WHAT GOES INTO PLANNING PRODUCTS?
During ideation, the founder’s job is to follow up on any questions on the product charter, then take steps to define a backlog of what needs to be done and delivered in the planning stage. This to-do list should be in the form of a list of questions, and the goal of planning is to get answers, ask more follow-up questions, and develop a business plan for high-potential product ideas. When drafted, the founder should prepare a readout for the product leadership team with a formal request to move the product into the planning stage.
This founder should come prepared to answer the following:
- What key questions need to be answered during the planning stage? These questions are typically product specific, and the founder needs an extended team of experts to answer them.
- Whom does the founder want on his planning team, and what are their responsibilities?
- What is the timeline for completing planning?
- What other resources are needed to complete planning? This could include funding requests for market research, prototypes, and other external expertise.
- What are the technical, data, and operational considerations for the product?
These last few questions force the founder to think a few steps ahead and propose what needs to happen in planning, who he wants on the team, and for how long. This information also gives the product leadership team some context to evaluate the initiative on its merits but also gives them a sense of cost and potential resource bottlenecks.
Three founders on different initiatives can’t easily work with the same technologist to plan their initiatives. Initiatives that require longer planning durations, larger teams, and more resources to complete planning should have to demonstrate more revenue potential or strategic value.
What are some example planning stage questions and materials the founder should count on answering during the planning phase?
- A completed product vision indicating inputs (what raw materials are needed to make the product) and outputs (what is produced and consumed by customers).
- Completed research on the target market with more details on the organization’s reach into this market and what steps, if any, are needed to expand this reach.
- The target user personas of the product. Who are the buyers, the users, and other key players having a role in the customer journey?
- An overall design of the user experience highlighting key flows, screens, transactions, events, forms, dashboards, and other interactions that make up the product
- A proposed business model, price points, and how the product will be packaged and sold
- Identified competitors and alternatives and how the product’s value proposition will win over customers
- Identified regulations, constraints, and other risks that need to be considered
- A proposed minimally viable product (MVP) and the product roadmap beyond the MVP detailing the agile backlog for its development and proposed release plan
- A technology plan identifying the architecture, computing needs, usage assumptions, and operational requirements
- A data strategy identifying what data assets will be utilized, what new data needs to be procured, and what data will be collected with the product
- A proposed P/L
- The beginnings of a go-to-market strategy for the product
The founder should account sufficient time and resources to be able to answer these questions. In addition, the product leadership team should clearly identify the list of questions and any presentation formats so that the founders have a clear idea of what’s expected of them when presenting a product idea for planning. The product leadership team should be trying to determine whether there is alignment to strategy and if the product idea is worth investing more time and energy.
My recommendation is to implement a voting mechanism to capture steering members’ feedback. Scoring the initiative provides detail beyond just yes/no and gives a business value that can be compared to other initiatives in the pipeline. Since initiatives will consume resources, these scores should be transparent and are indicators to individuals, teams, and departments on prioritizing their resources. Scoring also helps to audit individual product leadership team members to ensure they balance business needs and don’t give priority only to initiatives that benefit them.
Scoring by itself may not be sufficient to move a product into planning. First, the leader of the product steering team should indicate whether it does meet the criteria to move forward. Second, any constraints such as funding, lack of availability of requested planning resources, or departmental constraints should be identified and resolved before clearing a product for planning. But once the product is moved into planning, the intention should be that, if the key assumptions on market, customer need, competitive landscape, revenue, level of investment feasibility, and regulatory considerations check out, the organization plans to invest in its development.
It’s worth noting that in my experience, every organization is culturally different in terms of how many questions need to be addressed, what level of planning is required, and what degree of assumptions or unknowns is reasonable before making a concrete investment in either planning or development. I’ve tried to present a balanced approach between what can be planned up front versus other activities that can likely occur during the development phase.
It’s good to set some guidelines. For example, for digital products that don’t have many legacy dependencies, integrations with the physical world, upfront R&D for new inventions, regulatory considerations, safety, or significant internal workflow changes, my rule of thumb is that I like three-to seven-month MVPs that require one to two months of planning. Anything longer, and you may miss the market or overinvest, and it can be shorter if you have an experienced team working with known practices and platforms.
Excerpted with permission from Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology by Isaac Sacolick, copyright Isaac Sacolick