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Ben Ross | Propel Ventures Co-FounderAug 23, 2021 4:15:35 PM7 min read

How your development partner can make or break the success of your product

The Product Development Journey

If you’ve previously set out on a journey of product development, you may have stumbled upon a disconnect between your ambitions and the learning curve involved to make it happen. The battle to bootstrap a product from good idea to industry disruptor is fought and won in the details. First, there’s the obvious surface-level detail; the customer pain points to solve, and the technical challenges you intend to overcome with new thinking. Then there are the hidden details that lurk beneath the surface, such as product-market fit. If left unchecked, they might end your product journey before it begins.

When entering a new market or creating something entirely new, product development needs an experienced navigator right from its inception. Choosing a development partner that has a high-level view of the landscape and a proven track record of bringing successful products like yours to market is key to getting it right the first time.

What to Consider When Choosing a Product Development Partner

One of the biggest things to be aware of when you begin vetting product development partners is how widely the various types of development and consultancy firms in this space differ. It’s important to know whether you’re dealing with a strategic partner who cares about the fit and ongoing success of your product, or a “body shopping” operation that will build your product to spec without taking on any of the risk involved in its success.

For this broader analysis, we can break down the types of partners you might engage on a product development journey into three distinct categories:

  1. Strategic Development Partner - Plans for long-term product success by validating with customers through every step to ensure the right product is built. Sticks around after the launch to optimise product delivery and build out business processes that scale. Shares the risk and has a vested interest in seeing your product succeed.

  2. Agency - Builds what you ask for to spec, requiring clear step-by-step instructions and frequent touchpoints to achieve a clear and matured vision of the product. Finding the product’s intended place in the market is less surgical, lacking capability to build with telemetry needed to achieve product-market fit as it matures. Handover may range from adequate to nonexistent.

  3. Technical Body Shop - Much like an agency, technical body shops will build with a narrower view of what you specifically ask for-the closest thing to freelance engagement in this space. Communication can be difficult, and work may be incomplete or delayed at launch time. The fragmentary nature and high turnover of technical body shops can make engaging them a gamble, with no history or reputation to reinforce guarantees.

Here are some of the questions to consider before committing to any development partnership:

How will your partner help determine product-market fit?

The first steps you take toward a minimum viable product will be determined by how real people want to use it. Will it align to expected user experience norms or completely overhaul how people expect to interact with it? What do real users in your market think about that decision? When they eventually test a proof of concept, does the reality line up with those initial expectations? Who interprets and actions this information? How do they measure its value and impact on development?

These questions only scrape the surface of what’s needed to effectively progress your product blueprint through the initial steps. By chipping away at the unknowns, it helps you to build a more comprehensive pathway to product success. Without progressing through a process of seeking useful answers during this process, you may be left with a fuzzy or inaccurate picture of what your intended users want.

Does your prospective development partner have a process to structure surveys, conduct testing sessions, probe user responses effectively, and deliver actionable advice to engineering teams based on human feedback? Are they invested in setting up your product for market success? Make sure your expectations from your product development partner are clear before committing.

Is your partner technical, strategic, or both?

Technical agencies and body shops are skilled at making applications to order, but lack the strategic vision and skin in the game to course-correct if needed. This may be the ideal type of engagement for a strategic business with experience in the market and existing products generating insights about next moves, with minor gaps to fill. Using body shops can augment an already effective team, but as stop-gap resources increase, more strain is placed on the existing internal delivery leadership. Without the turnkey management and administrative capacity of a strategic partner, additional resources will only burden your leaders with more people to bring up to speed and manage.

For anyone setting out on their first product journey, or for incumbents entering an unfamiliar market, it’s important to have a strategic development partner who has proven success in evaluating product-market fit, on top of raw product development capacity. Your partner should understand and buy into your vision from the beginning, guiding it through the development stages toward a clear goal. The experience provided by a strategic partner with hands-on knowledge of your market is invaluable to the development of any new product. Most time and cost blowouts that occur in this phase of the development cycle come from going down the wrong path without being able to see in advance how the market will respond to it.

Another key benefit of a strategic development partner is having a robust, scalable structure in place that can seamlessly inject a specialist team fully formed and performing into the existing production flow. The approach enables a shorter time to spin up teams to full productivity under their own manager, removing the overhead of additional people management from your development efforts.

Will your partner support the product’s ongoing development?

Technical body shops may be a great choice if your vision is wholly formed, mature and market-ready out of the box. What they are not well equipped to do is provide guidance or strategic vision for the ongoing success of your product. Some development firms prefer to focus only on build, which can leave their clients without much strategic support once the product goes live. In many cases, new owners of the product don’t have the keys to the engine room. They lack the desire or know-how to continue development post-launch, iterate on user feedback or even fix the product the first time it breaks. This can lead to a situation of increasing costs and diminishing returns where having to make major changes to your product after the fact can blow out budgets and timeframes.

The managerial overhead of body shops vs intact teams

Using body shops can quickly fill gaps in an existing team, but it places more strain on the existing internal delivery leadership. Your leaders will be saddled with more people to both onboard and manage, shepherding new teams which need to go through the process to form, storm and norm, then perform.  

The benefit of a strategic development partner is in how they can hit the ground running, with proven teams that are already well-structured and performing. This provides a more favourable time-to-productivity scale, and allows work to filter in through a project manager who leads their team independently. It removes the people and product management workload, saving on the managerial overhead needed to deliver.

Developing Products the Propel Way

Propel is an industry-leading development partner with a history of shepherding successful products to market alongside our partners. We set up clients for long-term success and share the risk, lending projects both our world-class technical expertise and unique understanding of the technology marketplace. 

We guide our partners over hurdles and around pitfalls throughout the development cycle, from successful launches to finding a profitable business-as-usual rhythm. We steer clear of double-handling and development cul-de-sacs, finding additional cost efficiencies along the way. Our depth of experience in determining product-market fit, validating development progress with user testing and feedback, and supporting ongoing growth make us the ideal strategic partner for developing a commercially successful product. 

Founded in 2016, we’ve assembled a team of entrepreneurial product strategy, design and development leaders with a track record of building businesses, creating and expanding markets, and developing new technologies that benefit millions of people across the globe.

Speak with us before you embark upon your next product development journey, and find out why Propel is a safe pair of hands to steer your product to market success.