28 January 2020  4 min read

Product or service design and test

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Welcome to the fifth step of the 4 Waves Go To Market Strategy Framework designed to help you build a robust go-to-market strategy. Today, I am happy to introduce you to the Product / Service Design and Test step.

What is the product or service prototype?

A prototype is an immature release of a product or service created to test a value proposition it drives. It assumes that product or service is "only" a vehicle for the value proposition.

Why do you need a prototype, and you shouldn't run to full launch too soon?

1. The prototype enables you to test and refine the value proposition. Sure, your concept serves your target customer correctly in theory. It's not until you start creating it, sharing it with your target customer that you'll find flaws in your reasoning. That's why a great reason to develop a prototype is to test the value proposition through it. You'll never know what our customers' expectations until you start testing your concepts. You only have a bunch of assumptions.

2. The prototype makes it possible to test the performance of various components. For example, your guts may be focused on using machine learning or cashless payments --until you test it and realize that, regular programming performs better at a lower cost and users expect checks for carrying out payments. 

3. The prototype helps you describe your product or service more effectively with your executives, product team, attorney, and other experts, plus you will "have" all of them on the same page.

4. Future today factor. When you arrive with a prototype in hand to discuss it with your executives, investors, product team members, and lawyers, you separate yourself from the dozens of others who've approached them with only vague ideas. 

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Developing your product or service prototype.

When speaking about products or services, designers, product managers, and engineers should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What customers' problems are we going to solve?
  • Who has this problem?
  • What do we want to achieve by solving those problems?

If you haven't found answers to these questions, don't worry, I have a post which helps you with this challenge. Click here and get your answers there.

1. Product or Service Vision - Product vision requires a lot of hard work. It describes the purpose of a product and what is going to change in customers' and users' life. On one side, a product/service delivers a value proposition to the target market. On the other hand, it drives the company to the future. A vision statement identifies where the organization wants or intends to be in the future. A portfolio of products exists to drive acquisition of users, retention, referrals, and revenue. A robust product vision needs alignment with almost every management level in the company or business unit (depends on the company structure and size).

2. Target customers and users definition - After steps 1 - 4 of my framework, you have a great understanding of what is your target customer group and how you should position your product or service. Now it's time to draw insights from the collected information. You need to capture and organize information and design inferences about users and consumers. There are a few ways (in order) of modeling the users and their environments (please remember all these tools help establish common ground among product team members as well as executives and investors):

a ) user roles
First, it's vital to define user roles. Most of the product managers jump into personas, and I think it is not the best way. Personas describe specific roles, so they come later. User roles come first. For instance, a fleet manager is a role or a butcher or limo, driver. "The role" performs jobs, faces challenges, feels emotions, spends currency.

b ) empathy map
An empathy map is a tool that helps to articulate what we have learned in the previous steps of the 4 Waves Framework about the specific users' or customers' roles. The tool provides a glance into what the user might think, say, do, feel, and exchange currency for (, please have a look at what I mean by the currency).

c ) personas
Personas provide a snapshot (often it is a poster or one page, full of graphic) of the roles archetype that's ready to digest and usually include the following information: role, job title, Demographics, Needs/goals, Relevant motivations and attitudes (comes from empathy map), Related tasks and behaviors, frustrations/pain points (comes from value proposition design step), level of expertise/knowledge, product usage context/environment, fears.

3. Ideation - The ideation phase is a step when product team members, executives, and customers (yes, bring them in) brainstorm on a variety of ideas that address the product vision, features as well as value proposition statements. During this phase, it's critical not only to generate ideas but also to confirm that the most crucial design assumptions are valid. Techniques for ideation which I think are the most powerful:

  • Scenarios and Storyboards - is a tool that defines a user's experience with a product or service as an images-based narration. It's great because it is effortless to grasp and often entertaining. 
  • User stories - describe product or service features from the end-user perspective. It's not image-based, and it focuses on the desired outcome of the new product/service.
  • Analogies definition - analogies help teammates and executives understand new products or services faster by pulling context from their past experiences and knowledge. 
  • Co-Creation Workshops - co-creation is a process that engages third-party individuals as customers, vendors, suppliers, consultants, key opinion leaders, but customers (people who pay for the service or product) are the most critical part. Ideation with costumers is pure gold
  • Investors confrontation - professional invests are tracking deals to either hit the home run or predict where the puck is going to be. I think showing them product concepts brings terrific insight. Investors confrontation (not pitch because we are not looking for financial support) brings ideas of different nature, and I have found it very helpful while building go to market strategy and new product launch tactics.
  • Customer journey map - it's a visual representation (diagram, process, table with steps described) of every experience customers have with the product or service. A customer journey map is very useful in building and validating services. Services are inseparably dependent on people and consist of many touchpoints. The customer journey map focuses on the process; for this reason, it is a powerful tool in service ideation. 

After a product vision statement, target customers definition, and ideation, it's high time for going deeper in designing and testing a product or service. Building product structure and framing interface or experience are the last two elements before actually building a prototype. Let's have a look at how to conduct the process further.

4. Product structure or service process backbone - is a hierarchical decomposition of a product or service to the process-data model. Product or service structure is usually a diagram that defines the combination of deliverables, steps, and outcomes, which then influence how the interface operates (product) or flow goes (service).

5. Framing the Interface or Experience. This stage generally refers to the visual elements of a product or "touchable" aspects of the service. It's a look and feel, presentation, and interactivity, which is possible right now. Mostly framing means building screens, pages, visual elements that the users see, can touch, experience. The techniques which are the most powerful, in my opinion, are:

  • wireframes - visual guide (analog or digital) with crucial elements, hierarchy, and structure as well as dependencies
  • sketching (analog) - fast prototyping by hand made drawings which enables a designer to visualize what was gathered from users and customers
  • fishbone diagram 4S type (analog or digital) - helps to visualize potential causes of a problem into limited number of categories. It helps to define relationships between touchpoints between the customer and the company's offering
  • future state service blueprint (analog or digital) - helps to visualize what is the customer journey and how specific actors influence the service performance. I have found blueprint useful as it mostly focuses on actors and their role in delivering services. It gives a chance to think about the essential part of the service delivery - human beings and machines (algorithms).

6. Prototyping the product or service. Now, you have all the puzzles to build a prototype and test it. You have a vision defined, what is your target customer is prominent; all stakeholders and teammates understand what are you going to launch. Moreover, by leveraging ideation techniques, you redefined the value which a service or product is going to deliver. You also know what the back end of the product/service is and what is the front-end. Building a prototype is what you need now, and this consist of:

  • building a product/service backlog
  • prioritizing the features and requests list
  • launching a prototype (app, web app, smart handheld app or hardware prototype)

and moving to the validation stage.

7. Validate the prototype. There are two types of ideas: good ideas (mostly tested with the customer via co-creation or lean experiments) that lead to success and bad ideas that can lead to failure (mostly executed in darkness and released to the market too late). Of course, prototype execution is required, but the idea itself plays a crucial role in the process. A well-executed lousy idea is a big waste of time and energy. It's critical to reveal bad ideas as early as possible. So what to do? Experimenting is the answer. Please read this post "Conducting experiments for achieving product market fit"

Additional comments for product managers

  • product or service design is not a linear process

Many product teams think the design is a linear process that starts with defining the product or service and ends with testing. The steps of the framework often have essential overlap, and usually, you need to make back and forth moves. There is no "one size fits all" approach in product or service design and test. As the company learns more about the customers' pains and gains, the users' jobs, and the dynamic of the organization, it may be required to revisit some of the tools and technics present in my framework.

  • product design converts to constant redesign

To design successful products or services, teams need to adopt a customer-centric process of continual improvement. The iterative process follows the idea that each step described above should be done in repeated cycles. It's a process of continually perfecting a product or service based on feedback data from target customers and users. This is an excellent opportunity for everybody in the organization to get out of the office and learn. The market always wins!

Conclusion

The most important thing to master when designing and testing products is that it is done for people. To develop outstanding service, product managers must deliver the right set of features or experiences for the right people. Thus, determine your target audience, then study their problems, and, ultimately, focus on building a product that solves those issues.

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