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Product Ideation to MVP - How to start software planning

This past week we kicked off a new software project at Integrity Inspired Solutions, called Vegan Beacon. This will be an app that maps out the current plant-based options in your area in a way that combines the best aspects of social media (vibrant, real time, happening now) as well as informational apps. Vegan Beacon is an idea I am personally interested in as a 3 year plant-based eater, but also something I believe there is a need for in the market as the segment of the population eating plant-based foods is trending up.

Over the coming weeks/months we'll be publishing blog posts highlighting our progress, technologies, processes, as well as our personal experiences, pitfalls and successes as we move from idea to market. Regardless of the business domain or your personal level of interest, my hope is you'll glean some knowledge or insights that may help you. We've brought on an intern, Logan, who will be sharing his perspective as someone new to the software development industry. We have quite a spectrum of Integretier's who will be involved in this project and sharing their experience, so let's get started!

Product Ideation Meeting

Vegan Beacon Product Ideation

Our first meeting took place mid-week at our local Overland Park tea house where we spent some time discussing personas, user journeys, and attempted to narrow down our focus to an MVP (minimum viable product). Integrity Inspired Solutions co-owner, Phil Ledgerwood, facilitated this meeting in a way that blended tried and true techniques into a very formulaic approach that I found simple to follow yet very effective at driving out our goals and what's "really important". We'll cover this more but first let's discuss MVP.

MVP - Minimum viable product

MVP is a technique that focuses on fast delivery of features. Instead of developing every great idea we can possibly come up with, let's identify the most important thing and hyper focus on that all the way to delivery. The MVP approach is very user centric and values the user feedback loop above guessing what people will use or need, while still leaving room for new ideas and ingenuity. Have an idea for a cool new feature? How can we invest a small amount to get something in users hands and get people trying it? These are the questions we try to answer using the MVP approach. MVP is an essential tool in any software companies toolbox and can vastly change how you approach building a product. Learn more about MVP

First identify your target users (personae)

To start, we identified a few personas we thought would be key users of the app (any relation to real people is purely coincidental).

  • Mia - The "influencer" - Mia is the multi-year vegan. She knows where all the latest and greatest plant-based restaurants are. She's young (mid-20's), enjoys eating delicious food and posting regularly to her Instagram account where she has thousands of followers. Mia wants to help influence as many people as possible to move towards plant-based eating as she's an animal lover and concerned about the environment.

  • Jeanette - The "vegan curious" - Jeanette is in her mid-60's. She has some vegan family members and friends and is interested in occasional plant-based eating, for social and health reasons. She doesn't use technology a lot but knows enough to download and use an app if it is useful to her. She rarely uses social media and if finding plant-based foods is difficult to do she won't bother, she has more important things on her mind.

  • Mason - The "non-vegan restaurant owner" - Mason is in his mid-50's, owns a local restaurant, and is a professional chef. He couldn't care less about vegan or vegetarian food other than he wants to provide delicious food, and he's willing to add items to his menu to accommodate dietary restrictions. Mason would use Vegan Beacon if it brings customers through the doors.

Pick the important one

This is where it gets hard. You're only allowed to pick one users for your software to begin. I had in my head at least 5 more personas, and questioned whether the app would even be viable if only addressing one type of user, but for the sake of an MVP we must pick just one to focus and deliver on to our full potential. This is where we can really get wrapped up in over thinking our product and trying to provide solutions to everyone. Stop! Pick one! We choose Mia to start.

Explore that users journey

After selecting our Mia persona as the first user, we defined what her journey would look like. This means we talked through (and wrote out on post IT's) exactly what she would DO and seek to accomplish in the app. For her first "journey", she would log in, find a restaurant, explore the restaurant, and upload an image. The important thing is to really think about every step of "what" the user does to accomplish their goal, but not necessarily "how" we implement it.

Identify features for each sequence in the journey For each part of the journey we then identified what all of our desired features would be. For example, for authenticate, we choose social media login integration (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc), and email/password auth. This really got deeper into exploring many things we would like to have for each part of Mia's journey, even if they seemed intangible for now. Everyone liked a "heat level" for beacons and an "experience level" for users, gauges that increase over time and use. It was very much a thought exercise, dream up the wildest things you could, but limited to this specific user's journey. We then went through a process of measuring technical and business viability for each requirement and keeping around only a select few (while moving the others off the board, expecting their viability levels to change over time).

From features to MVP to stories to tasks

Once we had narrowed down the features we were able to create "waves" (otherwise known as iterations or releases), create our MVP vision, and have user stories on our board ready to be tackled by developers. We were able to leave our meeting with clear direction, prioritization, and stories for developers to begin work on. We're ready to hit the ground running.

I found this entire exercise incredibly helpful moving the product from abstract vision to a real plan creating usable software. We've used this process with other clients with success and will continue practicing and fine tuning this approach. If you need help with your ideation and planning meetings, don't hesitate to reach out to us.

What next?

We'll be following this project using blog posts covering everything from technology to processes to lessons learned. We're using some really cutting edge technologies to build this app which I'm excited to share and geek-out with all my dev friends about (Nativescript, Firebase, Angular, etc). If there's anything you're particularly interested in hearing about or following, let us know! If you'd like to follow the Vegan Beacon project you can find the page on Instagram and Facebook. You can also find Integrity Inspired Solutions on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for updates on this project as well as other initiatives we are undertaking. I hope you enjoyed this kick off series and see you soon.


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