Why do some software products make it to market while others flop in the development stage? (Interestingly, 14 percent of all IT projects fail, according to the Project Management Institute.) One of the reasons is that many developers lack a proper software product strategy — they have no roadmap to follow, no product plan to guide them. Don’t make the same mistakes as other business software companies. Creating a killer software product development strategy will improve your company’s chances of success and provide you with a long-term return on your investment. Here’s how to do it properly.
1. Create a Narrative Before You Create a Product
A few weeks ago, I listened to Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with Scott Belsky, entrepreneur and chief product officer of Adobe, who discussed the importance of creating a strong brand narrative early on in the product strategy process.
“Sometimes, it actually helps to say, ‘Hey, what should the brand be?’ before we even get the team together, get a loan, or code something,” Belsky said. “We talk about the notion of product-market fit, right? We talk about product-founder fit. But what about product-brand fit?”
Belsky’s right. Far too many software vendors focus on branding, marketing and deployment in the final stages of software development. Building a narrative before building the product, on the other hand, provides developers with clarity about what their value proposition should be.
After working for more than 25 years in this industry, I think that a strong band narrative is one of the most important components of any software product development strategy. Think of it is a game plan that will guide your company to success. It will steer your product in the right direction — long before testing or implementation or verification.
Creating a brand narrative will help you define the “how, why, where and when” of software development. So, start with your splash page, work out what it should communicate and with that, how your new product will strengthen your brand. All the other stuff — design, marketing, implementation, maintenance, etc. — will come later. For now, it’s all about creating an effective brand story.
Take Gusto as an example. Their brand narrative is a strong one. It’s based on value and differentiation — the things that separate them from their competitors.
What about your narrative?
2. Solve the Most Valuable Problems, Not the Most Interesting Ones
Not all problems are the same. Solving the issues with the most “value” early on in the software development process will provide you with much better results.
Recently, I interviewed Daniel Saksenberg, CEO of Emerge. (You can listen to it here). He told me about one of his clients, who had a team of people in India to summarize the company’s lengthy financial documents. Saksenberg’s client asked him if he could do the same.
“I said ‘Look, I could do that. Just tell me again, how much are you paying this team?'” Saksenberg told me.
When the client revealed he paid his team around $400,000 a month, Saksenberg replied: “Look, what you’re asking is a relatively difficult project. I’m not convinced I could do it, but even if I could, I don’t see it taking less than six months, and if I got it right, you got it 100 percent right now, that would save you $4.8 million a year.”
“Then I said, ‘I read your annual report before I walked in over here. Just looking at that, even if I identified three different problems, and got this half-right, that’s a billion dollars a year in savings, and I could probably do it by next week.’ It’s a much simpler problem.”
Here, Saksenberg identified the most valuable problem and thought of a solution, rather than settling for the most obvious problem raised by the customer which seemed interesting at the surface. The key takeaway: Challenge your product strategy and narrow it down to solving the most valuable problems. As a nice side-effect, this exercise will free up lots of scarce capacity.
3. Play by Your Own Rules
This all reminds of me of another recent interview I did — one with Adam Martel, CEO and co-founder of AI-enabled fundraising platform Gravyty. (Click here to listen to it.)
He told me: “Blackbaud, Salesforce, Ellucian, and Community Brands — they are all selling databases. They are all selling the cup that holds the water, but nobody’s doing anything with the water itself.”
This is so true. In business software development, most back- and front-office systems are just “cups that hold water.” You can still draw reports from these programs and you’ll have your dashboard, of course, but the focus is on data registration. It’s all about managing the input and output processes more efficiently. Let’s face it – isn’t this all about chasing the exact same challenges as 20 years ago? Are these traditional approaches really adequate?
I think it’s time for a different approach — one that goes beyond automation and insight; one that changes user behavior and transforms the way work is done.
What if we could leverage these systems beyond the point of “cups that hold water”? What if we could use that water as fuel to increase the value of the intended outcome? This is what Gravyty has done — and doing so, they’ve created a new market (front-line fundraisers) instead of just delivering a “better version” of what’s on the market already.
Adam Martel from Gravyty told me: “What we learned was that we had to use artificial intelligence to change behavior. It wasn’t good enough just to provide insight. Very often people stick to their old habits, and that diminishes the value of solutions they have at hand. What that really meant was that we had to deliver an AI-first experience. It had to be where the frontline fundraiser was working.” This approached transformed how Front-line Fundraisers sell and gave them a core advantage.
What can you learn from all of this? Play to your own rules and define what sets your brand apart from the rest.
As Martel quoted: “If we play the game according to someone else rules, it’s difficult to catch up.”
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