Friday, December 27, 2013

From Idea to Market: Some Best Practices to Follow!

From Idea to Market: Some Best Practices to Follow!

By C. Todd Lombardo, principal innovation catalyst, Constant Contact

As an entrepreneur, you’re likely all too familiar with the challenges that come with bringing a new product or service to market. Chief among those challenges is finding a winning strategy to get your idea in the hands of potential customers. So, what best practices should you follow? What steps should you take? And how can you avoid some common challenges to bring your idea to life? 

At this year’s MassTLC unConference, I had an opportunity to moderate a session focused on these challenges. Titled “From Idea to Market: Best Practices in Product Development,” the session featured three panelists from local tech companies: Andy Miller, director of innovation at Constant Contact; Katelyn Friedson, mobile product manager at; and Josh Berkowitz, product manager at RAMP. Following are some of the key takeaways:

The value of a Minimum Viable Product. Not surprisingly, the term “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) was mentioned many times as a strategy for fast, quantitative market testing of a product with just its basic features. As you’d expect, the age-old concern about releasing a less-than-fully-baked product surfaced. Many engineers, designers, and product managers fear the MVP. They feel like it’s an incomplete product. However, it’s important to note that MVP does not mean a poorly crafted product; it means a limited, but still functional, product – an important distinction. And it is possible to release a solid product that is limited in scope, features, and functionality so that your customers can further push its direction.

Talk to the end-user. Friedson stressed not being afraid to talk to customers, even if it means learning that your idea is terrible. Oftentimes, we don’t show early versions of our products to potential customers for fear that they aren’t “done.” But let’s not kid ourselves; what we really fear is being told the idea isn’t valuable. By creating that MVP, you are able to have conversations with customers to get that feedback. 

Miller introduced another customer-focused process we use at Constant Contact called Minimum Viable Concept (MVC). Before building much of any product, we work out the concept through a customer-centered process, gaining critical feedback along the way to build something our customers find valuable. Whether you decide to use MVP, MVC, or both, you’ll gain important customer insights, helping to inform the best direction for getting your product to market.

Size matters. The size of your team or organization will also have an impact on getting your product to market. In small startups, teams can have a conversation in front of a whiteboard and then go execute. In larger organizations, creating visuals becomes important so that others can quickly get up to speed about the project. At Constant Contact, we take a page from design consultancies and use large 4’ x 8’ foam cork boards to post up our innovative ideas as we work through MVCs and MVPs. 

Don’t forget about data. The old adage that you can only manage what you measure is important, because having measurements allows us to track progress and do something about it. Berkowitz cited an example of getting one of his RAMP apps into the Microsoft app marketplace. He leveraged the vetting process that Microsoft uses to run some quality assurance testing on the app before final submission into the marketplace. This feedback provided him with key metrics that his team could track to get the app successfully published. The key learning here? Measure everything you can!

Don’t forget why you are here. Miller said it well with his final comment: Have fun! When you love what you do, you’ll have pride in what you produce and you will strive to do the best job you can. 

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