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Default CategoryMar 13, 2018

One Step at a Time: A Phased Approach to Product Planning and Design

Danielle Jones

“That feature sounds great! Let’s add it to the product!”

As the project manager, I sat in shock. There was no analysis, feature scoping, or budget conversation to support the decision. In fact, I was sure the feature would have a negative ROI. We were building the feature just because it was “a cool idea.”

I have watched this scenario unfold repeatedly in growing companies. Encouraged by past successes, stakeholders have numerous ideas they want to implement in the future. However, as these companies grow they overlook the structure and discipline required to determine viable solutions and plan these ideas end-to-end. This lack of structure forces companies to make quick decisions on product investment, waste effort, and produce an unclear vision for their employees.

However, with a little structure, time prioritization, and planning, companies can prevent themselves from falling into this trap. Using a phased approach allows executives time and data to fully evaluate and plan their products.

phased product approach

executive planning: 4-6 months from development start

The first phase of product planning is strategic analysis. This may seem obvious, but this step is frequently skipped. Executives can find it difficult to carve out time to plan, but if they prioritize the effort the rewards are ample. Why? Thorough analysis allows executives to have options and data to make the strategic decisions.

Executive planning occurs four to six months before development and involves executives, product owners, and some middle management. As a team, they perform the following types of assessments:

  • Market assessments

  • Current product usage and adoption analysis

  • Prototypes of multiple product options

  • Budget analysis

  • ROI analysis

Based on the results of these assessments, executives can finalize the direction, vision, and scope for the project. Ultimately, this allows executives to choose the correct path for their products and company.

design: 2-3 months out from development start

Though an executive sets the direction, vision, and scope for the project, the second phase of product development is owned by middle management. Middle management must transform vision into an actual product.

Practically, this phase involves developing a high-level plan for product design. This team usually includes a product owner or manager, a technical architect, user experience designer, and business analyst. The design phase focuses on working through the scope and feature set of the product. To achieve this, the team creates wireframes, workflows, feature descriptions, and technical architecture diagrams.

These activities are important to clarify scope and identify major issues early in the process. Prioritizing features also produces clear scope decisions, preventing scope creep and budget overages. By the end of the phase, the team should develop a feature plan, project plan, and final cost estimate.

sprint 0: 2 weeks to 1 month from development start

Finally, business analysts breakdown in-scope features into detailed user stories for development. Completing this in advance of the sprint allows business analysts time to work through issues and ensure the planned details align with the larger vision. To achieve the best vision alignment, use the same business analyst for the design phase and sprint zero. If this is not possible, the team should plan ample time to educate the new business analyst on the project’s vision. Product success can be won or lost in the details and how they align with the vision.

structure brings ideas into reality

The world is full of ideas and, at the same time, full of pressures demanding that we make quick, uneducated decisions. However, adding a structured approach to investigate, decide, and plan ideas can reap rewards for your final product.

For more information on how Credera can help you develop an approach to your company’s product planning and design, visit Credera.com. If you have specific questions, please reach out to us at findoutmore@credera.com.