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The Digital Product Development Process that Brings Real Business Value

James Ardis
Discover a digital product development process that can help you reach users quickly with your new system and dynamically address their emerging needs.
Three professionals around a boardroom planning out a digital product development process

Picture this: Your development teams are finally ready to deploy a new digital product. You all have been working on it for a long time and decided to release all the features at the same time. The only problem is that during the countless months of development, your customers’ needs have changed, your main competitor launched a superior version of this software, and it’s been so long that the C-suite needs to be reminded why they should care about the product. 

Clearly, this is not the ideal digital product development process. By waiting so long to release the product, the development teams in this example lost any ability to respond dynamically to their competitors or to their customers’ and company’s needs. 

Organizations find themselves in this position every day. Even teams that claim to have embraced agile find themselves in a loop of “fake agile” practices, a waterfall development process under a different name. “Developing software using agile methodologies is not really working if one ships only twice a year,” says Prashant Kelker, chief strategy officer at ISG, “Agility works through frequent feedback from the market, be it internal or external.”

How can development teams like yours reach the market faster with innovative, high-impact software that meets users’ exact needs? And how can you avoid the pitfalls of “fake agile”? In this article, we’ll discuss a digital product development process that will help you reach these mission-critical goals. 

Step 1: Product Envisioning 

No application should exist just for its own sake. Instead, it must clearly align with your business goals, the needs of your customers, and the demands of your industry. That’s why it is so important to begin your digital product development process with product envisioning. 

This is where you outline and prioritize your company’s short and long-term goals. Then, consider what high-impact software can get you to these benchmarks. There are many different types of products, as we outlined in our examples of digital products article. It’s crucial that you invest your teams’ time and your organization’s resources into the software that will yield the results you need.

One young professional at a whiteboard explaining a digital product development process to her colleague

At Programmers, we leverage our Agile Experience framework to guide digital product development. The process always begins with the product envisioning stage outlined above, sitting down with your teams to uncover what your organization needs most and targeting the software that will get you there. We also start considering the different features of the digital product and put together a backlog. 

Let’s look at an example of the product envisioning stage in action. One of our clients in the logistics industry needed to have more visibility into the status and activities of their fleets. At the time, they only had 30% fleet visibility. That meant they had very little idea if drivers would arrive on time with shipments or if they were driving safely.

During the product envisioning phase, we realized that our client needed a fleet management system with certain key features giving them visibility into drivers’ ETAs, break schedules, and driving behaviors. That would allow them to serve their customers better and promote driver safety.

Step 2: Product Roadmap

The next step in the digital product development process is creating a product roadmap. This establishes the most important features of the application and provides all stakeholders with a clear idea of when they should expect each one to launch.

Truck driver taking a break at a rest stop, being documented by a digital product we designed for our logistics client

Looking back at the example of our client in the logistics industry, the most important feature they needed in their fleet management system was a comprehensive view of loading and unloading times. 

This would tell them which drivers are unloading freight on schedule and which ones are falling behind. The company’s fleet managers could then reach out to customers dynamically and let them know that they should expect their shipments to be late and by how much time.

Step 3: Create and Deploy the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) 

Once you know the most crucial features of the application, it’s time to create the minimum viable product (MVP). This is the leanest version of your new software, with only a handful (or perhaps even just one) feature.  

Creating an MVP allows your customers and internal stakeholders to enjoy new capabilities as quickly as possible. It’s also a way to test that the application you’re building actually solves the needs of users. And, if it doesn’t, your teams can pivot in record time.

This dynamic testing process helps you avoid the pitfalls so many other organizations fall into. In one recent survey, 35% of failed start-ups said their downfall was creating products with little or no market need.

Let’s look back one more time at our client in the logistics industry. As we mentioned, the most important data they needed from this new product was loading and unloading times. 

With that in mind, we created an MVP that resembled a departure board at an airport. Fleet managers could see when drivers unloaded cargo last and a real-time ETA of when they are expected to arrive at their next destination. 

By the time we finished developing the full digital product, that departure board turned into what the client now calls their “personal NASA Mission Control Center,” with all the data they need to have 100% visibility into their fleets.  

The MVP is a very lean version of the application you’re creating. However, you can still establish the system’s UI/UX and scale that design scheme out as you add more features. This saves you substantial time in design as development progresses.

For example, our experts recently created a scalable UX framework for a marketing SaaS client during the MVP phase. As they add new features post-MVP, they can use these “UX building blocks” to quickly design new features consistent with the core system. As one of our UX designers put it, all the client needs to do now is “follow the yellow brick road.” 

Step 4: Agile Implementation 

After completing the minimum viable product, it’s time to add more features you imagined during the product envisioning phase. Agile methodology allows you to quickly deliver those features to your customers and your organization with short, cyclical development cycles. 

But agile is about a lot more than just saving time. As our customer engagement lead Thiago Lopes put it in a recent LinkedIn post, “Being ‘agile’ means having the ability to pivot. It’s a way to deal with uncertainty and succeed in a turbulent environment.” 

Agile digital product development helps you meet the moment, shifting dynamically to new and emerging user needs. That gives you a competitive advantage over others in your industry and allows you to build long-term customer and employee satisfaction.

Man at a coffee shop using digital products on both his phone and laptop

Let’s look at another one of our clients, an HR technology company. They produce digital systems that help countless American companies manage and communicate with their employees. 

Our client realized that their customer-facing platform needed an alert and notifications feature, allowing employers to tell employees about hazards in the workplace (such as inclement weather) or remind them of upcoming events (such as holidays). 

Working under an agile framework, we delivered new features iteratively. That included a complete database of each company’s employees, ensuring alerts went to the correct place, and a platform where employers could submit their updates.

As development continued, we realized companies needed features our client did not anticipate at first. For example, some companies had to send these messages out on a much larger scale than was originally intended for the software. Others needed their messages to be dynamically translated into Spanish, French, and other foreign languages based on the recipient’s native language. 

Thanks to agile development, we were able to prioritize these emerging needs and make them the focus of subsequent sprints. Soon, companies could send alerts to thousands of employees at a time and in several languages. 

For all its benefits, adopting agile methodologies is easier said than done. “Fake agile” can easily emerge within an organization if it pays lip service to these methods but does not fully embrace them. 

“Fake agile is frequently rooted in a lack of organizational support,” notes CFO Gregory Lenzo. “Weak commitment can include a lack of understanding, missing or reluctant buy-in from senior management, or a desire to cut corners simply to save time and money.”

That’s why our Agile Experience process includes agile coaching, metrics, and tools to ensure your organization stays committed to value-driven, agile development. These steps also help us to identify problems long before they derail the pathway to your goals. 

Our bi-weekly coaching sessions help you look past the day-to-day tasks of development to get a big-picture view of how effective agile development has been. We back up those sessions with agile metrics that both your teams and ours identify at the start of development as being mission-critical. Finally, we ensure you have all the necessary tools for agile development on day one, removing any technical boundaries your teams might have. 

If you’d like to gauge how effective your organization has been in leveraging agile development even before you begin working with Programmers, we offer our Agile Assessment. This dashboard allows you to visualize the state of your company’s agile culture, processes, and ability to deliver value, along with the next steps. 

Final Thoughts

Not all digital product development processes are created equally. Some allow you to show value quickly to customers and executives alike, while also nimbly adjusting to their emerging needs. Forbes recently published compelling research on the benefits companies see from such agile processes, including faster product deliveries, higher productivity, and better quality. 

Meanwhile, digital product development processes force you into destructive, “fake agile” habits. Companies in this situation go years without seeing value and deliver the product long after stakeholders forget why they should care about it. 

For better results, work alongside a partner that can help you make foundational changes to implement agile processes across your company. Visit our digital product development service page to learn why companies trust us to build high-impact software and guide their agile transformation.

Let us know how we can help you.

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