When I started working in software 11 years ago, I built the innovative applications my clients said they wanted. I quickly learned that even though they typically knew their industry, they didn’t know what they needed out of their software.
It’s not a dig. It’s challenging to decide what to build and when. Once you think you’ve decided on that, the software development is a complicated process to navigate, though many of today’s beautiful, smooth web applications may make it seem easy.
As a software product owner today, I am always strategizing what to build and when. It’s one of the most common questions I’m hired to answer for customers looking for software solutions.
Though nothing will guarantee success, there are approaches a software owner can take to launch from a better position. Everyone knows it takes grit, hard work, a good team, and a solid plan, among other things, to build a great product and business. My team at Mindbox Studios calls our approach to the pre-build stage of software a Story Plan.
What’s a Story Plan?
There are over 15 different areas of business and product planning that we recommend depending on the client’s stage. These offer a guide to better understanding: 1) the technology required to meet your business goals, 2) how to best build your platform, 3) the estimated cost of producing the new technology, and 4) the roadmap for the vision of the product development over the next 6–12 months.
Creating a Story Plan
The Story Plan approach is business-first. Established businesses are typically able to provide the insights needed to complete this section, while startups and niche companies find value in collaborating on these exercises.
Marketing, technical, and product planning tools fill in the vision based on the unique needs of the client.
Before planning a product, the business implications should be relatively well-defined. If the owner is a startup, in a niche market, or pivoting business models these concepts can help communicate the venture’s goals.
A successful product team understands the business strategy to understand the software needs thoroughly and make relevant recommendations. The technology impacts the business and vice versa.
Vision — a distinction of what makes the platform unique
Customer Personas — a list of fictional platform users to consider during planning
Business Requirements — the core business needs for the product
For more information on the Business Strategy section, check this out.
Understanding the market, we are aiming for is a crucial part of building the right product. The following tools help align business leaders and team members on the marketing vision, ensuring that product decisions promote current goals.
Competitive Landscape — a matrix of top competitors occupying the business landscape by type
Remarketing Opportunities — strategies for leveraging existing user bases and trends
Industry Marketing Strategies — an analysis of existing players in the market and their key activities
Potential Go-to-Market Strategies — recommendations for entering the market successfully
Technical Planning & Research
Once we understand the business requirements and critical user interactions our technology team breaks down the priorities of the software product. This is not just describing what to build, but how to do it.
Use Cases and High-Level User Stories — identified cases and requirements for software interactions
Integration & API (Advanced Programming Interface) Research — technical research on known technical complexities, for example third-party integrations
Auditing Existing Technologies — an evaluation of existing software and technologies
Technical Forecasting — forecast of trends and technical complexities to come
Creative Direction & User Experience (UX)
Often taken for granted, the experience for a software user has a significant impact on product adoption. Implementing a polished aesthetic and seamless user experience requires intentional design. Software developers will rarely provide a final quote for services without visual assets.
Individualized Design Consultation — meet, review the executive summary, and answer open questions with potential designers
Style Guide — a collection of commonly used graphical assets
Define Critical Views — a strategic list of views that will be the most relevant to design or prototype first
Wireframe, Design, or Prototype Critical Views — a visualization of the user interface: low-fi, pixel-perfect, or interactive
Once the business model has been refined, and the technical research and creative direction are established, we can begin building the Product Roadmap.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Plan — high-level product outline
Roadmap Timeline — MVP plan, extrapolated to create a six-month timeline
Ballpark Production Costs — MVP product outline and roadmap
New Discoveries — a list of product needs uncovered through this conversation
Story Plan Success
After four years leading Story Plans with my clients, our collaborative efforts have produced more stable tech platforms, reduced the cost and impact of pivots, helped our clients raise more money using our plan deliverables, and established more successful businesses.
The Story Plan format is highly customizable. Each plan is unique to the needs of the product and owner. A product owner should revisit and update their Story Plan often and use it as the powerful communication tool that it is to keep teams in sync.
Before asking for an estimate to build an innovative software platform, we recommend a Story Plan. Get in touch if you are interested in working together.
This post was originally published in the Mindbox Journal.
Lauren Jerome is the co-founder of an innovative software studio, as well as a community organization working to make tech careers more accessible to a broader audience. She lives in Eugene, Oregon and works from anywhere with a decent signal. Follow her on Twitter and explore more of her work on Medium.