At NGL, we have been engaged in Product Development for 15 years. Before that, we were a software development house that focused on creating custom solutions for state-authorized lotteries.
Based on our experience we wanted to share with you our top 5 rules for successful Product Development:
1. Development Teams must be empowered
Product development teams must be empowered to make decisions about the software they are creating.
There is a difference between doing what you are told and what is right. In product development the focus should always be on the outcome not the output. When a product development team is empowered, it gains a sense of ownership over the product that is being built and this leads to the team focusing on the value that is being generated and not just on the act of developing the solution.
Empowered development teams simply build better products faster.
2. You need Product Managers
We frequently get asked what the difference between a product owner and a product manager is. A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality. The product owner should work more closely with the
development team to execute against the goals that the product manager helps to define.
A capable product manager is a must-have for successful product development.
3. Everyone involved must practice empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Since the focus of product development is on the outcome and not the output, we must have empathy for the situation the end-user of the product is in, when engaging with the product. Having empathy for a future end-user of a new product or newly developed feature is a difficult skill to master but without this we will likely fail to focus on the outcome and instead focus on the output of our development.
When we fail to meet the needs and expectations of our end-customers we fail to develop good products.
4. You must invest
Good things take time, and they take effort.
In a business this translates into calendar time, people and ultimately funding requirements. In contrast to work-for-hire where the absolute cost of the development is being born by a single customer, product development gives you the freedom to, and requires you to, invest more in your development efforts. Any company wishing to engage in
successful product development needs to be willing to invest in highly qualified people, invest in keeping their knowledge current, and then adequately fund the extended development duration to get things right.
5. UI/UX focus is a prerequisite to success
Success in today’s world means delivering on the needs of stakeholders while at the same time delivering a great user experience through a beautiful and easy to use user interface. That takes an enormous amount of skilled effort by an experienced Product Designer that works hand-in-hand with the development team.
Without an experienced Product Designer a product simply cannot
hope to capture a significant share of the market.
An interview with Bjorn Ingimundarson
To understand the practical implication of these rules we interviewed Next Generation Lotteries’ CTO Bjorn Ingimundarson.
Thanks for taking the time Bjorn. Before we dive into the details, you can maybe tell us shortly who you are and what your favourite thing about Serbia is?
I’m glad to take the time to answer a few questions. As an Icelander, my favourite thing about Serbia is obviously the weather! Closely behind that is the people and the highly favourable ratio of meat to vegetables in any meal along with their amazing Kajmak.
What are the most important environmental factors that lead to team empowerment?
Empowerment means taking ownership and making decisions. It is impossible to ask people to do that if the cost of failure is blame. The cost of failure should be learning, and in product development you must value learning over blame. The important thing here is to fail fast and safely. The other crucial factor to creating empowered teams is to allow decisions, whenever possible, to be taken as close to the code as possible.
Empathy is not something you see mentioned in relation to software development. Can you give us more insight into the importance of empathy in product development?
I like to think about this in relation to team empowerment. If we are empowering the team to make decision, they need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the end-user to make the right decisions. Even development and architecture decisions can be influenced by the context the end-user is in when using the product or feature being developed.
The rule specifically states that a company must have Product Managers. What, in your view, is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?
It is not the name of the role that really matters. What matters is the perspective and knowledge of the person in the role. At NGL, we have chosen to define the role of a Product Manager to be more focused on truly understanding the business requirements of the product and the capabilities of the product. Focusing on outcomes over outputs. Having a knowledgeable Product Manager who can create the product specification and answer questions related to the product leads to more focused and ultimately more effective product development.
There is an old quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte that says “You can ask me for anything you like except time” – why is time important enough to be one of the top 5 rules?
Product development takes time and it is crucial that we have that time. The focus in product development should be on quality. At NGL we are building products that hundreds of thousands of end-users will experience and our products are in competition with countless other products in the market. If we do not have the time and resources to develop good quality products we will not succeed long-term.
Can you briefly explain the role of a Product Designer and what value NGL sees in this role?
Certainly, a Product Designer is an experienced individual who is responsible for the user experience of a product. Essentially, our product designers design the User Experience (UX) and the User Interface (UI) of our products. This is crucial and we invest a lot of time in getting this right. At the scale our products are built for, even small gains in the efficiency of converting interaction to revenue, and small gains in the efficiencies of operating the solution, quickly add up to significant revenue increases and/or cost savings for our customers.
Thank you for your time Bjorn. Is there anything you want to add in closing?
Perhaps just that we believe that the road to success is always under construction. At NGL we believe in continuous improvement and that means learning and growing as an organization every single day.