Now that you’ve completed the customer discovery phase and identified the top problems worth solving. You are ready to move forward to the next step in the process, solution design.
The solution design phase is all about validating everything possible about your solution (future product) before you actually build it. This phase is very important because it will help you avoid the most time consuming and expensive mistakes when it comes to building a software product.
First, let’s verify you have what we need for the solution design phase to be successful.
Problems worth solving
If you’ve properly completed the customer discovery steps, you’ve identified the top problem worth solving for your client. If that’s the case, you are ready for the solution design phase. If you have not completed this phase yet or identified the top problem worth solving, see our articles here and here to make sure that you do.
Here’s how we define a problem worth solving.
A problem that causes a direct negative impact on the lives of our clients or customers for which a solution exists that does not adequately solve the problem.
In this phase, we’re going to focus on the top problem worth solving and design a solution around it.
Tip: Make sure you focus on the top problem worth solving. Otherwise, your client won’t be as motivated to use the solution you design or product you may build. Maximizing their motivation to solve the problem is a key objective and accelerator of progress for us.
Don’t build your product (just) yet
I know you’re excited (we are too!), but now is not the time to launch into the build phase for your product. If you start building your product now, you’re highly likely to build in the wrong direction. This means that even though you’ve identified a problem worth solving, your clients will still be unlikely to use your product. That is the one of the biggest pitfalls we are trying to help you avoid. We simply just don’t have enough validation criteria for your future product yet.
Instead, stay focused on the problem because there is still more to be discovered. We still need to know how complex (or simple) of a technical solution that will be required to solve the problem we’ve selected. We want to get feedback from our clients about the proposed solution before we build anything. This will save you a lot of time and money. In the end, this approach will speed up the process of bringing your product to market.
So don’t focus on building anything technical just yet. I promise you, we are getting there. Instead, let’s talk about where you should be focusing at this point.
Design and test your solution
We feel the design phase is even more exciting than the build phase (next). One of the reasons is we are able to create the next best thing – your product in design.
This will mean creating visuals that represent what your product can become.
These visuals are often created in various design tools such as Sketch or Figma. We’ll talk to you later about how to hire help with this step if you don’t have these skills on your team already.
These tools give you the ability to create the experience your product can ultimately enable. Once we have designs that represent the User Interface (UI) or what your product would look like, we can connect them together to create an application experience for clients so that through another series of interviews, you can validate the User Experience (UX) you have designed so far as well.
One of the best parts about the solution design phase is the ability to iterate and test rapidly. If you remember from my previous book recommendations written by Steve Blank The 4 Steps to the Epiphany and Ann Mei Chang Lean Impact, learning during this phase is one of the ultimate goals.
OK, we’ve covered plenty of background on solution design, now let’s talk about validating whether or not this potential future product of yours can also be a business.
Design your business model
If you are successfully able to complete all the steps in the NxtStep product launch process, then you aren’t just going to be solving big problems, but you will also be generating tremendous value for a lot of people. Some of this value should be captured by your organization to provide you with a return on investment (ROI) for your efforts.
If you represent a mission driven organization or a nonprofit, you may or may not be intending for someone to pay for access to your future product. However, if you are, you must design and test your business model as part of this phase as well.
Tip: This step is critical. At NxtStep, we’ve studied hundreds, if not thousands, of failed products. One of the biggest pitfalls is not designing a proper business model for the product during the solution design phase.
The SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) business model is the most common today. This is where people pay a subscription fee (monthly or annually) for access to your web or mobile based product.
If you are intending to generate revenue with your future product, there is much to dive into here from a strategic perspective first. Book a product strategy call to talk about designing a product pricing model with one of our product experts.
Now, let’s get those designs created and start the validation process.
Create your clickable prototype
We talked about creating the visuals in design using appropriate tools. Now, we’re going to talk about putting those together to mimic the product experience.
The visuals that are created as part of the design phase should represent what the various screens throughout your product could look like. Many of these tools also give us the ability to connect everything together to turn these designs into a demo product experience.
What you will eventually have is what we call a clickable prototype. A clickable prototype is a fully designed “application” that you can experience on your computer, laptop or phone that allows you to browse around the “application” as if you were actually using it.
I put the word ‘application’ in quotes above because none of this is created by writing actual code, that process is part of the build phase. So the clickable prototype isn’t actually an application. It just looks and feels like one so we can use it for testing purposes with your clients to get feedback.
Now that you have a clickable prototype, let’s get you ready to meet with clients again and show them what you’ve been working on.
Getting ready for the next round of testing
Now that you have a clickable prototype to use for sharing your product vision with your clients, we want to prepare you for the next round of interviews. You’ll want to share everything you’ve designed and built with them to validate everything from your value proposition to your business model. The more you are able to successfully validate during this phase, the higher degree of confidence (and likely success) you’ll have going into the build phase (after solution design).
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To reiterate, this phase is all about verifying your solution to the client problem. It’s their feedback that will tell us whether or not we’re on the right track. To maximize the value you get out of each client session during this phase, we recommend you also create an asset we call a demo deck.
The demo deck is a series of slides (5-10 tops) that will help you better communicate your value proposition and product experience to each client. They should include the story you want to tell from problem to solution and include visuals in the form of some screenshots of the newly designed product.
You can also have your clickable prototype handy for opportunities to dive in a bit further. However, we recommend you focus on the demo deck because it keeps the dialogue flowing during each interview. Remember, this phase isn’t about selling anything to anyone. We are looking to verify that the solution we’ve designed will adequately solve the client’s problem.
Now that you have what you need, let’s talk about how to complete these interviews.
Complete a series of solution design discovery interviews
Now that you have all the materials you need, reach out to the same clients you performed problem discovery with and tell them you have exciting new updates to share. It’s time to conduct a series of solution design discovery interviews.
When you start one of these sessions, make sure to review the results of your problem discovery interviews. Share with each client the top problem you identified to verify that they in fact agree that it is a top problem worth solving for them. Track these results for each interview. If the client doesn’t agree, ask them what they feel is their top problem. If you detect a pattern of misses here, it may mean you have more problem discovery to perform.
Once you’ve verified that you nailed their top problem worth solving, ask them if it would be alright to review what you’ve designed to solve that problem. They will more than likely be very eager to hear what you have to say.
Begin with the demo deck and walk through the story from problem to solution. When you switch to a new slide with a visual from your product design, tell them what each view represents and what they will be able to do in those sections of the application.
Tip: You want these sessions to be as interactive as possible. Remember, you’re NOT selling anything. You want to show them what you’ve designed and gather feedback in the form of validation criteria that this design will in fact, solve their problem.
Keep track of their questions and any areas where they seem to be confused. Both of these will help you understand how the design can be further refined to create an even better experience.
Bonus: The revisions you will be able to make during this stage is exactly why we perform solution design before the build. Changing designs is much faster and cheaper than changing custom built software!
Once you’ve been through the solution design interviews, you’ll need to process the data to learn more about what it’s telling you. Did you get the feedback you needed to have the confidence to invest further in this direction for the product or do you need to go back to the drawing board, create some new designs and try again?
We’ll be sharing much more detail about this process in a future blog article. If you want to know more about how to do this now, book a product strategy call with me.
Get commitments to validate the path forward
One key objective of a successful solution design interview is commitment to the next phase of the project – the build phase. This is where you are going to bring these designs and ideas to life in the form of the first version of your actual product.
To further validate that the project is ready for this phase, you’ll want to get as many commitments as you can that your clients are ready and waiting to use this product as soon as it is built.
A good way to do this is to ask for commitment to the product build. This can be as simple as verifying that they need a product like this. However, a simple verbal commitment is actually rather weak. Instead, we need something that demonstrates intention with substance.
For example, if clients are telling you they’d use your product and seem to be genuinely excited about the possibilities, do a little more digging. We need to make sure they aren’t simply telling us what we want to hear. Instead, ask them how this product would make their lives better and always get tangible examples. Would it save them time, money, both? How much and why? Don’t just stop at interest – get detailed validation criteria.
Tip: One of the best options for securing validation criteria in the private sector is through securing an investment of money of some sort from a prospective client. However, in the nonprofit or mission driven world, building a product for our clients likely means they will not actually be the ones physically paying for it. As such, this may not be possible. However, if the product we’re building is for other organizations like yours, then this strategy can absolutely be leveraged when practical. People typically don’t put their money where their mouth is unless they have legitimate interest.
Let’s talk about how much you need in terms of a commitment to build what we refer to as a pilot.
Securing places for the pilot phase
New products are often launched with an initial set of specific customers. This is to get the products into the hands of our clients as quickly as possible so we can start to validate the product experience and measure how much value it is offering our clients. This phase is often referred to as a pilot for your product.
To secure your own pilot phase for your product, you’ll want to measure the level of interest and commitment to such a phase from the clients you are performing solution design interviews with.
A good rule of thumb here, is to have commitment from 3-5 pilot clients that are ready to use your product, and optionally pay for it (if relevant), as soon as it is available. Once you have this number, you should be in a good position to design the pilot and get them access to your product as soon as it is ready.
The build phase
If the solution design phase has gone well, you should be ready for the build phase. If you’re not ready yet, you may need additional solution design interviews or to go back to the problem discovery phase. Each phase builds off of the first so if you get stuck, you can simply go back to the previous phase and repeat the process until you are ready to move forward.
Get the help you need, when you need it
This process should excite you about the possibilities for your nonprofit organization. If you would like help completing any step of this process and having the strategic guidance on your team to make sure it runs smoothly, book a call with us at NxtStep to learn more about how we can help scale the impact of your nonprofit organization through software.