Best practice delivery to help startups and scaleups succeed with the right product, without the huge price tag.
Regardless of the industry, creating a digital platform for your product or service is an essential part of every startup’s journey. It can be costly and time-consuming but important to get right as it will most likely become the backbone of your business.
In Australia, more than 200,000 startups are launched each year, and many of them are focused on developing digital products. But, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2022, 48% of all new Australian business start-ups fail within the first four years, and just 77% actually make their first anniversary.
One of the critical factors that can determine a startup’s success or failure is how well it develops and delivers its digital product. This is why it’s crucial to get it right the first time around, as getting it wrong could set you back significantly or shut down completely, as Color Labs found out when it shut down just one year after launch. Colour Labs was a mobile photo-sharing app that was launched in 2011 with $41 million in funding from notable investors, but the app’s user interface was confusing and difficult to use. The app was designed to automatically group photos taken at the same event or location, but this feature didn’t work properly, resulting in a disorganised and cluttered user experience. The app also required users to have their location data turned on, which many found invasive and led to concerns about privacy. Color’s poor user experience resulted in low user adoption rates, and the app failed to gain traction and the startup shut down in 2012.
DiUS has significant experience in not only creating its own startups but also helping startups turn their ideas into a product, so we’ve put together an overview of some best practices to help you along the way.
Get your ducks in a row: Stakeholder buy-in at the start
One of the key reasons digital product development projects fail is a lack of alignment among stakeholders. Before you start, make sure that you have buy-in from everyone involved, including developers, designers, investors, and users.
Define and agree on:
- Objectives: These should be clear and broken down by time (eg objectives for first month or first quarter).
- What problems it can solve for users: Having clarity around the primary problem you’re trying to solve can help frame priority conversations where value might be a little ambiguous otherwise.
- Who is the target audience: Clearly defined segments allow you to prioritise as well as adapt product-market fit to suit unique situations.
- Why would they use this product over a competitor: Differentiation is key. Also consider if there are no direct competitors, how do potential customers currently solve this problem?
- Success metrics: These should be clear and measurable metrics to minimise decisions being made on emotional attachment to the idea. It also enables metrics to be incorporated into your operating model to ensure you capture the data needed to measure.
It’s important this is all done and agreed from the start, as trying to get people on board with change after change is needed can create delays.
Then, create a roadmap for the project’s phases with roles and responsibilities clearly defined. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page, and that the project moves forward in the right direction. You will also need a governance framework to determine how you will monitor progression towards these targets so you know when you need to pivot and adapt. This will be outlined next.
Reality check: Evaluate, adapt, and keep moving forward
If you’ve already begun then it’s important to regularly evaluate what’s been done so far and manage expectations around what needs to be done moving forward.
You need to be aware of the state of your project and understand what it will take to get it to the next level across three main areas: design, product strategy and technology architecture.
- A design review provides a detailed assessment of how your product is actually performing against user expectations and needs. This not only allows you to confirm where the value is, but can provide insights for new features or attributes you might have missed. A good mix of qualitative and quantitative insights can provide solid insights to base the next evolution.
- A product strategy review provides a detailed assessment of how your product is actually performing against business objectives. This provides a solid baseline for further investment, as well as clarity around priority areas that best support the strategy. This is especially important where products deliver value in other ways beyond pure revenue/profit, ensuring there is clarity to teams about the importance these other elements play in the success of this product.
- A technology architectural review provides a detailed assessment of a software application’s architecture, design, and implementation. It can help assess what has been developed so far by objectively evaluating the software’s current state and identifying any issues or potential risks that need to be addressed. During an architectural review, an experienced architect will evaluate the software’s architecture against industry best practices, standards, and principles. They will assess the application’s design and implementation, looking for potential security vulnerabilities, performance bottlenecks, and scalability issues. The review can also identify areas where the codebase is overly complex or hard to maintain, which can slow down development efforts in the future.
Regular reviews are also important even if your product has been on the market for years and performing well. How have the last couple of weeks gone? Is there anything you can improve as a team, or any concerns anyone may have? By doing this on a consistent basis you can ensure you capture any issues early and often.
Hear more from Kurt Brown and our guest panelists, Roby Sharon-Zipser and Brenton Worley, as they discuss how product development doesn’t have to stall or stop during economic downturns.
While some organisations are erring on the side of caution with a wait-and-see approach, others are forging ahead with more proactive strategies that prioritise tech innovation, operational efficiency, and customer experiences.
From chaos to control: Navigate tight deadlines and strategic shifts
Startups and scaleups are often faced with tight deadlines, and the project’s direction can change at any time. We’d all rather avoid these issues altogether, but that’s not always possible. This is where applying an agile approach to software development is useful as it’s a process that prioritises responding to change over following a rigid plan.
The average CEO is often afraid to launch their product before it’s 100% ready to go, which is the exact opposite of what you should do as you need that feedback early and often. Agile development prioritises continuous improvement, with each sprint providing an opportunity to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved for the next cycle.
Agile development teams typically work in short, iterative cycles called sprints, which can range from one to four weeks in length. During each sprint, the team focuses on delivering a working software feature or set of features that can be tested and reviewed by stakeholders. The team also holds daily stand-up meetings to share progress, identify obstacles, and plan their work for the day.
Beyond the code: Product discovery and XD matter more than ever
While software engineering is crucial to digital product development, it’s not the only thing. Product discovery, user experience and design are all critical aspects of a successful digital product. Ensure that you have the right mix of skills and expertise on your team and that you’re leveraging these capabilities effectively.
Experience Design can make or break a product as Microsoft uncovered when it launched the Kin phone in 2010. The Kin was marketed as a “social phone” that focused on messaging and social media, and was targeted at a younger demographic. However, Kin’s user interface was confusing and difficult to navigate, with many users finding it unintuitive and frustrating. The phone also lacked basic features that users expected, such as a calendar and an app store.
As a result of these issues, Microsoft acted quickly by discontinuing the product just six weeks after its launch. Even though Microsoft was able to easily adapt, it was an issue that may have been avoided by using a User Experience expert because its their goal to understand and work with customers to make sure the product matches their expectations.
Balancing Act: Keep one eye on the short-term and one eye on the future
When developing a digital product, it’s easy to get caught up in short-term objectives and lose sight of long-term goals. While short-term objectives are essential, you need to strike a balance between them and your long-term vision. Ensure that your short-term goals align with your long-term objectives and that you’re continuously iterating and improving your product.
Creating a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) can help with this approach as it involves launching the product with enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development. The concept was popularised by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup.”
MVPs are designed to test the viability of a product idea with minimal investment and risk. We do this because a lot of our early decisions and theories are assumptions. But really it’s not true until we can test it in the market. Instead of investing significant time and resources in building a fully-featured product, startups can create an MVP to quickly validate their assumptions and gather feedback from early customers.
Having a strong architectural vision, a process to manage technical debt, embedding analytics and observability into your product will all pay dividends as the product gains traction and you need to scale to meet that success in the long term.
Sharing is caring: The value of show and tell
Finally, it’s essential to showcase your work to other areas and departments within your startup or scaleup. It’s an opportunity for everyone from developers, founders and designers to show their work and what’s been found.
Share your progress, receive feedback, and learn from other teams. This can help you identify opportunities for improvement and ensure that your digital product aligns with your startup’s overall vision.
This requires a formal organisation-wide process and discipline. Simply holding showcases doesn’t always get others to engage and contribute. You need to identify the collaboration you really need and make sure it’s happening and that the rest of the organisation is buying into that strategy and co-owning it with you.
In short, delivering a digital product for a startup or scaleup can be a huge challenge with lots of hurdles and risks. However, following these best practices can help you get it right the first time around, save you time and money, and enable you to focus on growing your business.
Remember to align stakeholders, evaluate your progress, be flexible and agile, leverage all critical capabilities, balance short-term and long-term objectives, and showcase your work to other areas in your organisation.