Three steps for turning your services (and problems) into digital offerings

Like most of us, you probably use various Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to stay on top of your day-to-day.

Are these solving the problem perfectly? The answer is often “not really”.

That’s why, as we shared in our last article, so many organisations are adopting digital tools to solve their problems.

But what if the products you need don’t actually exist yet?

This was the position we found ourselves in a few years ago. As a design and development studio we have to provide regular estimates for our clients’ projects. For a long time we used spreadsheets to do this.

But spreadsheets can only do so much and soon we were attempting to add in features that didn’t fit.

We couldn’t find a tool that would solve this problem. So, we set about taking what was great about the spreadsheets and turning it into a service that we could use; Plexi was born.

Our clients loved it. We saved time, improved our workflow and found we could collaborate with them more easily. On top of that we’d built something that we could turn into a commercial proposition.

It was another reminder for us that the problems or frustrations you and your users come up against are usually the best source of product ideas and innovation.

Especially if you want to start turning your services and offerings into digital products.

In this article, we’ll show you exactly how you can start going about this too. In three easy steps.

Step 1: Distill your digital service idea

“While it’s important to plan for success and mitigate against failure, what’s equally worthwhile exploring is why the idea matters to you and the people you hope it will serve. Why should you give it priority?”

The starting point to turning any of your services into digital offerings isn’t what tech you need but how to interrogate your ideas properly (And if you don’t have any product ideas at all, learn how you can generate them quickly and easily)

At this stage in the process, all you’ll need is a plain piece of paper, but you could also use something like Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas.

Start sketching out your idea for you initiative, using these questions as a starting point:

  • What problem are we hoping to solve with our initiative?
  • What is the value of solving it for our customer? What is the value for our business?
  • Why this project and not something else?
  • What assumptions are we making here?
  • How difficult is this problem to solve?

Once you have your answers down, leave them for a while before reviewing

Once you have a top level vision or pitch for your project you’d be proud to sign your name to, you’re ready to proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Validate your idea

It’s amazing how many organisations skip this part. Whether it’s an internal project or an innovation aimed at customers, you’ll need to speak to the person whose problem you’re hoping to solve.
Validating your idea with research is something anyone can do. It can also be great fun and a fascinating part of the process.

Research sessions can take many forms but we prefer to keep them lightweight. Just a handful of fifteen minute conversations with a small set of people will teach you plenty.

Your only job is to choose the right people (never ask anyone you know) ask the right questions, then shut up and listen!

The questions you ask will depend on context but it’s important to avoid bias; don’t lead people or ask them to speculate.

If people truly have the problem you’re researching then they will have tried to solve it, so ask them about that experience. What are solutions are they currently trying and what are the frustrations with that?

Even if you have an idea, don’t introduce it at this stage. You want a true picture of a person’s world. If you introduce new things, the picture will inevitably change.

Check out our podcast about becoming an expert product researcher for more tips.

Step 3: Make something

Once you have stress tested your idea and validated the problem with the right people, it’s time to get meaningful feedback.

You’ll need a way to demonstrate a product with something tangible that people can see and interact with.

Sometimes you may want to make this look like a well-designed, fully functioning product but for simplicity’s sake a quick and dirty prototype with little or no coding will do just fine.

A typical prototype is usually a handful of screens of your solution mocked up and made into a clickable tool.

It might even be as simple as a mocked-up landing page that tells the story of your initiative or illustrates a key feature.

The purpose of this is to create something you can offer up as a quick guided tour. Your user will be none the wiser and will assume that this is the real deal which enables them to give meaningful feedback.

Run your feedback sessions the same way as your research sessions; avoiding bias and listening, rather than talking.

What’s next? To build or not to build

Now you have meaningful feedback, you can take what you’ve learnt and push that learning back into your vision. Has it changed what you should be offering and to whom?

Do you know enough to press the button on designing and building the final tool? If not what assumptions need testing next?

If you’ve completed these steps and not learnt something that changes how you think about your idea …then you probably didn’t do them properly.

Repeating this process over and over, consolidating your learnings every time, shows you what will create real change in your organisation.

More importantly, the product leadership skills you develop in this process will drive future innovation.

Getting going on building a tool is another story in itself. We’d love to hear about your validated idea and how we can help bring it to life.