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Digital product development is the first thing you need to do to get your brand established within the digital ecosystem. As a product studio, Railsware is ready to share knowledge and experience on this issue.
Every product, be it tangible or intangible, is meant to deliver value to both its creator and owner. The former usually generates revenue from selling it, and the latter uses the product to solve a particular problem or get a particular job done. Essentially, digital products are services or tools that you interact with via a digital medium.
For example, GarageBand allows its users to create music and podcasts on iOS and macOS devices; Microsoft Office represents a bundled set of productivity applications. Therein lies the main hallmark of a digital product. It brings together the notion of a product and service and delivers the value to users through the digital interaction point. Your banking app is a perfect example of the digital transformation of banking services. This product delivers services online in a faster and more convenient form.
All downloadable assets are deemed digital products. These include ebooks, video and audio content, photos, graphics, and other items. But, in e-commerce, they fall under the notion of digital goods, which is much more relevant to the value they deliver.
For all that, we encourage you to differentiate between both terms in the following way:
Digital products are programming code-based assets that deliver a particular interactive value proposition to the final user. These are mostly web, mobile, desktop apps, digital dashboards, controller apps, and many more.
Digital goods are intangible items that exist in digital form and are void of any user-interactive components. Some of the digital goods may be implemented in physical form as well. Examples are electronic books, ringtones, wallpapers, video tutorials, mockup images, and so on.
There is a misconception that websites and web apps are genuine digital products. Essentially, they are just product implementation on the web. Therefore, we cannot treat Uber’s mobile app as a separate product. It is the way to deliver value to smartphone and tablet users. Thus, each digital product can be implemented via a web app or website, mobile app for both iOS and Android, as well as a desktop version for a different OS. To sum up our introduction to the digital product term, let’s single out key facets or requirements it can be characterized with:
Let’s check whether the above mentioned requirements are met in Railsware’s top products:
Each of the mentioned tools differs in essence: Mailtrap is a fake SMTP server, Jira Smart Checklist, and Airtable Importer are add-ons. Nevertheless, they all are digital products that bring specific value to users.
Since we’ve dotted all the “i”s regarding what digital product is, let’s move towards how it is created. So, we’re going to answer the question of what is digital product development and explain how it is relatable to product design.
You can find this question on Quora with two categories of answers:
Opinion #1: product design is just an element of product development along with market analysis, engineering, prototyping, and others. In this case, the design stands for industrial or graphic design – a set of processes aimed at coining user interface and visualization.
Opinion #2: development is the last step of product design. Now the latter acts as a cycle consisting of defining a problem, developing a solution, and validating it with users. Wikipedia supports this definition of digital product design.
Railsware’s opinion: The term you choose is not as important as the process you come through. Both design and development may denote a set of activities meant to create digital products. The crucial thing is which stages your design or development cycle consists of.
In general, the low-level cycle of building a digital product depends on the development approach you chose. However, the high-level workflow is mostly the same. Therefore, you can adjust it considering the requirements and complexity of your project. We single out three major stages: ideation, design & development, and growth.
In the beginning was the Idea. However, only 10% of digital product ideas turn into successful products and manage to deliver value to end-users. And the ideation phase is meant to find out whether your digital product can avoid failure at the outset. Traditionally, this phase is all about the identification of a problem and coining a solution. It may include conceptualization, research and analysis, estimations and other activities. The main goal is to prove the feasibility of your future digital product.
After the ideation (if it’s successful, of course), you are ready to move forward and think about how your digital product should look and feel.
We’ve introduced a high-level chain of processes to build a digital product. However, every product owner is free to adjust it according to the development approach or methodology his or her project is based on. Below, you’ll find descriptions of the most popular ones.
It is one of the longest-standing approaches offering a logical and linear development life-cycle model. The name waterfall denotes that the top-to-bottom progress like the water falling downwards. As a rule, the approach includes the following stages:
Waterfall development is a fit if you have ample budget and strict requirements to documentation, tech stack, and timeline. As a rule, this approach is the large companies’ choice for their in-house projects.
The essence of Agile digital product development is a rapid and flexible response to change. It rests on splitting the development cycle into short time slots – iterations. These iterations are made for each task or feature of the digital product. The approach provides parallel progress of different teams and a significant reduction of time costs. Here is a common process life cycle of Agile development:
Agile development practices emphasize face-to-face communication. Meanwhile, it plays down the role of documentation compared to other approaches. This methodology underlies numerous derivative ones, some of which we’re going to introduce below.
Scrum is a perfect approach for building complex products with volatile requirements. The entire workflow consists of sprints (periods of two to four weeks), and each sprint is the implementation of a complete life cycle:
The scrum approach is considered one of the most flexible ones. It encourages verbal communication within the project and adopts an empirical mindset. It means that an agile response to challenges supersedes an attempt to understand the problem entirely.
Lean development is a digital transformation of Toyota’s lean manufacturing practices into the approach for building software and digital products. It is usually characterized by fast product delivery and quality-centered progress. The lean digital product life cycle is as follows:
FDD is another Agile development offspring. It is suitable for companies shifting from phase-based to iterative approach. Feature-driven development powers digital products that require ongoing updates. The approach is design-oriented, and the very project is split into small pieces – features. Here is the FDD process cycle:
The approach fosters rapid development and successful evolution of products. On the other hand, small projects are unlikely to benefit from FDD.
RAD rests on prototyping as a core element of the product development cycle. Time expenses for delivering a prototype rise due to cutting planning activities. Pipeline acceleration is usually achieved by the use of focus groups to gather requirements, user testing of design, numerous team communication syncs, reuse of software components, rapid prototyping and other approaches. RAD’s life cycle looks as follows:
Another way to implement rapid app development is the use of dedicated object-oriented programming languages. Some of them including Python, Ruby, and Java we’ve already blogged about in the following articles: Ruby vs. Java, and Python vs. Ruby vs. Node.js.
Today, most startup teams opt for agile development and its derivatives. However, another progressive option in demand so far is a hybrid of waterfall and agile techniques. This approach allows you to customize the methodology and tailor it according to the requirements of your project. The idea is to have independent teams and merge them into a common environment. In this case, the level of dependencies between them will define the synchronization of releases since waterfall teams focus on upfront planning and agile teams prefer progressive planning at each stage.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach you can use for building any digital product. Moreover, startups rarely use only one methodology for the entire pipeline. For example, we use a blend of Agile, Scrum and Lean, as well as some in-house best practices. Therefore, you can make the best of particular development approaches and implement them in your project. Here we’ve broken down the best digital product development approaches by industry.
To end up, let’s refer to words by Thomas Schranz, founder and CEO of Blossom: