How to Explain Digital Products and Bring Them to Life
“So, what’s your job?”
Coming from a family of non-tech professionals, I’m often asked to explain what I do…a familiar situation for anyone who works in tech. My default response is “I help bring digital product ideas to life. Please pass the mashed potatoes.” Blank stares and polite head nods typically follow my seemingly simple and to-the-point response.
“What’s a digital product?”
An immediate follow-up question proposed by my cousin listening from the kids’ table. To describe digital product without resorting to examples – an app, software, or platform – is challenging, so I defer to my personal favorite definition: A Digital Product is a software enabled product or service that offers some form of utility to a human being.
A Digital Product is a software enabled product or service that offers some form of utility to a human being.
In other words, all digital products, from a mobile app to a website experience, attempt to solve a problem for a group of people trying to accomplish something.
“How do digital products come to life?”
I’m glad you asked! All digital products start with an idea; that’s the foundation. And we all have ideas, but we don’t always understand how to make those ideas a reality. Before a single line of code is ever written, three fundamental steps bring a digital product idea to life: Ideation, Research & Planning, and Design.
In this article I’ll cover each of these phases and the roles involved at each step, using an example even my Babcia would understand: improving the elementary school lunch process.
Step 1: Ideation
Example: “I have a digital product idea for schools that want to simplify and speed up the lunch ordering process.”
A digital product doesn’t work unless you clearly define a market. If you don’t, you are stuck with a rudderless product that you can’t sell and doesn’t address the user needs. During this phase people often dive into a prototype or create compelling mockups to put in a sales or pitch deck. With a target market defined, your original prompt will be further validated by identifying user personas, buyer personas, and their needs, wants, and pains.
Key roles involved
- Product managers are critical to help prioritize the right areas to focus on.
- Product researchers will work hand-in-hand with product managers to clearly define your market and stakeholders, which will come in handy during the next phase.
Step 2: Research & Plan
Example: “We should talk to teachers, students, parents, cafeteria staff, and administrators to understand their needs, wants, and pains.”
If you do not base your features and design on real-world data, feedback, and research, you resort to your best guess at a product that may or may not solve the users’ needs. What’s at stake? An invaluable, unusable, unmarketable product.
To avoid building or designing a product that doesn’t sell, start with a strong plan and thorough research. This is the phase you begin to narrow down the results of your ideation phase.
Key roles involved
- Following up ideation, product managers help align research with the broader business goals.
- Well-trained researchers are invaluable. They ensure that questions aren’t leading, your sample sizes are correct, and the insights you gain will be both confirming and surprising.
Step 3: Design
Example: “This app should share meal options, collect orders, organize by grade level, allow for changes, etc.”
Dream and conceptualize everything your app could do, and plan an MVP for everything it should do first. These steps help you convey the big vision, while an actionable plan allows you to be responsible with resources and test viability quickly. If you don’t prioritize, you’ll have a “Frankenstein” product that doesn’t address the identified user needs, wants, or pains.
Key roles involved
- Product Managers build out preliminary roadmaps to guide short-term development and long-term vision.
- Product Designers translate research insights into compelling concept designs.
Naturally, these three steps lead into development, accompanied by product brand and marketing efforts to tell your product’s story in a way that will resonate with the audience you intend to serve. But that’s for another dinner table conversation.