Product planning: three things you should do before building your product

When you have an idea for a software product or service, the temptation can be to dive into it. It’s normal to be eager to get started — to want to pursue a shiny new idea right off the bat.

After all, the sooner the product is made, the sooner you can drive revenue from it. Right?

While there’s a ring of truth to that, it overlooks some major product planning steps integral to a product’s journey. Without proper product planning, your great idea is unlikely to turn a profit. So, here are three things that should happen before you start to build that flash new product of yours.

Product discovery

Product discovery is a core part of the decision process. It takes place during idea generation. So, this is a product planning step that should happen right at the start, when deciding on your next product or starting your business.

Essentially, product discovery is market research. It’s the process of discovering if there is a market need for your product idea.

Conducting product discovery gives you insight into whether your product will find a place in the market — before you waste time and money building it. This insight lets you back away from product ideas that are dead in the water, before you lose resources pursuing an unneeded product.

Completing product discovery boils down to two things. First, question everything about your product idea. Second, ask your potential customers for their point of view. With this kind of research, you ensure that your product idea is useful for your customers, not just usable.

Write user stories

Once you’ve completed your product discovery, you will want to look deeper at the problem you’re solving and how you’ll solve it. This is where user stories should come into your product planning.

User stories are short, simple statements that provide insight into the end user’s perspective. So, they’ll help you shift your focus to what the end user would expect to achieve from your product and why. They’re used to generate an applied understanding of the value that each function provides to your overall product idea.

It’s important when writing a user story that they are kept short and don’t get lost in the details. For example: ‘As an [end user characteristic], I want [specific function of the product] because [the benefit it offers them].’

By outlining core functions in this way, you can start the more practical elements of product planning. This, in turn, helps you avoid feature creep in later development, improving your eventual user experience.

You should write as many user stories as you need to cover your potential client base and every part of the problem you are looking to solve.

Build an MVP

Finally, your product planning is put to the test with a minimum viable product (MVP).

An MVP is the foundation of your product, and it does exactly as it says on the tin. It’s the simplest usable version of your product, without any bells and whistles. So, it only holds the functionality that’s core to your business goal. It doesn’t have any features that are solely nice-to-haves.

Building an MVP lets you put the previous product planning to the test, without risking masses of resources. So, you find out for sure if there’s a place in the market for your product, and how it provides value to your users.

MVPs also help you avoid early feature creep caused by perfectionism. If the feature isn’t core to the product, it doesn’t go in. This also means an earlier release, which lets you start to build a customer base sooner, rather than later.

You build a minimum viable product by using your user stories to identify the core function that your product needs, then building only that.

Slow and steady

Having a burst of inspiration for your next new product is exciting. But slow and steady wins the race.

So, make sure there’s a space in the market for your product and mould it to fit that space. By conducting careful product planning, with product discovery, user stories and an MVP, you avoid diving into the market blind.

Useful links

What is product discovery and why is it more than a buzzword?

What is a user story and why should you be writing them?

The top 3 benefits of building an MVP: why you need to begin with a minimum viable product