In the first post, we established that digital products (i.e. connected devices) are an intricate part of our everyday life and yet pose significant challenges in development. Three key learnings that contribute to an iterative product development for digital products include rethinking prototyping, platforms choices and connectedness.

In order make digital product development more iterative, I elaborated the first two aspects of the framework in the previous post.

  1. Expand Prototyping – rethinking prototyping to speed up development while reducing risks
  2. Strategize Platform – elevating platform decisions to a strategic level rather than operational or tactical

The third and final part of this frameworks is the following.

3) Leverage Connectedness & ‘Be Connected’

At the start we identified ‘connectedness’ as a key characteristic of digital products. Organizations can reach the ‘Connected devices’ in the customer premises even after shipment. An obvious way ahead is to exploit this characteristic. ‘Be connected’ in your thinking about the product and its development. Yet companies struggle with this mindset. Organizations rally teams around projects, while projects have a finite lifetime from conceptualization to delivery of physical goods. The concept of delivering new features after sales is unthinkable and does not fit in the traditional processes.

Prioritize between Now & Later

Traditionally, hardware product companies prioritized the date of physical shipment of the devices. This was the only milestone to care about. As a result, Product Managers pack all features onto the single backlog and all development and testing teams aim for ‘that one date’.  This results in a stressed-out organization. Product and engineering teams are in a constant conflict mode between shipment date and feature scope.

Use ‘connectedness’ of digitial products to rethink the game of prioritization. A way to achieve this is to apply a higher level of filter to the features on the backlog and put features in two buckets of ‘Now’ and ‘Later’. Features that must work if the device never went online can be put in the ‘Now’ bucket. These can be mandatory legal requirements, certifications requirements or table-stakes features that customers expect. Deliver these features at a high level of maturity before shipping the physical products. Features that work if the device is online, must be put into the ‘Later’ bucket. Deliver these features at a certain acceptable level of maturity before physical shipments, while improving them over time and rolling them out to connected devices.

Learn from field data

Leverage the field data from the connected install base of devices. Gather data from connected devices to extract insights and influence the following.

  • Product decisions: Using data from devices to understand deeper the use of certain features, hardware buttons etc. can help make choices for next generation of products
  • Technical debt: Extracting and analyzing crash logs, debug dumps etc. help improve quality of the software delivered to customers. It helps shorten the turnaround time with field issues, thus raising customer satisfaction.

Explore experimentation

Leverage ‘connectedness’ to experiment, much like the applications with experimental UIs that we are used to. Before introducing a new feature in the next product range, build the capability to test these on already deployed devices on the field. This will result in reduced risk and validate several success metrics for new initiatives.

Considering Tesla again as an example, they’ve built the ability to roll out software updates to end users over-the-air. Tesla is able to deliver new features and bug fixes to their end users. The ability to deliver updates over the air, dramatically reduces organizational stress during development. Needless to say, all scenarios around fail-safe mechanisms, security and others need to be planned in. While developing and maturing some features like the Software Version 9, cars still roll out of the assembly-lines.

Bringing it together

Iterative Hardware Product Development

Building digital products in an iterative manner is thus possible. Following this three point framework, it is possible to lower the levels of upfront investments, gain flexibility with changing requirements and reduce the time to market. Build the right product through constant learning. Build the product right by de-stressing the organization.

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