure is a little counter-intuitive, you can still almost get away without having a huge amount of experience because there is always someone you can ask who can give you the scoop on how to design a certain feature.
Whereas in software it is quite different because it is really counter-intuitive from Day 1 and it remains counter-intuitive for at least the first few months. Only once you’ve unbundled all the ideas (a process called Product Visioning) then you’re in a position to create something that has value to the target market.
Even if the software is designed for internal use, there are so many things to consider and if you’ve never developed a product before, it is nearly impossible to list what those things could be.
There is a Scientific Approach to Product Management
The first instinct of many, who are wanting to develop a software product, is that we need to hack something together and see what happens.
The alternative is to take a more scientific approach, which is documented in Startup Business Literature e.g. The Four Steps to Epiphany and Sprint. This material has been demonstrated to work on building countless successful startups, including those built by Google Ventures, from which the groundbreaking ‘Sprint’ book originated. It goes without saying that reading these books is tremendously useful but most of the concepts can only be fully understood through experience.
Iterative nature of Software Product Design ‘Lean UX’
BEST PRACTICE is for software products go through 3-8 design iterations before any heavy development activities commence, based on continuous feedback from the client, end user from the target audience and product management team.
The Lean UX book suggests product teams can quite accurately test ideas and target Product-Market fit by iterating the design, with no development required. There is no anticipating how many iterations will be required but chances of hitting your target are greatly, greatly improved, saving a lot of time & cost.
It is beneficial for Non-Tech, Non-Product organisations to go through the iterative design process to understand the level of inquiry required to introduce a new product or service into the market.
Misexecution of software development projects in the corporate world
Failures will often result from partnering directly with a software development companies, rather than product innovation firms and are typically caused by:
- A weak or complete absence of a Product Vision;
- Budget fluctuations caused by design iterations, which in turn change the technical requirements;
- Communication issues between non-IT professionals and developers;
- And many, many more.
In order to develop a high-quality software product, you first need the involvement of Product Managers and UX Specialist as below.
There is a whole range of reasons why budget cannot be locked down early in the design process. So it is important to treat estimates provided by developers as a snapshot of the number of dev hours required, rather than a static figure. All these risks might be minimised if a professional Product Manager is involved from the very beginning.
Should a Product Manager be engaged?
The three-way Venn Diagram below represents the integrative responsibilities of the Product Manager. This is a role that often overlooked when creating product teams. Without a suitably experienced Product Manager, the likelihood of a given Product’s commercial success is dramatically reduced.
Product Managers are relatively common in the US but most other countries including Australia haven’t fully embraced Product Managers as necessary for product success (yet).
Key functions of the Product Manager include:
- To create a shared knowledge of the product vision as it evolves across all stakeholders interests. This is facilitated through the creation of various product artefacts (scroll down). A validated product vision permits estimates to be as accurate as possible (a lot of the projects which aren’t managed by a Product Manager will experience budget blowout from Day 1).
- To promote shared understanding as the true currency of product management as a far better indicator of progress than lines of code.
- To manage design iterations, such that they aren’t based solely on one man’s vision, whoever that happens to the overall Product Owner. As opposed to what actually corresponds to the market need.
- To reshape/sculpt the value proposition for the product’s offering.
- Alongside the identification and addressing of product assumptions, the Product Manager needs to focus the prototype on systematically addressing technological and commercial risks.
- The role of the Product Manager is to challenge the assumptions held by the Product Owner. A fairly decent Product Owner could be the CEO of a major organisation, who has decades of experience operating in the target market. Nevertheless, there will still be a range of assumptions that need to be addressed, which the Product Owner will be making implicitly before the true market need (with respect to a product) can be fully understood.
In performing the above activities & roles, the Product Manager will de-risk product’s business model on behalf of the Product Owner.
Bring it all together
To effectively innovate with software requires a blend of skills that aren’t common in the corporate world (particularly non-IT). This presents an opportunity for the companies which understand the principles of innovating with software to partner with a Product Innovation firm with the right experience.
Product Innovation firms will appoint a dedicated Product Manager to clarify/reshape the Product Vision, which is effective a software solution to a set of Business Problems. Then the Product Manager will appoint a UX Specialist to transform the Product Vision into seamless User Experiences through a creation of wireframes & mockups.
The appointment of appropriately skilled Product Managers and UX Specialists are most critical for Product Success because they hold most responsibility & influence overall the Product Vision.
These partnerships have to potential to create tremendous value for large operators, by providing different perspectives and insights into how to gain sustainable competitive advantage using software.