Defining The Critical Path: The Stages Of Creating A Digital Product

It’s not the first time you’ve built a digital product. You know just how hard the process is – and how likely it is that an application might fail to meet expectations or attract users. The key is to force small, iterative releases and get into the hands of customers to start gathering feedback early. Let go of the fear associated with receiving critical feedback; it’s a mandatory ingredient for success.

Let’s start with defining the process to launch a digital product.

The graphic above shows the key early stages of product development. The x axis is the progression from idea to reality, and along with it a sliding scale from internal users to external users: your product in your customers’ hands in the market. The y axis shows the stage of completion of your digital product: from key parts or elements to a fully developed solution, fulfilling end-to-end functionality. The size of each circle represents the relative amount of investment and effort required for each stage to progress from the last stage.

Let’s break it down further. At Boost Labs, here is how we define each stage.

Proof of Concept: At this stage, you have a rough idea or even a hunch. You want to test your concept to see if the product you think can be built can actually be built. The objective is to determine if your idea is feasible – nothing more. The proof of concept is only released to internal stakeholders to judge.

Prototype: A prototype is a test of how your concept may work, look, or feel like. The goal here is to gather insight on how to improve your concept, to identify assumptions, and to learn more. Your prototype is released to both internal stakeholders and a closed group of test users.

Pilot: Now, your solution is put to the test, to find out whether it will actually work in real life. The goal is to iron out the creases before scaling it to a larger audience or the first public release. This solution delivers most of the functionality necessary to be released in the wild. It’s released to a set of real users, decision-makers, and sponsors.

Minimal Viable Product (MVP): In this stage, you’ve created an end-to-end product in order to test the viability of the core functionality needed to provide an end-to-end solution, usually for only one or two use cases. An MVP is used for live, in the wild testing with real users. By the time you reach this stage, you’ve already established that there is demand and the solution works as anticipated.

You’ll hear many other terms used, such as alpha, beta, pre-launch, post-launch, and more. There are plenty of overcomplicated ways to define the process, too. We like the definitions above that simplify the process. It comes down to asking two questions that will determine where your product fits:

  1. How complete is your product now (or how complete does it need to be)?
  2. How many and what type of users does your product serve now (and how many and what kind of users does it need to serve)?

One point that can’t be emphasized enough is to get your product in the hands of users early. Too often, executives strive to build their own idea of a fully functional product and fail to incorporate real users’ feedback. The key objectives of a good product manager are to:

  1. Get the product in front of users early
  2. Delight users, which includes listening attentively to their feedback

If you’re in the process of building a digital product and would like to talk more about the stage of your product and what steps to take when to increase the probability of a positive outcome, contact us. We’re happy to help with any part of the build or to help structure the user feedback needed in each stage.

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