Blog

Product excellence is a winning strategy


For the past 6 years we’ve been developing custom software products together with our clients and partners. In this blog post we’re taking a deep-dive into our product development process, which is rooted in the experience from 30+ successful development trajectories that we’ve done from initial ideation stage all the way into a product at scale.

We love to work with entrepreneurial individuals in various types of organisations (SME, start/scale-ups, corporates, VC, private equity). People who want to shake things up and bring innovative offerings to an industry.

At the very center of our methodology is our product orientation. It’s proven time and time again that product excellence is a winning strategy. That’s how Slack can fend off Microsoft Teams, and how Zoom made us all forget that Skype ever existed. A small but passionate team can stand its ground against large incumbents, as long as there’s a strong, central product vision and mature delivery operations.

There is no generally recognised definition of a digital product (heck, there isn’t even a Wikipedia page). For us, a digital product is defined as:

  • A strategic initiative to find efficiency gains or roll out new offerings
  • An asset that fits into an ecosystem of other tools and services
  • The intersection of user-, business- and technological interests.

How to foster a product-oriented culture? Think big, act small.
Think big when you define the mission statement, be bold in your ambitions.
Act small when you decide on the foundational user stories.
Focus on the essentials, build features along the way.

We’ll take you through the product development lifecycle:

  • Initial problem statement
  • The product definition
  • Minimum viable product development
  • The road towards product market fit

The problem statement:

Essentially, there are 2 reasons to initiate a custom software development trajectory:

1. Efficiency gains:
Internal: optimise the existing suite of applications (digitalise operations)
External: serve existing customers better (digitalise the customer experience)

2. New business offerings:
Create new value-add through digital product initiatives. Widen the offering to existing and possible new clients. Drive new top-line growth.

Be crystal clear about your intentions from the start, and quantify the desired business outcome. Only solve problems worth solving, with a long term view.

The product definition:

Once you’ve identified your strategy, it’s time to shape. Most probably you’re operating in a broader context in which you’ll need to get buy-in from many stakeholders throughout your firm. Start visualising your objectives.

DON’T create a presentation with a 5-year plan, KPI’s and a theoretical ROI.
DO set up essential wireframes and designs. Iterate. Validate.

Details matter, but don’t get caught up in them.

Minimum viable product development

Early on in the product conceptualisation stage you’re taking on a number of assumptions. The minimum viable product version’s sole mission is to get an initial release in the hands of your end-user and get the proper validation of those assumptions. There are 2 important notions here:

  1. The MVP should be considered as an actual production release: use the proper terminology to explain the life cycle of your product.
  2. The MVP is designed to validate assumptions: set up communication channels and in-depth product analytics to gain the proper insights.

Some consider an MVP to be a ‘hacking effort’: quick and dirty software delivery with the assumption of a full rebuild later on when you want to define the next steps. This is not our point of view. We see the MVP as a flexible foundation for further feature development:

  1. Flexible: right off the bat, give plenty of attention to the architectural foundation of your product. Build smart (API) abstraction layers to create feature optionality down the line.
  2. Feature development: once the MVP’s core assumptions are validated by end users, engage with your audience to jointly define the next iterations of your product.

Towards product market fit and operations at scale

We prefer not to generalise the process towards product market fit too much since this can vary tremendously on a case by case basis; you’ll know it when it’s there. Generally speaking this is the point throughout the process when you know with a fair level of certainty that specific actions will lead to (business) results. As you grow into those operations at scale, your product might be spun off into its own entity, and you’ll start to organise operations alongside new dimensions (non-exhaustive):

  1. Onboarding: frictionless experience for new users with an extensive product tour and product background information
  2. Customer success: supporting clients with technical and functional questions through an FAQ help center, chat bot, phone and other
  3. Thought leadership: demonstrating in-depth industry knowledge through blogging, scientific publishing, email drip campaigns and more
  4. Localisation: implementing translations for multiple language versions of the interface and the related automated communication.
  5. Billing & payments
  6. Legal: assisting to comply with legislation concerning GDPR and making technical adjustments in accordance to ISO27001.
  7. Software delivery: build and ship software in the most agile way possible, with efficient CI/CD pipelines in place for reliable delivery.

How this translates to our (operating) values

We choose to take on a holistic product mindset with partners and clients that we trust and that we enjoy working with. We’re in it for the long haul. The highs are high and the lows can be low, but we never loose our sights on the end objective: to create products at scale that users love and that drive organisations forward.

Over the years, we’ve gathered a remarkable team of 25 engineers (mostly computer science majors) to work on high-impact product initiatives. We don’t measure our success by financial criterions. Our only indication of progress is the impact and growth of our portfolio products.

We’d love to conclude with our company’s operating values:

  1. We’re entrepreneurial at heart…
  2. We think in the interest of the client…
  3. We act in the interest of the product…
  4. We strive for efficiency…
  5. We take pride in delivery…
  6. We have a growth mindset…
  7. We’re hungry for scale

The proof of the pudding…

Please find an in-depth example of a product we created for the psychotherapy industry: QIT online case study

Next up?

In our next blog post we’ll dive into our day-to-day operating model. We’ll showcase how we refined a model that centers around product value delivery, honours great engineering and reflects the day-to-day realities of software development.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to hello@panenco.com in case of questions.