Consultants make the business world go ’round. Companies hire them for management advice, company branding, and marketing strategy. Why wouldn’t they do the same for product development expertise?
Whether your company is building its first product or its fifteenth, it’s important to realize that new products mean new tech and big resource commitments. To ensure your next technology product is well worth the cost and is built on a solid foundation, consider outsourcing its development to a third-party agency.
What Can Product Experts Do for You?
Regardless of what you’re building, a product partner can provide invaluable expertise. Here’s how:
1. Testing Ideas to Ensure Wise Investments
The job of your internal product developers is often to maintain and iterate on existing projects. They’re paid to get products to market — the wellspring that keeps company revenues flowing — not cause lengthy delays or shut down initiatives. Imagine for a second, that there is a guy in your office who has a team solely dedicated to testing new ideas and shutting down the bad ones. Some of you are already thinking of someone. Now imagine their career track. Are they being rewarded for ending bad initiatives? Is there a senior level position they are on track for? The answer to both of these questions is NO. Chances are they are holding a competing initiative and are fighting for internal company resources. If they get their idea to market then they will be rewarded for launching their product. This dynamic creates a strong bias toward pushing projects across the finish line, and against halting projects that lack merit.
Some of you will make the argument that this competition for limited internal resources operates like natural selection and only the best ideas will thrive. I think we all know that's not always true. In fact, it's far more likely that this system will breed internal politics where only the best internal sales people get their initiatives funded and staffed, with little weight going to the quality or viability of the actual concepts. While external consultants are also incentivized to help bring quality new products to market, they offer a far less biased perspective towards initiatives that require objective feedback — even if that feedback is to shut down a project.
Third-party product experts can take an unfiltered look at an idea, rapidly prototype and test it, and determine whether it’s a smart use of company funds. If a prototyped product idea is a winner, that’s great. But if not, a product expert — who isn’t handcuffed to current products’ performance — can re-prototype the idea or just shut it down, capping the loss at a fraction of its potential cost. While $50,000 for a prototype might seem like a high price, it doesn’t come close to the millions many companies waste each year on failed product development due to a lack of prototyping and testing first.
2. Creating Better Processes
For most companies, phase one development is, in a word, chaos. The launch date is just months away, your developers subsist on coffee and stress, and each fire you put out brings two more roaring to life. There’s just one thing that can keep your team on track: a solid process built on the foundation of identifying core interactions that provide value to end users. The biggest mistake we see companies make is getting land locked in feature sets without really asking if those features need to be there for the core of the product to function. The goal of any first-version product should be clear. It should be a better way of solving a problem than currently exists. As soon as that requirement is met then the product should be released and the market can then help you define how to improve the product. Even the best solution is useless to your customer base if it's kept within the walls of a lab.
To be fair, this can be a bit of a double-edged sword. You don’t want to take a half-baked product to market only to watch it fail because it’s is not enough of an improvement over existing solutions. That is why we prototype and test with users. What we are looking for is the point where the improvement over the current solution is great enough to outweigh the pain of switching to a new solution for the end user. Product development experts are usually not incentivized to add complexities to projects, in fact most of us claim to do the exact opposite. It is our role to help your product find product market fit faster. Since we are not tied to an internal incentive, product consultants are free to prioritize core functionalities based on user research. In doing so, product experts help companies find their quickest route to a minimum lovable product and plan for subsequent iterations.
3. Leveraging Top-Notch Design Tools
Given the rapid integration and development of new product design tools, not every product development team has access to, or is even aware of, the perfect tool for every job. But because software development is the lifeblood of product agencies, product consultants constantly experiment with new tools on the market to find the one best suited to each job.
At Yeti, we tap into niche design tools like Zeplin — used to communicate design and interaction intents between developers — and Invision — a wireframing and prototyping tool. By selecting the perfect tools for each job, we design faster, prototype earlier, and build exactly what the client has in mind. It’s simple: The better the tools, the better the end product; the better the end product, the greater its profit-making potential.
4. Validating Concepts, and Evolving to Meet the Market
Untold assumptions underlie every product, made — consciously or not — by those who conceived it. But when you’ve spent months thinking about your product, how do you possibly pull yourself away from it to have a clear perspective? How can you ever hope to see your own blind spots? That’s why product experts prototype before building. Prototyping’s true power is prevention. It ensures your company doesn’t discover a poor product-market fit after it’s too late. Prototypes give customers a chance to speak up long before a product’s debut. Would you prefer to only spend thousands of dollars over a period of days or weeks to learn that your prototype needs fine-tuning? Or would you prefer to spend years and millions of dollars learning the same lessons from a full-fledged product launch?
5. Spotting Company Weaknesses
Make no mistake: Business is war. And if your company can’t adapt, it’s doomed to be overrun by competitors. Just look at how much fluidity there’s been in the Fortune 500 as of late. Consultants, however, can objectively spot your company’s susceptibilities, and then work to create a plan of action. Your company doesn’t necessarily need an Uber-style war room, but it does need to find lucrative areas that are ripe for disruption. Thankfully, product consultants spend all day studying other industries’ innovations, working to understand how they could translate and make a similar impact in another industry. For example: Do you deposit checks via mobile? That technology was originally used to capture data from business cards, but it proved even more useful to the banking industry. Internal team members who aren’t incentivized to know other industries might not see such an application, but a product consultant who is familiar with multiple industries often will.
6. Building a Skilled Team Without Interrupting Development
Because technology moves quickly — particularly since the rise of the Internet of Things — no company can afford to sit idle while industry players pass them by. But while you need to be constantly innovating, you also need to be constantly finding and building talent to support those efforts. What’s a product owner to do? Product consultants, fortunately, can step in and start projects immediately while also helping you to identify internal or external candidates you can bolster your team with. As every manager knows, building the right team is tough, but sitting still while building that team it is not an option.
7. Predicting the Future
Planning for the future can seem impossible. There’s always an immediate problem to solve or a new fire to put out, but the fact remains: If your business isn’t ready for what’s next, it’s already falling behind. In essence, your company needs to be like Google. It must master the moonshot. By setting its sights far ahead, Google innovates where others say, “No way”. But often, it’s not the end that matters; it’s the thousands of product challenges resolved in the process. Like Google, product experts live in an unpredictable future.
We’re constantly experimenting, so no matter how wild your vision is, a product team can guide it toward a more concrete future. Product experts use strategies like the design sprint, a process pioneered by Google, to separate the just-crazy- enough-to-succeed ideas from their dud cousins. So whether you’re working on a grand vision to reinvent the Internet or simply working to improve your current product, give us a call. We’d love to help your team invest with confidence and build its best product yet.
Tim Shipman is a Yeti Alum. Tim is an avid cyclist who enjoys exploring new, creative ways to apply technology to suit clients’ needs. When he's not in the Yeti cave, Tim can be found in front of a TV giving an in-depth analysis of the San Francisco 49ers to his Great Dane, Big.