How to Ship Software Products: Part 1

Every company lives or dies based on the products it ships. This is an inescapable fact for every organisation and even more so for companies who ship technology based products where the speed of innovation is so fast. And shipping software is difficult.

How do you ensure that you give your team the best possible opportunity to succeed? How can you identify what to build and make sure that what you build meets customer expectations and can be released as quickly as possible? At Pulsate, we started at zero with an idea on a piece of paper and from that idea we have built multiple products over the past few years.

During that time, we have had successes and failures and we have iterated the product building process many times. The purpose of this post is to outline our manifesto of how to build a software product. Shipping and building software is definitely not a one-size-fits-all process but hopefully this post will help others and kickoff a conversation about how to ship software.

What Product should you Build

There have been countless books and blog posts written on how you should decide what product to build. How do you know what your customers want? That is the billion dollar question and, unfortunately, there is no good answer. However, first step towards identifying what users want is to identify who those potential users are. This is easier if you are an established company as you have some point of reference of what your existing users have previously wanted.

No matter what stage your company is at, identifying the target market for your product should always be one of your first steps Once you know who you’re prospective customers are, there is no substitute to talking to those users to find out if your thesis that they might want the product that you are planning on building is correct. However, we found that traditional focus groups and product research calls did not work for us.

The problem with traditional product research methods is that they don’t really give you much of an idea of why prospective user’s might want your product and it is all too easy to get a false reading of market demand. This is because traditional product research is often focused validating a very specific thesis, namely that if we build X product will Y group be interested in it?

That is all well and good but unless you understand why the Y group of users might be interested in your product, it is not all that useful.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”, Henry Ford, (probably).

A couple of year’s back, we discovered a new way to look at product research and it has transformed how we look at our product and how we decide what to build. Jobs to be Done (JBTD) has a simple but revolutionary premise:

Find out the jobs that prospective users need to be done and why they want to hire your product.

Credit; Great Harvard Business Review article on JTBD

On the face of it, JTBD sounds like a simple premise but it is also a powerful tool that should be at the centre of any product research. We fully embraced the JTBD philosophy and carried out a number of interviews with users (both customers of Pulsate and customers of similar products) to find out what jobs they needed done and why they were looking to hire a company like ours. This data was invaluable and it still shapes the products that we are building.

JTBD also links in directly with Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI). Once you have identified the jobs that prospective users need to be done, it becomes much easier to identify the important tasks that users want to get done which are poorly served by existing products. This is your sweet spot. The area where users are looking to make a hire for a job they need to be done.
 and are struggling to find a product to hire.

Now that you have identified an area where there is a discrepancy between the jobs that users need to be done and the products available for those users to hire, it is time to begin designing your product to hit that sweet spot. However, the JTBD framework is not finished yet. Before we build any new feature or product in Pulsate, we first create a JTBD mission document for it. This mission document acts as the blueprint for the new feature or product. It also forces us to ask a few simple questions before we decide to build anything:

- What problems are we solving and why?
- What are the Job Stories?
- How will we measure success?

They are the most important questions for any product update. In fact, they are so important that we pin them to the wall. We have a wall in our Dublin office where JTBD missions are posted and we also send them to our engineering team who are based in Krakow. This gives everyone visibility of what we are building and why we are building it as well as how we are going to measure whether or not it is successful.

JTBD Mission Documents

As well as JTBD, we have our own Win the Moment philosophy that is also central to everything that we decide to build. Win the Moment has three core principles:

- Be There
- Be Useful
- Be Quick

These are the core principles of Pulsate and what we try to achieve with every update. Before we design and build anything, we ask ourselves how can this update help our customers Win the Moment. For more information and to learn how you can Win the Moment, check out our free course here.

Designing The Product

Designing products is often a tricky balancing act. There is a lot going on. You have to take into account a lot of factors such as the jobs that the product or feature is going to be hired for and how users that you have no exposure to will use the product. You also have to produce something that is true to the initial product vision whilst also ensuring that the update can be actually be built in an acceptable period of time.

All of those are reason’s why we allocate a lot of time to designing product updates and we involve all of the different stakeholders right from the beginning. Everyone in the company has access to the JTBD mission documents and we also share all of the design assets on dropbox so everyone in the company can review them and give feedback. We also have a product update meeting once a week where everyone in Pulsate dials in and the product team updates them on what we are working on. Product is at the heart of every company so it is important that everyone is aware of what we are doing.

In terms of designing the product, I won’t spend too much time on it. Our Head of Product Design, Caroline Craddock, just wrote a great blog post that outlines how we design products and I encourage everyone who is interested in the design process and how to speed it up to check it out.

That’s it for now, if you like the post or have anything to say about it, please let me know in the comments section below. Next time, we’ll start building the product and ship it.