It’s 3 months after your company’s new product launches and there seems to be an ominous feeling permeating through the cubicle walls. Then it hits your inbox, an email emblazoned with a red exclamation point and the subject line “ATTN Product Team: Staff Meeting.” Clicking in, you see the somewhat passive-aggressive message from your director stating that the team is about to get slammed. The product launch has been a near failure and changes need to be made ASAP. It’s crunch time.

Three Sets of Requirements

A business has two main functions: to meet their customer’s needs and to stay operational while doing so. While it sounds like a straightforward mission, the path is riddled with obstacles. According to Fundera, 20% of small businesses fail within their first year. Fast forward four more years and that statistic jumps to 50% (McIntyre, 2020). There is no singular reason why businesses fail. Along the journey, even the most (seemingly) insignificant decisions can alter the future of a company. When developing a product, it’s important to remember there are three sets of requirements that need to be fulfilled. Here’s how authors Kathy Baxter, Kelly Caine, and Catherine Courage define them in their book Understanding Your Users: A Practical Guide to User Research Methods:

Business Requirements: These requirements include customers who want to use your product to enhance/optimize their business. As “decision-makers” they want to know the high-level benefits of your product. They can be a great sounding board for your product’s constant evolution. Do not confuse this party as your end user. Business requirements can also allude to what your business needs in order to stay in business. Your team should determine which definition to cater to ahead of time.

Marketing/Sales Requirements: These requirements help your teams sell products. They communicate your company’s message in enticing ways in order to secure conversion. While people in these areas do have direct exposure to customers, their feedback can be clouded by bias. Make sure these people have a voice in product development as they have a wealth of knowledge and experience.

User Requirements: These requirements trump all others. If you don’t cater to the user’s needs, you might as well close shop now. While these requirements sometimes align with business requirements, the end user is who you want to fall in love with your solution. People will not want to purchase or use a product that cannot easily and effectively give results. User feedback is often detailed and can be backed with data. This feedback is essentially your company’s bible.

“User research is actually the way by which designers are able to step into the shoes of the user and go along their path, feeling all the stones on the way.”
– Tubik Studio

Taking Advantage of Iteration

After mulling over the vast requirements your product must fulfill, it can be overwhelming to develop a successful solution. Before going into a project, is it crucial that you and your team know that the first solution you produce will not be the final solution or the best solution. To combat launch failures, like those illustrated at the beginning of this blog post, teams should employ iterative design methods (2018). Learn more about how iteration can improve projects by watching this video from CharliMarieTV below.

Contrary to the regular design process, the iterative design process focuses on creating and testing, cyclically, to ensure a premier product. Using the requirements listed above as a foundation, teams will create something that could potentially solve those needs. Once the prototype or element is complete, it would go through various tests. Some might argue, “What’s the point of testing a product if it’s not even complete?” Good question. By testing, and involving stakeholders, throughout the process it is easier to catch mistakes or red flags and turn them into opportunities or wins. 

Learning how to design iteratively will take some time. It is not an overnight transition – in fact, it will usually take a whole team restructure and buy-in from the highest authorities. According to Harvard Business Review, organizations need middle managers to identify and promote change; they are the driving force of implementing better processes and solutions (Ashford & Detert, 2014). Without these crucial voices, executives can become complacent with continuing their “business as usual” process. Changing how a company operates is no joke! 

The Key to Success

Every business aspires to have customers that are in love with their product and inspire their next successful launch. By understanding the above requirements and how to manage an agile team fluent in iterative design, you’ve got a good start. But, the name of the game isn’t just improving yourselves – it’s about improving your customers. Here’s what I mean by that.

“You need to be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes, and encourage them in their pursuits. When we all help one another, everybody wins.”
– Jim Stovall

More often than not, your customers are not just looking at you for your product. They look at you as strategic resources who emulate best practices and new ways of working. After working so hard to map requirements and iteratively test your product, it’s important you share your findings and insights back to your customers. Do this through engaging marketing campaigns or by training your salespeople to take a highly targeted, individualized approach. People don’t want to accept that something works, they want to know why and how it works. Understanding where and why they might have issues – and how your product can solve them – is crucial. By educating your customers and keeping them closer to your process, you can create valuable symbiotic relationships that can last a long time.

Works Cited

(2018, April 20). Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.enginess.io/insights/what-is-iterative-design

Ashford, S. J., & Detert, J. R. (2014, December 19). Get the Boss to Buy In. Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2015/01/get-the-boss-to-buy-in

Baxter, K., Courage, C., & Caine, K. (2015). Understanding Your Users A Practical Guide to User Research Methods, Tools, and Techniques. San Francisco: Elsevier Science & Technology.

McIntyre, G. (2020, March 18). What Percentage of Small Businesses Fail? Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.fundera.com/blog/what-percentage-of-small-businesses-fail

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