Nothing in entrepreneurial life is more exciting, frustrating, time-consuming and uncertain than launching a new product. Creating something new and different can be exhilarating, assuming everything goes according to plan.
Yet launching new technology products presents unique challenges, and it’s common for many new products to stall in the early build stages. Because of what’s at stake in launching a new product—time, money, and managerial and market expectations—it is tempting to rely on existing infrastructure, code, and pre-built components that have worked for other products. Similarly, it’s only natural to want to use your existing customers as a proxy for the new users you hope to attract to the product.
While these shortcuts may help you get started faster, they may hinder you in the long run by limiting your ability to innovate and differentiate from your own offerings. Or you may stunt product development by relying on the wrong demographic as your test audience.
It may seem counterintuitive to clean-sheet your product design and build from scratch, but doing so forces you to innovate, think differently and seek new dimensions in the product you’re looking to create. You may also uncover or develop new technologies and methodologies that can give you a competitive edge.
Defining users, understanding markets
When building a new product, you must first evaluate how your product can fit in the current market. What problems does it solve, and what distinguishes your product from the choices customers already have?
Understand where your product fits within your portfolio and identify your ideal customer. Will your new product attract the same customers as your other products, or should you pursue an entirely new demographic? Addressing your perfect target audience will inform your product marketing strategy. For example, Microsoft sells its Office 365 software – such as Microsoft Word and Excel – as a bundle because they’re all productivity solutions. However, Microsoft’s Xbox is for gamers, and as such, the company positions and markets it differently than its suite of solutions for Office 365.
Your marketing strategy must adapt for your various target populations, and you can’t assume what’s worked for prior established products will succeed with this latest effort.
Differentiate your product
As you progress through the planning stages of product development, make every effort to differentiate your new product from your existing offerings – including how you build it. It’s easy to use a previous product schedule as the guideline for your new product, but be wary, as it can hamstring your progress. As such, you may want to create a production schedule that’s unique to the needs of the new product. You may find it strategically makes sense to build from the ground up.
Should you opt to build from scratch, while it may be potentially more daunting, doing so can eliminate constraints around the codebase you use and the technologies available to supplement your code. For instance, you might want to leverage open-source technologies or off-the-shelf tools to help advance product development, enabling your team to focus on building only what’s required.
Newer ways to work, better products
The project team should seek out best practices around design, development methodology, team scale, or any other advantages that will help advance their work.
One idea is to assign a dedicated engineering team focused solely on developing the new product without distraction. This team should have the freedom to create high-fidelity prototypes quickly, rapidly iterate proofs of concept, and facilitate the design of optimal user interfaces. The dedicated focus can help enable rapid iteration regarding testing and improvements, allowing production to evolve quickly and help achieve proven results in a shorter amount of time.
Make a point to encourage role ownership and autonomy. Speed to market depends on team members having the authority to make critical decisions themselves. Validating every feature and function with product owners will inevitably lead to significant delay. Trust in your team and that if changes are necessary, likely due to new information becoming available, these changes will be incremental improvements.
The process of launching a new product brings many hurdles. The key is careful planning and preparation, along with dedicated teamwork to overcome challenges. By seeking to bring new thinking, agile practices, and fresh ideas to the way you work, you’ll have a much stronger foundation to create successful products that reach the right customers and enable business growth.
By Alex Tkatch
Alex Tkatch is Senior Director of Software Engineering at BitTitan, where he leads the product engineering team for Voleer, an automation solution for IT service professionals. He is an established software development leader with extensive experience in architecture, design, and implementation of software products known for reliability, scalability, and security.