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My approach to product development

Posted by derekbobo on April 30, 2009

When I talk about product development I’m generally talking about some piece of technology I’m about to build. That being said I think the approach is useful in other realms as well.

The first thing you have to do is come up with an idea. I like to keep it simple and go with the old approach of, “find a need and fill it.” One way these thoughts typically come to me is when I think, “boy wouldn’t it be nice if…” So I try to jot down any idea that comes to mind and might have some potential. They won’t all be good ideas, others may not be practical, but don’t throw them out just yet. If you think it’s a good idea but aren’t sure how it will all come together, that’s okay too.

With several ideas in front of me I start to go down through them asking a series of questions. Is this something I want to do? Is this something that people would want to use? Is it something I can make money off of? Are the market conditions right? As you go through these questions you will start to see which ideas appear to make the most sense and you’ll ulimately arrive at the idea you’re going to persue.

At this point you may have some work to do. Since your thoughts are based largely off a hunch you want to validate that it’s correct. If this product is mainly intended for personal use at first then you can skip this step, otherwise you want to do some research. Ask some friends and family, maybe make some blog posts, check with businesses, etc and find out if it really is something that makes sense. Listen to all the feedback you get, some may be useless and that’s okay too. With the facts at hand revisit the questions you asked yourself earlier.

Now that you finally have the idea and are ready to get after it just start going crazy. Start thinking of all the features you’d like your product to have. Don’t think of it in terms of boundaries or limitations at this point. Don’t worry about the how, just let your imagination go. Jot these down on a piece of paper as you go.

With your wishlish complete it’s time to start prioritizing. Which features absolutely make or break the product? Which features help enhance or differentiate the product? Which features are less important and are more marketing hype? You may notice some features are not quite as critical but if you try to retrofit them into a later phase it may create more pain than if you implement them from day one.

As the vision comes together you will want to start throwing together some rough designs. Hand sketches are fine, figure out how you will want to arrange your features, think about work flow, user experience, automation, customization, security, etc. Work through several iterations until you get something you’re happy with. When you think you have a winner that’s the design you want to spend more time with. Work through building the appropriate graphics, colors, widgets and controls. One completed you will have conceptual prototypes for which to initiate the sales cycle and a blueprint to begin the actual development phase.

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