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Product excellence is a winning strategy

Methodology
Through the course of 7+ years, we've been building a portfolio of digital products. As we turn specific industry expertise into scalable products, we see the same patterns repeating time and time again. Digital is on every board's agenda, yet the product paradigm is shifting slowly. In this article we'll explain how a culture of product excellence is a key strategic lever to materialise digital transformation ambitions.

The software sector has been evolving for many years from bespoke (project-driven) activities towards a continuous (product-driven) delivery model. The essence of the agile movement is the realisation that company objectives = product objectives: to build products that solve a problem and that users love to use. Modern organisation north stars are no longer driven by management opinions but primarily by user feedback, growth metrics and product delivery progress.

Software products should be looked at as digital assets. The more solution-driven, substantiated and intellectually protected the asset is, the more revenue it will generate down the line. There is a systemic mechanism to turn innovative ideas into an early product version and iterate it towards product-market-fit. That's what we do, from start to end in partnership with entrepreneurial individuals and organisations of all sizes (SME, start/scale-ups, corporates, VC, private equity).

Success comes out of the symbiosis of specific industry expertise with methodological product delivery. Create value or go home.

A product orientation at the core


At the very center of our methodology is a product orientation. We firmly believe that quality will win the race: product excellence is a winning strategy.

At the end of the day, quality — in all of its dimensions — will win the race. 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 business offerings
  • An asset that fits into an ecosystem of other tools and services
  • The intersection of user-, business- and technological interest

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 based on user input.

We'll take you through the product development lifecycle:
  • The product definition (strategic, architectural and creative)
  • Product development (delivery operations)
  • Product growth (all dimensions towards product-market-fit)


Product definition


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

  1. Efficiency gains:
  2. Internal: optimise the existing suite of applications (digitalise operations)
  3. External: serve existing customers better (digitalise the customer experience)
  4. New business offerings:
  5. 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 or societal outcome. Solve problems worth solving and keep a long term perspective.

Most probably you're operating in a broader context in which you'll need to get buy-in from many stakeholders throughout your organisation. Start visualising the objectives.

DON'T create a presentation with a 5-year plan, KPI's and a theoretical ROI.
DO set up essential wireframes, a product design and a clickable prototype. Iterate. Validate.

It's a base assumption that the product will heavily evolve over time. Conceptualise a flexible application architecture, validate decisions with prospects and prioritise your feature delivery roadmap based on the value it will bring for your users.

Product development


Early on in the product conceptualisation stage you're taking on a number of assumptions. The initial product version's sole mission is to get a first 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 lifecycle 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.

Product growth


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. Growth marketing / sales: identifying, targeting and converting prospect users
  2. Business development: strategic alliances with other industry partners
  3. Customer success: a frictionless onboarding and customer experience
  4. Automated administrative procedures for billing & payments processes
  5. Legal: refining the contractual flows and (ISO) certifications
  6. Funding: the proper financing mix to fuel the aspired growth





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 mature digital products loved by end users, driving organisations and society forward.

Over the years, we've gathered a remarkable team of 40+ software engineers 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.

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

  1. We're entrepreneurial at heart…
  2. We think in the interest of our industry partners…
  3. We make decisions in the interest of end users…
  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 some in-depth examples from our portfolio:

Next up?


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

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