May 17 2018

Product Ideation: How to Begin the Process with a Software Development Agency

by Tivix

The best software applications don’t begin with the development process—they begin with discovery.

At the start of every new software project, it’s crucial to take an in-depth dive into what your goals for the project are, what’s realistic given your timing and budget limitations, and what the final product might look like.

Some projects are more straightforward than others—maybe you’re aiming to iterate on an existing product to add new technology integrations, and have a fairly clear roadmap of how to do that. In other cases, you’re starting from scratch: Your company wants a product that achieves x result, and everything about how to get it there is entirely up for grabs.

In this case, at Tivix, we begin with an in-depth innovation engineering workshop to talk through what our client’s needs are, how to accomplish them, and even build out a rough prototype to understand how the final product would look and feel before investing in the development process. Heavily inspired by design thinking, here’s a look at the stages we go through in our kickoff product ideation workshops:

Understand

We begin each new engagement by seeking to uncover the primary goals of the product and what the end user needs from it. This involves in-depth interviewing of your company’s team of experts, and observation and discussion with your proposed product’s end users. We want to know what’s lacking in the current solutions on the market, and understand the problems that we’re solving for—both for the business stakeholders at your company, but most importantly for the people who’ll be using it. We don’t ask what needs to be built; we ask why.

Ideate

Next, once we have a clear sense of what the challenges and needs are, we’ll begin brainstorming ideas to solve those problems. The Interaction Design Foundation shares some best practices on effective brainstorming in this blog post, which include:

  • Set a time limit - Spend between 15 and 60 minutes focusing on nothing but ideation, generating as many ideas as you can before discussing them.
  • Start with one specific “problem statement,” addressing the challenge you intend to resolve with your software product.
  • Defer judgement - Don’t offer criticism of others’ ideas at this stage; just hear them out.
  • Encourage wild ideas - The more out of the box, the better.
  • Build on others’ ideas - Start saying “and” instead of “but” while discussing another party’s vision.
  • Illustrate your idea - Use a sketch pad to draw out your plan.

After this ideation session, we’ll come back with a bunch of ideas (some brilliant, some not so much) and winnow them down for your review.

Decide

We’ll likely discard many of our original ideas without bringing them to a client meeting—but those that make it there will be carefully analyzed and dissected. We want to learn:

  • Does this idea fit your target users’ needs?
  • Will it be intuitive for them to use?
  • Will we be able to produce an effective version of it within our scheduling and budgetary constraints?

As we go through this process, we’ll ultimately align on one idea, and identify its must-have features to build out our minimum lovable product.

Prototype

At this stage, we’ll want to create an early version of the product to give a simple glimpse of its look and feel. This might be as simple as storyboards on a sketch pad, or it might include a graphic animation to provide an accurate sense of what happens when you interact with graphics on the screen.

Validate

Finally, before moving into the development phase, we’ll ask a variety of users (including both business stakeholders and potential end users) to test out the prototype, and collect their feedback on the process. Does the UI make sense given the intended use cases? Are users able to easily accomplish their end goals? Talk to your testers and get feedback from them on how well the product fits their needs. At Tivix, it’s essential to us to make sure that both the business stakeholders and the end users are delighted with the vision for the end product, so we don’t move on to development until we know that we’ve nailed it.

Moving from a kernel of an idea to a fully-fledged digital product is a complex process—none more so than the initial concepting stage. But taking the time to get this process right can mean the difference between an innovative product that accomplishes exactly what you’d intended, and a mediocre product that’s no different from other solutions already on the market, which will be obsolete months after launch.

Throughout this process, we focus on a user-first approach to ensure that we’re building a product that will be seamless and intuitive to navigate, while meeting business goals. And even after the product launches, our work isn’t complete: We continue to iterate, solicit feedback, and update features in response to user needs and changing environments. We embrace a culture of innovation, from beginning to end.

Learn more about the philosophy behind our approach to ideation in our new ebook, The Tivix Guide to Design Thinking.

Want more? Head back to the Tivix blog