In the last decade in particular, it's probably a bit of an understatement to say that the world of software development has changed dramatically.
In the 1990s, applications were essentially the digital equivalent of a Swiss army knife. Something like Microsoft Office was more than just a piece of software - it was a full-fledged "productivity suite." It did it all, essentially - from word processing to spreadsheets to presentations and beyond.
Indeed, this was essentially the software development business model - if you wanted to stand out in a crowd, your offering had to do as many things as humanly possible.
Of course, while many developers rose to this challenge and while their apps had an incredible number of features, they didn't do any one thing particularly well. More often than not, users were dealing with a "Jack of all trades, master of none" situation.
Then, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world and everything changed. Suddenly, apps were almost laser focused on one goal in particular - they just had to help users solve one problem or perform one task better than anyone else. If they needed additional features, they could just find another app for that - and thus, a mobile revolution was born.
Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, 2010.© Matt Yohe (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Which, of course, has posed a challenge for apps and software business developers as keeping everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction becomes exponentially more difficult when your target gets narrower and narrower. But at the same time, many developers do it on a daily basis, and they all have one thing in common: The right type of product management infrastructure is in place at the start of their efforts.
It's a goal that you can achieve, too - and internal communications and marketing collateral is a big part of how you do it. You just need to know what message you're trying to convey and, more importantly, who you're conveying it to.
The Art of App Development in a Mobile World: Product Management Best Practices
With every piece of internal collateral you create, you'll always want to begin with the answers to three simple questions:
- What is our product designed to do?
- Who is our product designed for?
- Why does this matter? In other words - why should these people pay attention to us as opposed to someone else?
Yes, product management in general is a bit more complicated than this - but so long as you establish these three ideas and reiterate them as often as you can to your internal teams, you'll find that the lion's share of the hard work has already been done for you.
Case in point: if you're designing an application designed to help users create their own social media graphics, everyone is going to know that this is the overarching goal. But that really only answers the first question - not the other two, which are equally important.
Which demographic is your product aimed at? Why is your offering different from the myriad of other, similar solutions that are already on the market? Why is it unique and, most critically, why should people care?
At that point, you can sit down with a tool like Visme (which I founded) to help create the type of content that crystallizes these ideas in the minds of your employees. Every decision they make should reaffirm one of those three core ideas.
This approach has a number of key benefits, all of which are far too important to ignore. Any time you start to experience scope creep - meaning that features are starting to be added that go above and beyond the original idea - you run the risk of creating a product that returns to that bloated, "old school" model of software development. Are you adding this feature because it's a good idea, or are you adding it simply because you can?
Well, instead of internally debating that for hours on end, return to the original three questions:
- Does this feature help underline the original promise you're making to your customers?
- Is it something your customers are even going to be interested in to begin with?
- Is it a feature that will further differentiate your offering from your competitors, or make it stand out in some way?
If the answer to those three questions is "no," guess what - you're probably about to spend a lot of time on something that will only put you farther away from your goal, not closer to it.
In a lot of ways, it's the same basic approach that you would take with your external marketing collateral. When you go to a site like Respona to research topics for content creation, you always start by asking yourself "does my target audience actually care about this particular idea?" If the answer is "no," you keep looking. If the answer is "yes," you press forward.
This approach to product management and all related communications is really no different. Not only should it fundamentally change the way you think about the larger development process, but it should also impact the way you think about the ways in which you're communicating with your people.
All of this comes back to the fact that with every step of the application development process, you should be adding as much value into the lives of your users as possible. Of course, "value" and "features" are not the same thing and should never, under any circumstances, be treated as such. Additional features do not automatically equate to additional value and, to be perfectly frank, the opposite is usually true. This is why you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone but the most die-hard of "power users" who still embrace the "productivity suite" model of yesteryear.
More often than not, simplicity is the key to what you're doing in a huge variety of different ways. Not only does embracing simplicity usually add to a far better user experience, but it's also the perfect tool to leverage when communicating with your own employees as well.
In the end, remember that everything you're doing needs to be directed - from the internal collateral that you're creating to the external collateral to the product itself. Part of how you're able to do this involves creating the clearest vision possible for the people who are devoting so much of their lives on bringing your vision for the perfect app into reality by any means possible.
But the good news is that this process doesn't have to be nearly as complicated as certain people seem to want to make it. In those moments where you doubt yourself - where you're not sure if you're headed in the right direction, or even where you're headed at all - just return to those three simple questions outlined above.
What are we doing? Who are we doing it for? Why does it ultimately matter?
If you're able to do that, you'll end up with more than just a product that is finished and released on-time. You'll end up with something that your end users are going to love, which is ultimately the most important benefit of all.