Grow Fast or Die Slow: The 4 Major Shifts in Product Development

I think what’s interesting about the old school, traditional waterfall approach of multi-year big bang product delivery cycles isn’t that it’s necessarily a wrong way to develop products.

It’s just that startups, and now smarter enterprises, are deploying products faster and refining them years before some major companies even get their products to market.

By that time, it’s too late.

And now companies are left with two choices.

Either you grow fast, or you die slow.

So, the question becomes: How do I build a suite of great products that customers need, and how do I get my products to market faster than the competition?

Through my 10 years of leading Vokal and helping our clients through major digital and industry transformations, 4 shifts became clear in terms of product development, and I think now is a good time to discuss it.

Shift #1 - The best way to get large teams to move fast around a single vision is to let the data do the talking, not the executive team

I’m all for executive decisions. Someone needs to make the call and lay out the framework for a solid vision.

Executives shouldn’t be the rogue leader that passes down the answer from the top. Instead, executives are responsible for enabling teams to collect data and make it easier for teams to make decisions on that data. They should be enabling creativity and helping to reframe the conversation around the data.

It’s easier to lead when you say "The data says we should take this action." vs “I think we should be doing this because of my past experience.”

If you’re struggling to get agreement on product direction, this is a good mentality to embrace.

There are a few ways to make product decisions via data a reality:

1 - Sponsor smaller projects all around data collection.

Acquire the tools, IoT hardware collecting sensors, etc. to get the data. Use this data to get a better understanding, at a deeper level, of where the inefficiencies are in your team.

In manufacturing, some companies are creating "digital twins" to mimic physical hardware products and get true, real-time actionable data on how your products are performing.

2 - Build prototypes based on that data to learn, and most importantly, get executive buy-in.

Growing trust internally with data is vital to agile processes working correctly. Data speaks for itself and should be informing all decisions you make.

In order for agile companies to be successful, they have to be able to ramp up swift decision making. This calls for less dictatorship, and prioritizing the speed of decisions.

In fact, being agile means utilizing the capabilities of technological conduits such as IoT to remain informed about real-time data, and using it to make products and people work better. However, even with all of the technological innovation that can help spur faster creation and pioneering change, human interaction and efficiency is at the core of the speed-to-market problem.

So how do we propose to enhance human efficiency? Hint: it’s not with more technology.

Shift #2 - Put creators in the same room. One room full of smart product designers, developers, and business people working on individual products -- Not every team for themselves

Developers on Floor 2. Business on Floor 3. Product Team, Floor 4.

This old school approach can have massive consequences, and I’ve personally seen the shift from great companies.

A big value for Vokal is that we’re able to bring a full product team and build prototypes quicker than it would take to do a reorganization and find the right internal talent.

Think, act, and deliver like a startup.

Startups are able to easily bypass some incumbents in regards to growth, not because they are better at creating products, but because their ability to remain agile makes it easier for them to get ahead.

The idea that individual departments should communicate exclusively before integrating their thoughts with other departments cripples the speed-to-market for many companies. This outdated strategy may have worked in the past, but it definitely won’t work in today’s fast-changing world.

Instead, it is better for companies to break down the silos that traditionally house creative efforts.

Shift #3 - Speed to validation is the most important factor to product success, and agile development is the only way to do it

Previously getting to market was the only way to know whether you had a winner. Not so any more. Getting to validation make the dollars you spend getting to market leaner. Identifying opportunities for validation, what the MVV is (minimum viable validation) and creating a process around that and increasing the robustness of validation along the way is key.

That could come from low fidelity sketches, surveys and interviews to clickable prototypes or working software.

I’m not the first or last person to say this, but I’ve seen companies who truly haven’t embraced agile, and I’ve seen the companies who have. The latter companies almost always have better product success.

*Innovation comes from iterative improvements, not a big bang approach. *

Nothing good happens all at once. Instead, iterative build-outs and improvements being rolled out over time are much more important to today’s consumer. This allows for more input and better received products.

How is this accomplished?

It’s about the expectations from everyone to release something, get data, and improve on it. Quick iterative launches favor more creativity, innovation, and faster product launches. A big bang approach to launching is too rigid and stagnant. If something goes wrong, it can take a lot of resources to pivot, which isn’t agile enough for today’s fast-paced marketplace.

An agile approach calls for rapid prototyping, A/B Testing, enhanced processes for collecting and interpreting data, and a much more collaborative approach to making real-time improvements.

An agile approach favors customer satisfaction and input.

Constant testing and making enhancements means that products are continually improving, which also creates a favorable, customer-focused perception among a company’s customer base. In other words, constant improvements and attention to consumer input makes the company appear more customer-friendly, which promotes brand loyalty.

However, that’s not all. This also enhances the long term connectivity between customer and brand, which gets the conversation started from a place of improvement rather than reserving that level of interaction for dissatisfied customers (think customer service call lines and surveys).

Keep in mind, all of this is made possible by taking an agile approach.

Shift #4 - Smaller budget, rapid prototype projects are the fastest, easiest way to make better long-term product decisions

MVP in 4 months should be in the toolbox of every company.

Regardless of company size, big or small, the goal should be the same: Build a prototype and get to a small market (even internal) in less than 4 months.

From there, let the data and customer feedback decide what can be improved and what products can help with the innovation.

Culture shift in innovation

Another consequence of running these projects is generating more opportunities for creating an innovation culture shift in your organization, showing the value from the executive team down to the employees involved. The long term effects of infusing this way of thinking throughout an organization will pay dividends, even if the projects don't pan out.

Being agile is more than just a product development methodology. It is a way for companies to truly get to market faster and build products their customers will love.