A Silicon Valley software engineer by trade, Ming was the recipient of the prestigious Primetime Emmy® award in "Technical Excellence in Interactive TV," and has architected many digital solutions for some of the world's most renowned brands including 20th Century Fox, ABC, Adobe, Apple, AMD, Cisco, Disney, Microsoft, Nike, HP, Intel, Sun Microsystems, Sony Pictures and more, and worked for TBWA/Chiat/Day, AKQA, and eHarmony as Technical Leads/Directors before founding The1stMovement in 2006.
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We’ve all heard the saying: faster, better or cheaper – pick two. It’s an unfortunate reality of every business, from startups to large enterprises. You can’t have it all. Especially when it comes to product development, all companies face the same restraints around time, resources and money. For startups specifically, with their often smaller budgets and tighter margins, this results in an endless battle of efficiency with the goal of bringing a product to market before their competitors do. So, how do you create products in a more efficient, but effective way?
The lean startup methodology already taught us that the key is to use minimal resources (including time and money) to gain a competitive edge. Basically, entrepreneurs must be able to subvert the age-old equation and build a product that’s equal parts better, faster and cheaper.
Startups must fundamentally change the way they think about product development, emphasizing agility without forsaking ambition, while at the same time, designing a product for your target users. This means minding these important steps on the path to creating products that are faster, better and cheaper.
Build better products with painkillers
Building a good product means creating features that the target users need and want, ideally by solving a problem while offering something that differentiates the product itself from competitors. But building a better product means taking things a step further.
Startups need to identify painkiller and vitamin features for their target users. Of course, all products should be “nice to have” for the user, functioning like vitamins. But essential products give users something more than “nice to have” in the way of “need to have,” similar to painkillers.
These are often features that they didn’t even know they wanted. In fact, some of the best products started out as vitamins but become painkillers. Painkiller features can serve as your key marketing messaging, or your competitive edge, and the only way to find them is to spend time understanding who your target audience is and their specific wants and needs.
Remember that velocity thrills, speed chills
To build products faster, startups must choose velocity over speed, and understanding this difference is crucial. That means applying speed in the right way. Velocity will increase if everyone on your team is aligned regarding what defines success, who your target audience is, and most importantly, what features to prioritize for launch.
Focusing only on going 100 MPH isn’t enough. After all, going NASCAR-mode in a circle or in the wrong direction generates speed, but not the kind of speed your startup wants to achieve. Velocity, on the other hand, helps your team focus on accomplishing as much as possible in the right direction. Speed can build a product very quickly, but you risk ending up with product features that no one wants.
Remember that “slowing down to speed up” will make sure that your team works as quickly as possible in a straight line and is going in the right direction.
Cost is always a concern in the development process, and can lead to a more expensive product for consumers. But in cutting costs, it’s important to remember that, statistically, customers don’t want “cheap” products per se, but good products at an affordable price.
To build a more cost-effective product, quickly validate key product features to determine your “vitamins” in order to deploy a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), developing only features that will satisfy early adopters. Then, effectively roll your product out with key marketing messages focusing on launching a Minimal Marketable Product (MMP), reducing initial time to market by offering the smallest set of functions while still addressing the needs of internal and external users.
Alignment above all
Despite the advantages of a better, faster and cheaper approach, remember that product design and development can still become chaotic when, for example, the scope of features changes for various reasons. The keyword to maintain stability within the storm is alignment.
Create a product log in a universal language that’s less about a collection of features and more about users’ stories based on their experience to share amongst your team. Along with simple, understandable language, startups should prioritize product matters based on marketing needs, and properly allocate time based on level of efforts from a content, design and development perspective.
By working together as a team, a company can find an optimal way to create structure in their development stage, streamline the process and in turn unveil what can truly be defined as a better product.