Digital product development

Digital products seldom come to market in a ‘turn-key’ shape. They need to test, twist and adapt in order to meet the user’s needs for two reasons:

  1. the digital world innovates at a phenomenal speed
  2. the user’s needs are very hard to gauge

That is why it is crucial to introduce real users early in the design process and allow a product to organically evolve during its life cycle.

A typical product goes through 5 phases before it reaches its full commercial potential


Phase 1:

The first stage of product maturity takes place before any type of institutionalization or process. It is the phase where an idea is being validated against common sense or similar initiatives that have been tried before.

A few things can be pre-defined though:

  • What is the job-to-be-done?
  • What is the current way these things are done, its pain points or obstacles between the user and the preferable outcome?

Typical methods to experiment are:

  • Interviews & qualitative data
  • Some quantitative details readily available
  • (paper) prototypes and user feedback
  • A rough idea of any business benefit that can be tested on common sense

Filling in a Lean Canvas might prove very helpful to get a sense of the context around the product or service.

This stage is about validating your hunch. Draw a high level user journey or even build a makeshift prototype and expose it to stakeholders, namely your end-users.
The KPI is their verbatim and enthusiasm. Record it and ask them why they like it (or don’t like it).

Phase 2:   

Once the first results of the ‘try’ phase are processed the team decides if they see the potential of their idea. The results are prepared for a presentation in which they convey the future potential for the Brand.
The review will evaluate the current approach and see if they can advise on a suitable methodology and some key expertise to complement the existing team. The team is made aware of know pitfalls and maybe some unforeseen opportunities. There might be similar initiatives in the organization with which this experiment can be merged in order to bundle forces. It is likely that a dedicated budget is required, either for vendor support or to backfill this team in their BAU activities.
The key benefit from this stage is that the original team is encouraged to pursue their idea and actively reach out for support from colleagues or even known vendors that might be available to support.
In this phase learning and scoping are the key benefits. All lessons learnt are carefully documented in order to avoid pitfalls and replicate success.

The KPI sits in the pivot points. Where did you learn from user feedback and how did you incorporate this into your next version? Are you a quick learning team, or is it difficult to let go some of your assumptions? Please note that in this stage many key assumptions might invalidate themselves, and therefor is a key moment between getting extra resources and having to shelve the learnings for another time.

Phase 3:

With the help of relevant expertise, budget and possibly an external vendor, the product is fine-tuned for an possible go-to-market. Business readiness is key. Technology, marketing-communication teams, segment owners and support functions are informed and ready to support when and where required.
Often the product will go-live under the MVP scope, but sometimes it is advisable to increase the scope in order to achieve feature parity or address a critical mass of users.
Part of the go-to-market are the predefined success criteria and their required analytics capabilities. The review board evaluates the business readiness, timing and communication lines.

In this stage you have shown that your core assumptions and believes stand up against user testing & feedback. Now it is time to ask your sponsors for more resources so you can extend an accelerate the Minimum Viable Product’s feature set.
The KPI is the number of journeys/features that you successfully deploy to your MVP.

Phase 4: 

The capability is live and stable under a limited number of users. Incrementally we add new users by campaigns or other methods of awareness, closely monitoring the stability and the commercial results. Namely the results from added segments (not the initial target segment which was the most obvious candidate) are closely evaluated. Besides the numbers we continue to monitor the customer satisfaction and the (social) media response in order to benefit from real-user feedback.
The business case comes to life and we establish the break-even-point where the investment pad back for itself.

The Grow phase is all about awareness and growing your user base. More users means more feedback and therefore a stronger feedback loop.
The KPI is the number of ‘active users’ (using your product every x days).

Phase 5:  
Exploit and sunset

The capability is a integral part of the digital real-estate. There is little product development required to keep a steady flow of revenue and/or cost reductions. It has stood the test of time as well as big volumes of users. The product review is no longer required and replaced by a business review, where the numbers are leading, rather than new development of the UX.
There will be a time when technology catches up with the capability and offers a newer, more slick version of the capability. It might even be the case that the customer preference
would dictate that such a capability is no longer relevant. This would trigger a sunset approach in which the capability is decommissioned after all of its remaining use cases are satisfactory covered by other capabilities.
The 5th and most mature stage is monetization, either direct or indirect. This is where the product or service generates a revenue stream, or even becomes profitable.
The KPI is revenue, cost reduction or a demonstrable share in that.


Key assessment criteria

Key governance criteria

Intake and approach