Build Your Product Quickly
24 September, 2021
Our industry loves nothing more than a quickly delivered product. But building a product is a road with many hurdles and detours that should be anticipated if one wants to speed up their time to market. In my opinion, the key to a quick build is the anticipation of possible challenges that may or may not happen at some point. Being prepared for potential drawbacks and having a plan to overcome them before you start building the product will give you an advantage once you become short on time.
I developed a four-step approach for a quick build based on my successful delivery of a brand new product in only nine months.
Identify the problem you are trying to solve
At any given time, people are troubled by multiple projects. Solving all of them is, in fact, never a solution. You should choose the most critical problem -- given your goal, customer needs, and competencies -- and direct your efforts on that particular problem. At that moment, you should intentionally ignore all other problems, no matter how interesting they may look to you.
Now, that problem needs a solution, and that solution should be as simple as possible. Engineers tend to overthink problems and over-engineer solutions. This is especially true for the early stages when a myriad of ideas is floating around and tempting engineers. It takes focus and discipline to stick to building something simple that can be completed in a short time. Also, there is no need to upset yourself with how things would look in five years when you should be focused on prototyping.
Be guided by an achievable goal
Needless to say, having a goal is everything. Your goal should be concrete and objective, but most importantly, bearing in mind that you want to build your product quickly, time-bound. A time-bound goal will help you set yourself up for a commitment to building something in a specific period. Once you set the goal, your mind will have a consistent point of reference for any action you would be taking. I saw too many people who end up wandering aimlessly and chasing different ideas in the absence of a clear goal.
Then, set milestones that I think of as mini-goals to bring you closer to your overall goal. A milestone should be an achievable task that you can complete in a reasonable amount of time. Each milestone is a step you are taking towards achieving your goal.
Keep customers in the loop
When you are building for the market, rarely do you know what you will end up building. The initial idea is often abstract, but the more concrete it becomes, the more you should seek your customers’ opinions. It’s a fine line to walk between your vision of the product and what your customers want, especially when this comes later in the process. Therefore, keep your customers in the loop, have them comment on your design and early solutions. That way, you will more likely come up with a product that you will be proud of and your customers will love.
Many engineers would rush to build something first, either because they have an idea nested in their minds for a long time or because they find something challenging to build. If that is the case, once they present their product to customers, they may be disappointed to learn that it is not what customers want. My advice would be to sell the vision to customers first before building the product. That will spare you from refactoring and redoing things all over again.
No one can build a product by themselves. External stakeholders, people from other departments, and teams would likely play a critical role in making your product successful. A good leader will be able to identify those external stakeholders and engage them as early as possible.
Whenever other stakeholders are involved, their support will be critical. I believe that it manifests most distinctly with turnaround times. Engage your stakeholders early if you want to save yourself from getting into a deadline quagmire due to external dependencies. The sooner they are on board, the more they will be motivated to deliver what you asked from them. With a solid plan, you can work in parallel; they will finalize their deliverables at the same time you will complete yours, which will be easy to integrate.
- You are not building a product for its own sake. You are building a product that will solve your customers’ problems. Identify what troubles them most, assess if you have the resources and competencies to do it, and then roll up your sleeves.
- Walk toward your milestones with confident steps. Your milestones should not be far-flung but realistic and within reasonable reach. Ideally, your goal should be achievable within two weeks or shorter. I would dare say, the shorter, the better.
- Keep it simple. You don’t want to over-engineer your product right from the start. Neither will you have the knowledge to build a complicated product from the start nor is it necessary. There is a high risk that customers may not like your initial idea, and you will have to throw away that piece and start from scratch.
- Identify and engage with external stakeholders early on. One of the most visible benefits of having them on board is a reduced turnaround time that will help you reduce the overall development time.
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