Why building an online product in a 12-month timeline is wrong?

19 August 2018
Mikołaj Lehman

It might be a complex online system, it might be an application. When we plan to build an online business, we need to focus on benefits for our clients, instead of an impressive amount of features. If we decide to create a product packed with functionalities, we will have to face a 12-month work process. Why designing an IT project in a 12-month-ahead system is a bad idea?

Having plenty of ideas and a wide perspective for our online business is great. So is owning a huge budget to make our plans come true. Then we can work on a product as advanced as we want to, and wait for amazing results. However, if our aim is to break into the market, earn money fast, and all of that on the lowest risk of failure, then we will have to reconsider our methodology. Instead of trying to achieve hundreds of functionalities of our app, our main goal should be to address the needs of our target audience.

Drown in Waterfall

If we choose Waterfall as our project solution, we will have to deal with a long haul operation. From the analysis, through designing and implementation, up to testing our product – the entire process will take at least a year. Why?

Let’s dive into the very first stage. The one that lasts for several weeks or months, long before we kick off the actual work. That’s a big idea and a vision of a product. Yes, it is crucial to come up with a brilliant business concept. However, rethinking, discussing it with our friends and business partners, may postpone the whole project, and that gives time for our competitors to leave us behind. The problem is that we isolate ourselves during a product design process, instead of teaming up with a software house in creative and productive product workshops.

Stage two – we decide to set our product in motion. We start to work on an online system which consists of many modules or a few applications. In this case, each step of Waterfall will consume months. All in all, from the idea of deploying our product a year, goes by, and in the meantime, we are missing out rapid technology changes in our environment.

The biggest problem in the Waterfall approach is that in the first stage we strictly establish features of our product. At this time, we regard them as a perfect solution for our clients, and we decide to work on them in a 12 months perspective. Now, there are two pitfalls, that we might fall into:

• Freezing up our specification for 10-12 months will make us very vulnerable. Will we have a chance to react to the technology updates and our competitors’ business activity? Even if we manage to do so, we have to postpone shipping our product to the market, which equals bigger risk and higher cost.

• Product specification is based on our assumptions and beliefs, rather than on real analysis.

For instance, if we run a network of beauty salons and we hire a software house to establish a system for providing analytical reports of scheduled treatments, we might eventually conclude that all we needed is a platform to increase the number of clients. Which means the product has to be written all over again. Our platform needs to have features to reach more clients and then to provide a high-quality customer service. This case shows us how important is to make correct assumptions, and that verifying them is essential. Can we afford to take a risk of validating those assumptions after 12 months of Waterfall work?

Lean Startup to the rescue

Fortunately, there is a powerful alternative and a cure for our problems – the Lean Startup approach. With the help of Scrum tactics, we can get useful feedback, not after 12 months, but after just few weeks. Together with a software house we carefully choose the most important features of our product, that will address the pain points of our clients. After we find elements that hold the greatest value, we reach our end users with a dialogue. What we can get is a meaningful feedback on our product, and just after a few weeks, we enriched our business with a network of dedicated clients, engaged in creating a product with us.

Worst case scenario – if after those few weeks the feedback is totally negative and our users reject the app, we still have 11 months to improve it. Good news is that after many months of iterations and modifications we finally receive a product and we still have a valuable audience of customers. In the case of Waterfall, after the same period of time, we would be releasing an app without the initial feedback, and without marketing at all. Are we willing to risk that much?

Case study – Order management system in the B2B sector

The majority of IT platforms dedicated to B2B companies needs to have a module to manage the orders. To build this sort of system we need to spend up to 50 thousands Euro. That’s pretty much painful, so we need to take a look at two solutions:

• Is there an application on the market that we can incorporate into our system? It will be cheaper and faster to buy a ready app and include it in our product. Instead of 3 months of work spent on building an app, it will take 3 days to solve this problem.

• If there is no application on the market that we can use, we need to ask ourselves – what elements our system requires to meet our demands? Perhaps we can produce a simplified version of a platform, which will be effective, will cost less, and finally – it will take only a few days of coding.

It’s all up to us

Choosing an effective project methodology is an essential business decision. At this stage, we can prevent our company from failure. The agile approach will save us time, money, and effort, and most importantly – it will lead us to a product that will resonate.

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