Product driven development
Learn about product driven development, a customer-centric approach to creating digital products that focuses on user testing, continuous iteration, and feedback.
In today’s digital world, creating products that effectively serve the needs of users is crucial for success. Product driven development is an approach that focuses on continuously testing and evaluating the functionality and user experience of a digital product to ensure it consistently meets user expectations.
This article provides an overview of product driven development and its key elements, plus the importance of user testing and feedback in shaping the development process.
Product driven development focuses on creating digital products, like apps, websites, and software, that effectively serve the needs of users. It involves a continuous process of testing and evaluating the functionality and user experience of a product to ensure it consistently meets user expectations.
User testing iteratively throughout the product development process helps determine if your product aligns with the ongoing needs and goals of your target audience.
Product driven development versus other approaches
Product driven development is a customer-centric process that’s focused on the requirements of end users. While it’s effective, there are other approaches to product development that organizations can take depending on their goals.
Below is an overview of these different approaches.
Project driven development
In project driven development, the focus is on completing a specific project with a well-defined scope, timeline, and budget. It typically follows a waterfall or phased approach, where each stage is completed sequentially before moving onto the next one. There’s a clear plan with defined milestones, and the success of the project is measured by meeting those milestones and delivering the product within the timeline and to budget.
In product driven development, the focus is on continuously developing and improving a product over time based on customer feedback and market demands. It follows an iterative and incremental approach, such as Agile or Lean methodologies, where features and functionality are delivered in smaller releases and continuously refined based on feedback.
Market driven development
In any realm of business, there are going to be market demands that aren't being met. Market driven development concerns itself with identifying these gaps, and innovating products to fill them. It involves conducting market research, analyzing customer requirements, and aligning product development efforts with market trends and customer preferences.
Product driven development, on the other hand, places a strong emphasis on the product itself and its features, functionalities, and capabilities.
Design driven development
Design driven development places an emphasis on user-centric design principles, UX, and usability. It involves putting the needs and preferences of users at the forefront of the development process and incorporating design thinking methodologies to create products that are functional and visually appealing.
Why is product driven development important?
Product driven development is a continual process. At each iteration, you’re able to gather feedback and data and make changes in stages, leading to end products that are shaped by the ongoing input of real users.
Collecting data, gathering feedback, and learning how people interact and engage with your product leads to better-informed decision making. Product driven development makes it possible to build something based on user wants and needs, instead of making decisions based on intuition.
Making gradual changes also saves time and effort, rather than having to make major changes at the end of the development process.
Key elements of product driven development
Now that we have an understanding of what product driven development is, let’s delve deeper into the key elements of this approach.
Customer research and feedback
Product driven development seeks to empathize with and understand the target audience. User research and feedback provides important insights and knowledge required to build something that meets customer needs and expectations.
Because product driven development is human-centered, it’s essential to know who you’re designing for. Understanding what solutions your audience is after, getting feedback about how they prefer to interact or engage, as well as hearing what makes them frustrated, are all important aspects of customer-centric product development.
Adobe’s flagship software Photoshop is packed with functionality aimed at creatives. Adobe’s product driven development process depends on customer input and feedback to develop products with features that meet the demands of its users.
Defining and prioritizing features
User research plays a crucial role in understanding what people want in a digital product. By aligning these insights with your organization’s business goals, you can effectively develop content, integrate navigational elements, create a user experience, craft compelling calls to action, and structure your site or application optimally.
Continuous delivery and iteration
Continuous delivery and iteration are integral to product driven development. As user requirements evolve over time, iterations allow you to meet changing needs. Product driven development also entails continuous product discovery, which involves ongoing communication with customers to gather feedback and improve the product based on their insights.
Apple, known for its sleek and easy-to-use products, relies on continuous testing and feedback to shape its products. Its experiment-driven product development process follows 4–6 week cycles, where designs are developed, tested, and changes are made before each development cycle begins again.
Anticipating outcomes and measuring success
Being clear about the results you’re looking for before conducting user testing, and how you’ll define what success looks like, can help simplify the decision making process later on. It’s worth considering the following:
- Tasks: Determine the most critical actions you want users to take, such as purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, or responding to a call to action.
- Knowledge: Identify the key concepts, information, or understanding you want users to gain from the experience.
- Emotions: Consider the desired emotional response from users. Do you want them to feel entertained, informed, or empowered? Clearly define how you aim to connect with your users.
Creating a prototype or minimum viable product (MVP)
Once you have a clear understanding of your users, their preferences, and the features and functionalities you’ll prioritize, you can design a prototype or MVP that fulfills these requirements.
By observing how users interact with the working prototype or MVP, you can validate if your predictions and goals are on track, or if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
Identifying the right user testing approach
The type of usability testing that's best suited for your product depends on various factors, including your target audience, the stage of development, functionality, and the type of insights you’re seeking. As product-driven development is an iterative process, feedback from each round of testing and subsequent changes contribute to the final product.
Common forms of user testing used in product-driven development include:
- Heatmaps: Heatmaps provide graphical representation of user movements, clicks, and attention on different elements or content.
- First click tests: First click tests verify that the first click a user makes on an interface when carrying out a given task is clear and easy.
- Five second tests: Five second tests quickly assess if messaging or elements that are intended to make the biggest impact are noticeable.
- Design surveys: Design surveys allow you to ask questions to confirm or challenge assumptions about user experience or design functionality.
Conducting user testing
Once you’ve settled on the type of testing to perform, it can be conducted either in-person or remotely, and can be moderated or unmoderated, with varying levels of direction.
Running a user test involves:
- Recruiting test participants who fit your target audience.
- Planning the test, outlining desired actions, focus areas, and the type of data to be gathered.
- Testing your prototype or MVP with your participants, observing their interactions, and collecting quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate the accuracy of your predictions.
Making data driven decisions
Data-driven decision-making is a crucial part of product driven development, and user testing provides both quantitative and qualitative data that can be used to continuously improve your product.
- Quantitative analysis: Quantitative testing generates numerical data, such as click-through rates, task completion times, impressions, and other performance metrics. This data helps determine if your product is meeting the needs of your users.
- Qualitative analysis: Qualitative analysis involves examining subjective responses collected from interviews, design surveys, and open-ended questions. This analysis often includes text tagging, which allows you to label responses and identify patterns in how users feel about their experiences with your product.
Google is another example of a company that embraces product driven development. In 2013, they laid out their product development process in the article Nine Principles of Innovation, demonstrating their dedication to meeting the needs of their users through iterative testing and development.
Products like Gmail and Google Maps all had beta versions that underwent extensive user testing before they were launched to the greater public.
Product driven development challenges
While product driven development can lead to positive outcomes, it's important to be aware of the potential issues that may arise. Let’s explore some of the challenges that may crop up.
Staying within scope
Product driven development should strike a balance between user needs and business objectives. Trying to do too much can have a negative impact on the overall effectiveness of the product. Prioritizing what’s most important helps maintain focus.
Balancing short-term and long-term goals
Some features are going to take precedence and require quicker turnarounds, while others may be part of longer-term goals. Finding the right balance between short-term and long-term goals is crucial.
Standing out from the competition
No one wants their time and effort to get lost among all of the other products out there. Product teams need to be creative and find unique ways to meet the needs of users, and differentiate their product from others.
Even the most successful products can face challenges in meeting the changing needs of a growing and evolving target demographic. Predicting future demands can be difficult, so scalability should be factored in.
Integrating with existing processes
If there are established processes or workflows in place, adopting product driven development might be challenging at first. Collaboration and communication with UX and UI designers, product managers, developers, and other stakeholders can help ensure everyone is aligned toward the same goals.
Managing stakeholder expectations
It's important to be realistic about customer expectations and not get too attached to idealized versions of a product. Findings from user testing might reveal that certain assumptions or expectations aren’t working, so it's important to communicate this with stakeholders and be willing to adapt and make changes based on the data you gather.
UsabilityHub can help power the product driven development process
UsabilityHub provides a range of tools you can use to assess user satisfaction. Through five second tests and first click tests you can gather quantitative data on user engagement, and preference tests and surveys also offer qualitative insights and user feedback.
By incorporating user testing into your product driven development approach, UsabilityHub enables you to generate results that can help you optimize the user experience. To try it out for yourself, sign up for a free UsabilityHub plan and start exploring our tools today.
Frequently asked questions about product driven development
What is product driven development?
Product-driven development is an approach to software development that prioritizes building digital products based on user needs, market research, and iterative feedback loops. It has a focus on delivering value to end-users and continuously improving the product based on user testing and feedback.
What does product driven mean?
“Product driven” refers to an approach or mindset where an organization places a strong emphasis on the development, improvement, and success of its products as the primary driver of its business strategy and operations. This approach typically involves prioritizing customer needs and feedback, utilizing data and metrics to inform decision making, fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation, and continuously iterating and improving products based on user feedback and market demand.
What does it mean to be a product-led company?
A product-led company places an emphasis on its products as the primary driver of its business strategy, growth, and success. This approach typically involves empowering product teams, fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation, using data and metrics to inform decision making, and putting the customer at the center of product development efforts. A product-led company seeks to create products that are intuitive, user-friendly, and capable of delivering value to customers from the outset.
Jeff Cardello is a freelance writer who loves all things tech and design. Outside of being a word nerd, he enjoys playing bass guitar, riding his bike long distances, and recently started learning about data science and how to code with Python.