In this guest blog post, Designli CEO/Co-Founder and friend of the Founder Institute Keith Shields describes an effective planning process that early stage entrepreneurs can utilize to build a strong product, from idea to launch.

Product development teams run into problems when they bypass important steps in the planning process. Startups often fail because the product idea as it was conceived isn’t actually feasible, or they end up creating a product that doesn’t actually match target users’ needs.

In order to turn a great product concept into reality, you have to know how you’ll get from here to there. You need a roadmap. Without one, you may eventually reach your destination, but you’ll waste a lot of time and money in the process. Use this four-step, question-based process to think through the factors that will affect your product’s success — before you start development.

1. What is the Problem, Exactly?

Successful products solve a specific problem or set of problems for a specific group of people. Before you can develop a product that will meet the needs of your target users, you must thoroughly understand the need those people have. Discerning the real problem will provide a strong foundation for you to continue the planning process. Ask yourself:

  • What’s not sufficient about the status quo?

  • What pain points inspired the idea for the product?

  • What’s the impact of each of those pain points?

  • What concerns does the target user have?

2. What Does the Problem Look Like from the Users’ Perspective?

Next, you’ll need to gain concrete knowledge of your users. You should be able to view the problem from their perspective to figure out not only what they need, but also how they would use your product. It’s helpful to interview potential users to learn this information firsthand. Then craft a persona story for each type of user to serve as a concrete reference point throughout the development process. Find out:

  • What does the users’ workflow involve, and how will the product fit into it?

  • How do they like to work?

  • What functionality is absolutely essential? What would be nice to have, but not essential?

  • What kind of interface would be easy for these users to adopt?

3. What Do Users Really Need?

The next step involves a deeper dive into the minds of your target users and an examination of the technological requirements. You’ll want to find out if your persona stories are truly accurate, capturing data and monitoring behaviors of both users and stakeholders. It’s a good idea to conduct in-depth interviews at this stage and use focus group sessions to gain insight. You’ll want to learn:

  • What existing technology or solutions are being used?

  • Does the product need to integrate with other software or systems? If so, which ones?

  • How do the target users describe their priorities and goals?

  • What steps are users currently taking in their processes?

4. What Solutions Could We Create? Which Ones Resonate?

Once you have a firm grasp of what your users want and need and what requirements the product must meet, you’re ready to start generating ideas. First, outline all potential solutions, identifying the pros and cons of each option. Then, go back to the users you interviewed in the second and third steps to gather feedback on each option. Ask:

  • Is any functionality missing?

  • Does the solution fit seamlessly into the users’ workflow?

  • Is the proposed interface intuitive for the users?

  • If the users could change anything about the proposed solution, what would it be?

Create Your Roadmap

At this point, one solution should stand out as a winner — one that will solve the problems it intends to and be easily adoptable by intended users. But you’re not yet done! You’ll want to create a roadmap that documents what you’ve discovered. This roadmap should include a sitemap, screenflow, or other visuals that help visualize the product-to-be. It should also outline next steps for implementation.

By using this roadmap as a reference, you’ll ensure everyone involved in development stays on the same page. It will also prevent the project from randomly ballooning in scope and cost (as projects tend to do). This roadmap will give you a clear path to follow, greatly increasing the chances that your product will come to fruition as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

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