In the last 4+ years, I’ve studied dozens of successful product launches from founders who bootstrapped their SaaS products, documented the most effective online sales and marketing strategies, and learned about the unique challenges of shipping SaaS apps.
And the number #1 challenge that product creators face is having a pipeline of sales qualified leads because they’ve built a product that their customers don’t want to buy.
That’s why in this article, you’ll discover:
- The 5 common software delivery problems and how to solve them to reduce waste.
- The 4 questions that founding teams must agree on before committing to projects.
- How to make better roadmap decisions and align your activities to business goals.
You’ll start delivering business goals with your software, not just features, from day one. And you’ll avoid failure as a developer tasked with building software that’s profitable.
Common Software Planning and Delivery Problems
You can correct me if I’m wrong.
There’s only one reason businesses build software, whether they are startups or good ‘ol boring entrenched businesses. That reason is to help them achieve a clearly defined business goal: generate more revenue and/or reduce operational costs.
You can always trace feature requests by stakeholders back to a desire to increase revenue and lower operating costs, regardless of the current stage of the business. You implement features as the mechanism that’ll drive you towards the business goals you’ve identified.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a commercial or internal product.
You’d make pages load fast because you don’t want your customers to get frustrated and switch to a competitor, which means lower revenues for your software business.
You’d create software to automate processes because you believe it’ll increase productivity, helping your team focus on higher-value revenue generating activities.
You’d use off-the-shelf software and tools like Rails because you believe it will help bring your product to market faster, which translates into revenue for your business sooner.
Nonetheless, most software products fail to help businesses achieve their goals, especially early-stage startups that are introducing new products and services.
CB Insights analyzed 101 startup failure post-mortems ».
Guess what the #1 reason failed startups cited as the cause of their demise?
It’s not because they couldn’t build the product (not cited as a reason for failure).
It’s not because they couldn’t find a business model (the #7 reason for failure).
It’s not because they run out of cash (the #2 reason for failure).
No Market Need.
The #1 reason startups fail is building a solution looking for a problem to solve.
All failed startups were able to release their product, but not enough people needed it, so they couldn’t find customers who were willing to pay a fair price to use the product.
Your first order of business as a SaaS developer is to ensure that the products you build helps businesses achieve their desired goals: solve real problems for customers so that you can generate revenue or reduce costs.
Still, knowing that you must solve real problems in order to achieve your business goals doesn’t stop you from making costly mistakes when building software. Here are five common software planning and delivery problems that can get in your way.
Scope Creep occurs when you keep adding “just one more feature” until the product you originally set out to build becomes a frankenstein. Products that suffer from scope creep take too long to complete and fail before they’re finished.
You can also end up building the Wrong Solutions for the problem you’re solving. Your software features will not contribute to your current business objectives. Over-complicated and over-engineered solutions are telltale signs of wrong solutions.
Oftentimes, you’ll get requests for Pet Features that do not support any of your overall business goals or aren’t necessary for the problem at hand. For example, implementing social login and sharing for B2B software products.
If you make Wrong Assumptions about what your customers need, you’ll end up implementing solutions that aren’t relevant. To ensure you never implement irrelevant solutions, you need systems that’ll help you spot changing market conditions quickly.
Without a clear understanding of the business context, it can be difficult to know what you should work on. Ad-hoc Prioritization prevents you from implementing features that have the biggest benefits for your business. You must choose features that significantly reduce your time to market, ans still ensures you meet your business goals.
You can solve all these problems and achieve your business goals by answering just 4 questions before you start a software project. Let’s look at these questions in detail and how they help you make better decisions about your product.
You’ll figure out what you need in order to build a solution people will gladly pay for. And automagically solve the #2 reason for commercial product failure going forward.
Ask These 4 Questions Before You Build Anything.
You’ve probably heard that customers don’t buy drills, they buy holes.
That means when selling anything, you should tell potential customers about how your drill can help them get the hole they’ve always wanted.
Let’s bring that concept to our world of software product development.
If you believe that customers buy holes instead of drills…and you take the time to understand your potential customer’s problems better than they do…
…you can ensure the success of your software project from day one by finding people who can’t live without holes.
In fact, you can sell them holes even before you start manufacturing drills.
If you believe your customers build software to accomplish a specific task, you can ensure the success of any software project you work on before you write a line of code.
Here’s how that’d work.
Before you break ground on new software products or add more features to an existing product, you must figure out the Jobs-To-Be-Done ». Asking these 4 questions will help you map every feature to a specific job that you and your customers want to get done.
Question #1: Why are we doing this?
This is where you define the problem to be solved, not the solution.
Earlier, I told you why businesses that are introducing new products and services fail. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s because they start with a solution, without first understanding what problems need to be solved.
Answering this question helps you identify true requirements and design better solutions. If you’re building a commercial product, your answer to this question should have a clear link to money.
For instance, if you’re building an A/B testing software, your why could be because you want to help your customers increase conversion rate by 30% within three months of using your product.
Question #2: Who are the consumers of our product?
In order to deliver high-quality products, you must understand who your customers are and what kind of value they are looking for from your product.
There are three types of customers for most software products.
The primary customer are the people who get a specific job done by using your software.
The secondary customers are the people providing the service. That’s you, and everyone on your team who helps your primary customers get stuff done, including your marketing and customer success team.
The third group of customers have a stake in your business, but don’t actually benefit from your product. These are regulators, consumer protection agencies, and platform owners like Apple and Google.
You have to define all three types of customers in order, and what their needs are before you implement features. Your answer to this question should be specific, such as Joanna, the direct response copywriter.
Question #3: How should our customer’s behaviour change?
The features you implement in your software products should help your customers change their behavior, especially your primary customers. You’ll focus on activities that your customers must do in order to solve their problems.
If you focus on the behavior changes you hope to achieve with your software, you’ll be able to prioritize which features you must build first. You’ll also spot problems that might prevent your customers from experiencing the full benefits of using your product and build a solution for that.
Testing more headlines and call-to-actions is an example of behavior change for users of your A/B testing software.
Question #4: What can we do to guarantee results?
This is where you finally think about your software deliverables and the things you must do in order to make each of your customers successful, including you, the product owner.
At this stage, you want to consider all possible solutions to the problems you’ve defined.
Answering this question helps you find the shortest path to changing your customer’s behavior and solving the problems you defined in question #1 because the shortest path may not always be to write custom code.
Perhaps, a 1-on-1 consultation could help your customers achieve the same results.
If you want to increase the trial to paid conversion for your A/B testing software, for example, you wouldn’t want to rework the onboarding flow right away.
Instead, you’d provide a done-for-you service where you’d walk your triers through setting up their first A/B test, improving the chances that they’d stick to your product.
Answering all four questions will help you make better roadmap decisions when building your products. You’ll be able to create solutions that make the most impact to each of your customers.
Another benefit of answering these four questions is that, the product owner/founder will have a roadmap for their pre-launch marketing campaigns, including a clear plan for nurturing your customers.
Software developers who don’t avoid the common software planning and delivery problems, and refuse to define the Jobs-To-Be-Done, don’t create remarkable careers.
If you’d like to avoid these mistakes, so that you can also ship software products that are robust and uber-profitable, you should read How Kingmakers Build Rails Products »