A Complete Guide to Digital Product Development Process

by Sreejith Partha

Are you an enterprise with a vision of a proprietary digital solution to certain efficiency problems? Or a startup with a fantastic idea for a digital product to release to the market? The possibilities of developing digital products are tempting, but the task can also be daunting. How do you successfully bring a digital product to life, from a simple idea to a working reality? Where should you even begin? Is there a standardized development process for digital products? Do you have to start from scratch with each new concept?

It takes extensive planning to create digital products. More importantly, it needs a mindset that carefully follows proven procedures to work. By following these principles, we have built multiple successful projects for our customers and greatly benefited their Enterprise Digital Transformation journey.

In this blog post, we take you step-by-step through the phases of digital product development.

Phase 1: Product Discovery

This phase of digital product development is one of the most vital stages, yet many aspiring stakeholders skip it. This decision is to their disadvantage as the discovery phase minimizes risks and highlights problems before committing resources.

Discovery actively involves you and the end user. It is the process of identifying gaps, ensuring the problem needs solving, and envisioning the digital solutions to the problem.

Think of this phase as a friendly tennis match where ideas and questions lob back and forth from the digital product development team, stakeholders, and the prospective end user.

The discovery phase helps stakeholders identify whether a product concept is viable. Sometimes developers think they understand the problem, become attached to a concept that doesn’t fit the problem, or simply overestimate the value of solving the issue. This phase helps save money and time in the long run as any needs or issues that arise from the beginning instead of building a product and then later discovering that you never solved the user’s pain points.

So how does a team or entrepreneur discover a problem that requires solving by a new digital product?

While there is no standardized answer, the discovery could include any of the following processes:

Vision and Goals

Defining the project’s vision and attaining the ultimate objectives is the first step in the discovery process. This frequently entails looking beyond the “what” and determining the “why” of a project. You have to inquire “why” there is a need for a specific feature. The vision must center on your digital product’s potential and long-term goals. If it does not contribute to the ultimate vision, it is abandoned and possibly replaced with new strategies.

To match the end product to the vision, it’s wise to conduct interviews with stakeholders and users to ensure a complete understanding of meeting the needs, what users like or don’t like about existing digital products, and the priorities. This helps identify new opportunities that may align with the eventual vision and goals of the project, stakeholders, business as well as end users.

Strategy

Product strategy is a comprehensive implementation plan for putting the original vision into action. Through implementation, it establishes the direction of your product team. One of the primary reasons startups fail is because their strategy relies on inspiration. And while that doesn’t mean intuition is never useful, a winning strategy is a product roadmap with clearly defined objectives, value propositions, success metrics, competitive analysis, and other critical data.

This key process entails processing different data sets to decide whether your digital product idea is worth it. At this stage, product developers and owners need to:

  • research the market to identify the target audience
  • collect top-level requirements from clients, their end users, and stakeholders to help identify specific physical and software needs that are necessary to meet the vision and goals identified in the previous step
  • analyze competitors’ weaknesses and  strengths
  • estimate how the product fits the market
  • examine the various tools and technologies that will be most effective in creating the product
  • and other relevant product-market analytics

The purpose is to align your product strategy with target market needs and expectations.

Value Proposition

This is the determination of the drawbacks and benefits of your digital product from the end-user perspective. Its critical analytical approach allows you to check the validity of your product to get a detailed view of the features and functionalities needed by a particular category of users.

Deliverables: Product Requirements Document (PRD)

The discovery stage aims to produce a detailed product requirement and roadmap document. There are several stages to help us determine which features to implement first. This entails determining the minimum viable product and the functionality required to make the product function. Then we identify required, desired, or wanted features to add later. We have a separate post about creating a product requirements document.

Phase 2: Ideation

The ideation phase aims to brainstorm possible solutions your product will deliver to the problems identified in the discovery stage. This creates a plan for building a product that will solve your customers’ needs.

Many startups have digital product ideas from the discovery phase, but only 10% of those ideas become successful products that deliver value to end users.

Taking time with the discovery phase to fully understand the problem, you can now begin brainstorming solutions that fit the problem instead of focusing on a particular solution not fitting the problem. You may already have an excellent idea, but it can be good to employ different brainstorming and ideation methods to help you think outside the box and reach a wider number of potential solutions. After that, you can investigate and test to narrow the solutions to the best ones. The primary aim is to find the problem-solution fit.

Several avenues can help you successfully identify solutions that you can nurture into digital products:

  • Internal brainstorming. Leveraging group brain power from a cross-functional team and bouncing ideas off each member.
  • The five-whys approach. Successively ask ‘why’ five times to get to the root cause of a problem.
  • Surveys and feedback
  • Competitor analysis 
  • The 6-3-5 method. A group-structured brainstorming method in which 6 participants write 3 ideas each,  supplemented by 3 new ideas in 5 alternations.
  • Social media listening etc

Phase 3: Design

This involves building designs of how the digital product will look and feel. This is possible through the following:

UX Prototyping

The idea here is to understand how to build your product with user experience and interface in mind. The goal is to establish the most basic version of the digital product with limited to no functionality. A prototype helps lure investors or get feedback from some early adopters. With the product’s functionality, feel, and positive experience, they will likely use it, helping you realize the project’s end goal.

To achieve this, we use a set of various approaches, including:

  • Design thinking. This entails applying principles acquired from the marketplace through others’ experiences to build tools that work best for end-users. The information helps us create prototypes of various ways a product can be built and then test them to identify which functionalities and user interfaces provide the best user experience.
  • Simplified workflows. Looking at existing patterns and ways to simplify or shorten the effort and time required to complete an end-user task. We also highlight areas where there may be issues preventing smooth workflows and find ways to streamline these processes to achieve a continuous output from beginning to end. The new strategies are then polished into tested and tried routines, which help produce efficient results.
  • Testable product prototypes. This involves generating working prototypes of how the final digital product will look and behave. These are then presented to stakeholders and prospective users to identify the best solutions to problems that arise.
  • Learning from end-users. The prototypes are then tested using various usability testing methods to see what works or don’t from a user perspective. We offer a wide range of user tests, from user observation and card-sorting exercises to A/B testing.
user-interface-design-digital-product-concept

UI Design

When building a User Interface (UI), we create loose but functional wireframes of product designs. These will become more full-fledged product designs and later iteratively enhanced as user feedback and input are received.

UI design includes:

  • Visual design, where individual features are constructed and designed using functional images, space, color, typography, and layout to create a delightful user experience.
  • Data visualization, where existing data is mapped out in ways that users can see and understand, such as through charts, tables, and graphs.

Deliverables: Wireframes, Design Assets, and Style Guides

We collect all the necessary assets in the product, including images, media, etc. In addition, maintenance of graphical assets such as logos, fonts, or colors is essential, as any other images help establish that a product belongs to a specific brand. These are often kept in the cloud for ease of access and replication.

Phase 4: Digital Product Development

Suppose there is one thing to remember about developing a digital product; it’s that the process is usually highly iterative. The discovery and ideation from the initial phases may be based upon various processes, but the design and development phase depends upon layers of nacre.

At this phase, the developers will receive the design to build working versions of the digital product.

Whether it’s a mobile app or a web, stakeholders follow a set of standard methods designed to build quality products quickly. These involve using tried and tested Agile and CI/CD development processes to assist in rapid development and launching.

Software Engineering

The actual software engineering involves a collaboration between developers, both front and back-end product developers, who regularly get in touch with Quality Assurance throughout the whole process. The shift-left philosophy involving quality control in early development helps ensure that the final product is bug-free.

In addition, we establish interactive processes between cloud engineers and developers to ensure that product builds are successful and pass all tests, then conduct regular SysOps audits to make sure infrastructure meets security standards when the app is finally alive.

User-Acceptance Testing (UAT)

Before introducing a product to the market, it’s crucial to conduct in-depth usability testing to make sure that users can use the product in ways that best meet their needs and that the user experience is positive.

Deliverable: Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The MVP is a product version with basic functionality and a user interface. This is a step in advanced digital product development that helps to ensure the product meets the basic needs outlined in the discovery phase. It is an approach that enables faster release cycles and helps identify areas that can be improved.

Phase 4: Growth

As you refine the product to its final look and feel, based on the feedback received from the MVP, it’s best to consider growth to allow the product to reach larger audiences. We make it possible for your product to grow and scale from the earliest design and development phases.

Learning and Iteration

Q/A testing continues throughout the entire development phase and also beyond initial market releases. Creating detailed documentation and learning materials is vital to help users fully understand and use the product. Continuous testing is also crucial with the added new features.

If a step is not working perfectly, some features need tweaking, or users demand an additional option, Iterate repeatedly until the product is ready to go live.

Ongoing Development

After launching your digital product, the subsequent time is like a maturation period often characterized by building new features, updates, customer support, and sustainable software engineering. The primary purpose of ongoing development is to ensure the product has room to grow, keep up with trends, meet new needs and improve user experience.

Evolution

Digital product development is not limited to a build-and-release strategy. It also involves the need to adapt to constant changes and user needs. As a result, stakeholders must ensure the product evolves in terms of performance, quality, security, and other aspects.

Feedback Loop

A feedback loop is important for any digital product development process since it enables your product to remain relevant and specific toward meeting its objectives. A feedback loop also helps you realign the product and allows your business to respond to market changes or emerging needs.

Support & Maintenance 

Often overlooked, the support and maintenance stage is not the most exciting part of digital product development. However, this will be the longest phase if your product is a success. And might end up being much more costly than the initial stages if you don’t plan and secure resources for it. So ensure to specify this with your provider upfront, whether an internal dev team or an external company. You don’t want to be faced with the nightmare of post-launch bug fixes that damage your digital product reputation because your resources are already moved to another project.

Conclusion

While no two digital product development cycles will execute these stages in identical ways, understanding your digital product’s trajectory via the various development phases is the same as having a living roadmap leading to success. To gain the benefits of speed, insight, and visibility, you must know your digital product, the clients it serves, and why it needs to be built.

We are a custom software development company with a team of product individuals like you. So if this article has been helpful, feel free to explore our blog. And if you would like to gain a competitive edge in enterprise digital transformation and tap into the full potential of your infrastructure and workflows, contact us today.

Sreejith Partha (Sree) is the CEO of Practical Logix, leading an outstanding engineering and product team. He enjoys being hands on, when it comes to product strategy, architecture and processes. Sree has cultivated a culture at PL where no one is secluded from the bigger picture, helping the stakeholders trickle down the passion of their brand to every team member, producing a better outcome.

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