Creating a Digital Product: Steps & Challenges

Person holding smartphone with colorful application icons

Building a strategic, powerful, and impactful digital product can allow you to tap into a new market, delight users, and grow your business.  

But if you don’t begin your project with the right plan and approach, you risk getting held up by challenges and mistakes and ultimately wasting time, money, and effort. 

Learn the key steps to creating a digital product and how to overcome the challenges that organizations most commonly face when building their product. 

Things to know about developing a digital product:

  1. What is a digital product?
  2. Balancing art and science in digital products
  3. Why should you build a digital product?
  4. 10 steps for creating a digital product
  5. Challenges of digital product development

What is a digital product? 

A digital product is the technology surface, a tangible digital touchpoint that users interact with that’s been designed to solve specific, targeted user challenges and offer them some kind of benefit or service. 

Balancing art and science in digital products

Successful digital products are equal parts “art” and “science.”  

The “science” side is where the code lives, where the infrastructure lives, where the software engineers and data scientists and cloud architects build the infrastructure and modules and microservices that support the product’s goals.   

But truly digital products also involve the “art” side. This is the human side, the creative side, where products are built for users, for customers, for employees, for business partners. Critical to these products is the design that users see, the experience they encounter, the strategy that drives accomplishing your business goals, and finally, the future the product anticipates. 

Why should you build a digital product? 

We live in an increasingly digital age, and if you want to solve your organization’s biggest challenges, you need to seize the opportunity to leverage technology and break new ground.  

An effective digital product, created with the right approach and goals, empowers your company to stand out in a sea of competition. 

10 Steps for Creating a Digital Product 

If you want to build an impactful digital product that delights your customers and delivers value, follow these steps:

  1. Set your vision: Identify and understand your North Star metrics. What are the key objectives of your product and what are the areas you want to move the needle on? Examples of this could be selling more product, increasing user conversion, or helping people with complex diseases get quicker access to medical help. 
  2. Identify key outcomes: The business outcomes should be specific, measurable, and achievable. For example, reducing processes from seven steps to three steps, or increasing the average customer order from $30 to $40. 
  3. Service mapping: Map out existing customer services and touchpoints across departments and recognize the roles that your product engages with. This can include customers, partners, suppliers, and other businesses. 
  4. Creating user journey maps: Develop an anticipated customer journey that begins before they even touch the product and ends after they are done using it. Identify the experience and emotions associated with each step of the user’s journey. 
  5. Story mapping: Create a map of epics and stories (common tools in Agile) to support desired functionality in a product. 
  6. Technology assessment: Understand the technology ecosystem that you will be building the product on top of. You need to be deeply familiar with your technology architecture – such as your cloud infrastructure, a legacy database, and an API layer – to understand how to select technology for your product. It’s also vital to have a full understanding of how your teams function; for example, do they follow Agile? How long are their sprints?  
  7. Create an entity map: Referring back to the story map from step 5, create a diagram that outlines the relationships between the entities in your product ecosystem.  
  8. Involve key stakeholders: In order to enact the change that comes with developing and launching a new digital product, you need to involve your main stakeholders who act as decision-makers, SMEs, and influencers within your organization. 
  9. Develop a roadmap: Again, refer to your story map, reprioritize the epics in the stories, and create a high-level roadmap. Decide if you want to conduct user research and determine how you get to MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and MMP (Minimum Marketable Product). This step is also when your team should establish projected release dates, but remain flexible with these dates so you can adapt to new market changes, competitive pressures, and technology. 
  10. Create a set of risks and assumptions: Building a new product usually involves risks and assumptions, and it’s necessary to identify those so all of your team members are on the same page. For example, there are risks with building on older technology, just as there are risks associated with building on leading-edge technology.  

Challenges of Digital Product Development 

Launching a new digital product is no small feat, and organizations frequently run into the following challenges and mistakes: 

  • Allocating the time. Developing a worthwhile digital product that accomplishes your key objectives requires your organization to dedicate a significant amount of time to the initiative. 
  • Identifying the vision of the product. Building a product without specific, measurable, and achievable business objectives in mind often results in an unsuccessful product. Before you begin, your team needs to know specifically why you are creating the product and how you are going to accomplish your organizational objectives. 
  • Identifying what your users actually want. Building a digital product is a significant investment of time, money, and effort, and if you don’t ask what your users need and want, you risk wasting that investment. When businesses do not talk to users, they risk building the whole product, giving it to their users, and finding out they’ve missed the mark. 
  • Seeking and incorporating user feedback. When building a digital product, your team should use the lean startup philosophy: build, measure, learn, pivot or persist. Build an iteration of your product, give it to your users in a research setting (not making the product public yet), measure those users’ feedback and learn from it, then decide whether that was a good approach to keep moving forward with or to pivot and make changes. Continue this feedback loop until you have an MVP. 
  • Scaling your product. It is no use having a great product if it can’t scale to serve the number of users you are trying to reach or support the performance that is critical to reaching your goals. Ensure you have the right technology, infrastructure, and processes in place to successfully scale your product. 

Create a Powerful Digital Product with AIM Consulting

When your organization looks to bring its big ideas to life, it helps to turn to experts. 

At AIM Consulting, our unique capabilities in product design, digital strategy, software engineering, data analytics, and agile delivery enables your company to tap into a distinctive set of capabilities that will deliver you a strong digital product, not just another app. 

You have big ideas, we have innovative solutions.

An effective digital product requires not only a clear strategy, with planning, design, development, and testing – but a combination of power and craft.

Let’s tackle your next big project together.