A short guide to creating a customer-centric product

This is why putting the customer's needs at the center is important

17 February 2022

Today I will talk to you about how to use my experience in creating products that keep the customer’s needs at the center, what are the fundamental steps to design a good product that is appreciated by the market, that respects the deadlines and the expected costs.

The role of the “project manager”

There is a multitude of terms that have many points in common to define this role. One of these is the Project Owner or P.O., i.e. the person to refer to in relation to a particular project. The role includes the planning of activities (which and when), coordination (who does what and by when), the creation and management of documentary material, and general compliance with deadlines.

Tools

Hardly a P.O. that works in a small or medium-sized company deals with only one project at a time, so in addition to the ability to summarize, it is advisable to have a good project management tool to work with. For example, in Mark it we use Wrike, a tool with many features, useful for managing multiple projects at the same time, keeping an eye on your activities and those of your team, while managing the entire documents’ part.

How do you evaluate a new product idea?

The idea can come from anyone in the company. If you decide to carry it out, you must take preliminary actions whose purpose is to evaluate the project from every point of view, before deciding whether to really start it.

Step 1. Collection of ideas and evaluation

In this phase, it is necessary to make the first collection of ideas to enable management to decide whether to continue the project or not. The goal is to understand if that idea is actually able to create value for the customer, regardless of how it will be implemented.

The general characteristics of the new product are defined, the characteristics of the target market segment and those of potentially competing products are analyzed. The main activity of this phase is the analysis of the needs of the target audience, in which the marketing function is heavily involved. For those wishing to make a truly in-depth analysis of the potential users of the product, I suggest you do the profiling by using the value proposition canvas method which links the needs of the users with the functions and/or value proposals of the new product (FIT method).

This topic, however, needs to be explored separately. Beyond the method used, the result of the analysis must lead to understanding whether the product meets the market trend and therefore the expressed or latent needs of potential customers. To arrive at a useful conclusion, excellent knowledge of the customer is required.

Step 2. Functional, constructive, design, and economic analysis concept

If you’ve got the green light to proceed with the project, it is time to give a shape and content to your product, albeit still on a conceptual level. But how? The AGILE methodology, widely used today for the development of new software and mobile applications, could be of help. I suggest creating an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which can be a presentation, a website, or a physical mock-up in prototyping, or better still a combination of these, from which you can roughly understand what the product looks like, what it does, for whom, if it is technically feasible and if it is sustainable from an economic point of view.

The creation of this virtual version of the product will be very useful into making a first validation test with the market.

Select a panel of loyal customers and accompany them to discover the new product, try to collect as much information as possible, especially the critical ones: they will be the basis for correcting the project before starting to invest in the development phase. Otherwise, you will always be on time to stop the project without losing too much money. This is the real goal of the MVP: understand at any given time if it is appropriate to continue or not a project in which the investments that were made are still limited.

Further on, we will briefly describe the next steps, with a focus once again on the moments in which the customer is called upon to participate in the creation of the product.

Step 3. Start of the project, development of the design, and realization of the prototype

In this phase the team is defined, the product design is finalized and beginning with the technical and functional specifications we proceed towards the realization of the prototype. This is a very operational phase in which the design team and the user interface to be developed for the different contact points (product display, smartphone, or desktop) are strongly involved. In addition, of course, to the technical office for the realization of the prototype.

The team

Usually, the development of a product involves the whole company sooner or later, but the team is made up of a small number of people with whom the P.O. will collaborate more frequently.

The team in a small and medium-sized company is made up of the marketing manager, technical or research and development office manager, a design and user interface agency which in turn can activate additional resources if necessary.

Step 4. Test of the prototype and production of the test series

Once the prototype is ready it will be necessary to test it internally according to test procedures that are designed to verify both the functional and aesthetic performance. The output will be the production of a limited series that will have solved the problems highlighted in the prototype. This limited series, called a testing series, will be entrusted to the most loyal customers and distributors, who will test it in the field to highlight the problems following a more intense use, more similar to the real one.

Step 5. Test and pre-series production

The testing phase results lead to a subsequent production, always in a limited edition, called pre-series. This production will be used for the certifications required by the target markets and can be sold again on trial to the most loyal customers and distributors to obtain further feedback on the changes made and can be taken to fairs to make it known to the general public and perhaps receive additional valuable information.

Step 6. Mass production

After collecting the latest information on pre-series production and implementing the necessary changes, it’s time for production.

There are many things that happen during the product development phases that have not been mentioned here because it was not the aim of this article to go into all the details, but only to dwell on the moments in which the final customer or distributor really participates in the creation of a successful product.

If you need advice on how to design your new product correctly, contact us by entering your information and a brief description of your idea through the contact form.

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