No matter the industry, no matter the business, every product manager has to develop new products. However, the ability to go from a product manager to a product innovator lies in the ability to conduct successful early stage testing. While most are familiar with this process when it comes to CPG or food and beverage segments, it’s less clear how to implement in the technology space.
Software or similar technologies have more complex design processes and solutions, therefore making it difficult to quickly and easily test ideas among consumers. While other industries can easily implement user testing, develop prototypes, or conduct focus groups to discuss the product at hand, software is much less tangible. Beta testing and basic UX assessments help, but often aren’t implemented often or early enough in the process.
Why Early Stage Testing Is Important
Of course input at any stage in the development of software is critical, but early stage input can be far more impactful when it comes to nailing the technical and foundational needs of the product. If the product team isn’t able to integrate feedback early enough, they may release an operational system that’s optimized for the wrong features. Changing features later on in the development process is far more difficult, costly, and increases the chance of bugs. Incorporating early stage testing with users can combat unanticipated changes while providing several other important benefits:
- Guides proof of concept earlier in the process, allowing the team to plan development more quickly and easily
- Increases satisfaction among customers— feedback on a new product reduces the chance of customer complaints, while incorporating feedback on a new version of a product shows existing customers you’re listening and improving
- Leads to fewer product modifications later on in the process, saving hours on development and fixes
- Provides early insight into potential marketing and/or messaging of the product
How to Implement Early Stage Testing in Tech
The product in question often determines how one will conduct early stage testing in terms of research design. If the software being developed is for a completely new idea meant to disrupt the market, then early stage testing will likely take a more exploratory and qualitative approach. However, if the product in question is a new version of an existing offering, then it’s more likely a quantitative approach will be taken. No matter the product, the steps you take when conducting early stage testing can be similar:
- Start the research BEFORE any product code is written
- Use existing products as a benchmark and frame of reference—unless the product being developed is a completely new innovation
- Conduct the research with a targeted group, ideally your customers, in order to ensure you’re getting feedback from the users that matter most
- Don’t use the research to validate ideas—this is conducted later on in the product development process; use the research to allow users to tell you what they want and/or need
- Don’t forget to ask why!
The third and fifth step are the most important and where the most time is spent. The third helps to identify the area of opportunities for innovation. The last step is the most difficult and often forgotten component of early stage testing. Remembering to ask why, however, is the key to moving from product development into product innovation. This is where agile market research and early stage testing come together to expand the possibilities of product innovation. Conducting early stage testing using an agile and iterative approach is the ideal solution for determining the “why” behind user preferences. For example, when unique feature requests arise, an agile approach can quickly implement a qualitative solution to lend context to move into development, without the impact on timing.
Agile market research is ideal to understanding user input not only during early stage testing but throughout the process. Conducting smaller-scale research iteratively builds a stronger understanding of user requirements over time, building richer insights to lead into innovation. To learn more about how GutCheck helped a business in the technology industry combine agile qualitative and quantitative testing, check out the case study below.