6 principles for digital service development

How do you ensure that the end-users actually want the digital products and services you develop? This is the million-dollar question in digital service development. Unfortunately, many digital products and services are built based on assumptions and little insight into users' actual needs, challenges, and preferences. Here I have compiled a list of what I believe are the most important principles in digital service development.

1. The best solutions are created by interdisciplinary teams

The team that builds and further develops digital products is crucial to its success. The right competence mix and the framework conditions the team works under have the greatest impact on the quality of the solution. All too often, the focus is on the features/functions a service should have, rather than being clear on what effect and business goals the solution should meet.

If you want to develop great digital services that the end user actually wants, you must be prepared to gain insight during a project. If you do not do that, you will not get a good result. With a flexible working method, you ensure a quality delivery because it maintains speed and reduces risk in the development process.

Every challenge and problem requires different approaches to be solved optimally. At Forte_ Digital, we believe that the development of digital services and products is best done in interdisciplinary teams. When designers, programmers and business developers work towards a common goal and with a desire to create great products, we get the best solutions for our customers and end-users.

2. Focus on the desired outcome, not the features

The quote "Ask teams to achieve an outcome rather than create specific output", from UX stars Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, is based on a common issue. The biggest mistake many companies make when developing digital products and services is that they think they know what features the customer needs.

The problem is that most companies don’t have enough insight into what the end-user actually wants. It is also a risky way to build digital services in terms of time and costs. A better approach is to give the team a set of goals to build, test and experiment on. Together with early and continuous customer involvement, it is possible to deliver a product that meets both user needs and business goals.

3. Provide the team with management tools and direction

"What do we actually want to achieve?" is a question that cannot be asked too many times. Digital service development is business development. This means that clear goals and outcomes should be the starting point. To achieve this, you need control tools and direction.

Start early by defining goals, audiences and KPIs, rather than focusing on features and assumptions. There are several tools available on the market., We use the Lean Canvas methodology because it gives the team clear guidelines on the most important and biggest problem, the objectives and KPIs, the biggest assumptions about value propositions, and our understanding of the biggest and most important target groups. With these guidelines in place, it immediately becomes easier to give the team clear direction and a goal to work towards.

4. Prioritize hypotheses and risks

Spend time with the entire team and decision-makers to identify assumptions and risks early.

Early in the product development process, there is a lot of uncertainty and assumptions. Instead of going straight to the first and best solution/idea, it is better to formulate the assumptions as hypotheses you can test, and run experiments.

We like to use test cards and learning cards to identify the most important hypotheses that should be tested first. When the experiment has finished, you have gained insight and data that can validate or invalidate the hypothesis, and may be the basis for new hypotheses that should be tested.

5. Select relevant methods and tools

Be pragmatic and creative - how can you get answers to the biggest assumptions/risks as quickly as possible? Choose the tools that provide answers to the questions and that work in your organization/context.

What users say is not the same as what they do, so try to combine both qualitative and quantitative methods. Such an approach provides value because you can choose the relevant method based on what you want to get answers to. If the goal is to get fast feedback on existing solutions, you can do A/B testing.

Other times, you have to do in-depth interviews or targeted campaigns on social media to measure interest. The most important thing is that you choose a hypothesis based on the tools you have and the set goal’s specific success criteria, rather than building solutions and features that may not be used.

6. Work continuously with testing and validation

Build and plan for uncertainty. A well-functioning product team is not a team that delivers exactly what was specified, but one that has the ability to continuously make decisions based on new insights and learning. Sometimes basic assumptions are wrong, which means that the course must be changed. That's the whole point.

Avoid trying to confirm your assumptions, and instead be open to the fact that there may be something completely different that gives the results you are looking for. It is also important to test things as cheaply and as early as possible so that you can make cost-effective decisions that will lead to a product the end-users want.

Embrace uncertainty and problems rather than trying to detail and build the first solution you thought of. This is the fastest way to build products that are used and thus lead to the results you want. In other words: Build, test, learn, repeat!