Developing a new product or service can often unlock new innovation within your business. However, product development is a daunting task, and seemingly insurmountable if you are not a techie.
If you do not have a technical background, or your company does not have a history of creating new products, you can still prepare your business to provide technology solutions for the market. (While product development is not limited to technology-driven products and services, I am specifically focused here on products and services that involve a technological solution.)
Since my background is in financial services, I felt exposed when I started a company that offered a technological solution to help college graduates manage their money better. Based on our initial market research, college graduates only wanted a tech-based solution, so I knew I needed a solution that was responsive to the market demand.
The market may also demand that you develop a technology solution for the problem that you're trying to solve. As such, I want to offer three strategies that my company used in order to bolster our product development efforts.
1. Surround yourself with A+ workers, tech advisors and mentors.
Hiring an in-house tech person to develop the software or service solution is one way of getting the help you need. However, finding and hiring these individuals can be difficult, especially if your network does not include a large number of techies.
That said, I recommend surrounding yourself with a host of tech advisors and mentors. In my experience, the best tech gurus are already committed to other endeavors and cannot join your company unless the incentives are too good to pass up. But, don't fret—many of them, especially the A+ ones, still want others to leverage their skills and expertise as mentors and advisors.
Find a way to court two to three tech mentors and advisors. They can answer your questions, and can assist you in recruiting tech employees and with staying abreast of a constantly changing product development and tech environment.
I have had success in courting tech advisors and mentors by attending networking events, offering them something of interest (e.g. a performance bonus for recruiting a tech developer) and aligning our interest along the business' overall success.
2. Create a culture of innovation and testing.
While there have been many studies about the benefits of innovation and rapid testing, keep in mind that many of these benefits are contingent on an organization's culture of innovation and testing. When you commit to building a technological solution, it's important to establish a culture that embraces innovation and testing.
And, while many companies adopt a rapid testing environment, a 2017 Harvard Business Review article purports that slow innovation, or the focus on “changes that you see coming but that may not be ready to transform your business immediately," can result in prescience—the power of predicting changes before they occur.
As a business owner, you are in a position to establish the cultural norms of your organization. You can establish such a culture by investing in people, processes or ideas that foster a culture of innovation and testing. You can consistently reinforce these cultural norms through each product development initiative, and also amongst the leadership team
3. Learn the language of product development.
One of my biggest "ah-ha" moments came in the form of feedback from our software developer. He said, “Thank you for talking my language."
While I am far from a coder, I took the time to learn not only about the differences in various coding languages (e.g. Ruby, Python, PHP, etc.), but also the full language of product development—the overall process of strategy; organization; concept generation; product and marketing plan creation and evaluation; and commercialization of a new product.
In managing your business, learning the language of product development can help you garner trust and respect from your tech colleagues and advisors. In doing so, you'll start to see your product managers as more than “resources," only serving as a means to an end, but rather as key contributors to your overall vision.
Furthermore, part of your learning process includes acknowledging what you do not know. Also, consider asking difficult questions around the product development roadmap so that you can fill in the gaps in your own knowledge base. By pushing your product development colleagues to answer these difficult questions, there will be a mutual understanding of how your company's product will provide the solution for your customers.
Finally, think about encouraging other senior managers to learn the language of product development—especially for a new tech product or service—so that the entire organization commits to the development's success.
As a non-techie business owner, bringing a technological solution to market is an audacious goal. However, you can overcome the fear and help increase your chances of success by surrounding yourself with tech superstars, building a culture of innovation and testing and learning the language of product development.
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