In both the SaaS world and consumer products, product iterations are par for the course. You launch something and you make it better and better. But what does it really mean to iterate? And how you can develop future product iterations that will continue to win over customers?
In this guide, we define a clear process, showcase a few examples, and offer expert advice to help you master the iterative development process.
What is an iterative approach in product development?
An iterative process should follow the agile project methodology, meaning it’s all about launching quickly, getting feedback from the market, and building better features.
An iterative approach includes these 6 steps:
- Define a sprint or initial product – In SaaS product development, teams usually work in two-week sprints. But for consumer products, a first product iteration would be the full product, not one small sprint. Whatever you’re building, the first step is always to define it based on your market research and stakeholder input.
- Craft the sprint or product plan – Once you’ve defined what the initial development sprint should be, it’s time to craft a detailed plan. This should include collaborators, resources, the backlog, timelines, and acceptance criteria.
- Build the sprint or product – Next, it’s time to develop the sprint and collaborate on its backlog tasks.
- Release it – The next step is to release that sprint, perhaps to a subset of users or your entire user base.
- Evaluate the sprint or product – Collect feedback from customers and leads about your new feature. Find out their impression of its importance and how well it satisfies their needs. You can use qualitative data (like interviews, user testing sessions, focus groups, and open-ended surveys) as well as quantitative data (like product analytics and multiple choice or rating surveys).
- Start the process over again – Once you’ve collected feedback from your market, start back at the first step. Determine the most important features to build next, define your sprint, update your product roadmap, and release the next iteration.
Every product iteration should strengthen product value
The most important thing to remember when following an iterative process is to use your product value as your guiding light. Learn what your product values are (by talking with your customers) and make sure that each new iteration continues to strengthen these values, instead of diluting or negating them.
For example, if your main product value is affordability, then you shouldn’t build a new product iteration that will cost so much that you have to double your price. Or if your main value is simplicity and ease of use, then shouldn’t build complex features requested by a small subset of users when the majority of your users want you to keep things simple.
3 examples of iterative product development
Want to see real product iterations? Check out these useful examples from successful companies.
1. Loom building their most requested feature
Loom recently announced that they built their Number 1 most requested feature, stitching videos together.
Here’s the product marketing video they released to explain the product update:
And see how adeptly they handle the messaging of this release. This can serve as a template for when you’re announcing new product iterations:
One of the best parts about Loom is the ability to share a video instantly with anyone, at any time, and from any place. But when it comes to creating said video, it can feel limited; it’s usually just one person recording at one time, in one place. We’ve seen our more crafty users get around this in a variety of creative ways, but those workarounds have typically been time-consuming and require using multiple editing platforms.– George Williams, Product Marketing Manager at Loom
They explain what Loom’s main use case is and why it’s so great. But they’re honest and open about the limitations. This sets the stage for unveiling the newest product iteration: the ability to stitch videos together.
2. Flatfile’s new workspaces
Flatfile is a platform for majorly speeding up data onboarding, so that users and customer success teams can onboard customers to new systems faster and reap all the rewards associated with quicker deployment.
A recent product iteration added workspaces to the platform.
Here’s how they describe this major product change:
Previous versions of Flatfile iterated on the speed, ease, and efficiency of data onboarding for hundreds of global customers, tens of thousands of end users, and millions of data sets. Beginning today, I’m excited to share that Flatfile Workspaces are publicly available. A Flatfile workspace offers a shared view of all data imports with relevant details like versions, status, owners, and validation errors. This ensures your customer has full transparency, while you have full control over data onboarding. Workspaces are for implementation teams who guide their customers through the data onboarding process. These projects can be simple, one-off requests for data as well as complex, multi-party engagements.Eric Crane, Co-founder and CPO at Flatfile
We can learn a lot from this example. For one thing, the announcement does an excellent job of communicating to customers that the team uses an iterative process. What’s more, the product iteration itself is the perfect example. Flatfile already offered faster data onboarding. Now, they do this with greater collaboration and transparency.
3. Ahref’s integration with Google Data Studio
Ahrefs recently announced their integration with Google Data Studio, which was one of their most requested features for quite some time, according to the announcement.
This is a useful example, because improved reporting will be one of the most frequent categories of customer requests and potential opportunities for product iterations.
With our new Data Studio connectors, you can build your own reports by blending data from different sources and visualizing everything in the form of reports and dashboards. Find the connectors for Site Explorer, Site Audit and Rank Tracker in the Data Studio gallery.Rebekah Bek, UX Writer at Ahrefs
Especially in the beginning, reporting and integrations features won’t be a top priority. You need to first build your core functionality before you worry about analyzing success or integrating workflows and activities with other systems.
The 4 advantages of using an iterative process
There are many advantages of building iteratively. We’ve categorized them into four main benefits:
1. Faster time to revenue for startups
Iterations are core to the SaaS business model.
If your startup is pre-revenue, you’ll be able to develop an MVP faster when you’re thinking iteratively as opposed to trying to launch your business with a robust product.
This ultimately protects the future of your business because you can start collecting revenue faster and ensure that you will have runway. If you wait too long to launch your product, you might go belly up.
2. Closer relationships with customers
An iterative process also brings you closer to your customers, because you need their feedback to strategize future product iterations.
You can use all of these strategies:
- Product feedback forms and idea boards
- User testing
- Focus groups
- Customer interviews
- Social listening (seeing what users say on social media)
- Product reviews
- Competitor product reviews
- Bug reports
- Customer support tickets
As part of your iterative process, you’ll not only be collecting feedback from users but you’ll also be sharing updates with them. You should use a changelog tool and/or publish your announcement on your blog so that customers know that you pay attention to their requests and continually iterate on your product to make it better.
3. Lower product development costs
Businesses that build products in an iterative way have lower development costs because they’re not wasting money on product iterations that customers don’t care about. An iterative approach also costs less because it’s agile. You plan out smaller sprints at a time, meaning you don’t waste time mapping out large projects whose requirements will change. You plan small chunks of work and iterate on those. Less planning costs equals less development costs, because time is money.
4. Better positioning against competitors
Companies that build iteratively look far more attractive to their customers. They appear to be innovative, caring, and responsive. This competitive advantage can manifest as more word-of-mouth traction and better overall profitability.
Experts share how to make iterative product development work for you
So how you can develop better and better product iterations?
We’ve rounded the absolute best expert advice to go beyond the basics.
Andrew Gazdecki reminds us that the best initial product iteration is the one you can do working on the side:
Start as a side project, keep your job, use your salary to fund product development, quit and go all in when your startup finds product market fit.Andrew Gazdecki
And this helpful advice tells us to see bad iterations as stepping stones:
Paradigm shift: It’s not a failure, it’s just another iteration.Logan Brown
Startup success isn’t about getting it right the first time, it’s about iterating as quickly as possible:
The number one predictor of success for a very young startup: rate of iteration.Sam Altman
Here’s another helpful quote to inspire you to iterate fast:
The optimal strategy might be executing a suboptimal plan at a fast pace. Strategy evolves as lessons are learned—and the person who moves faster, learns faster. Learning is a marathon and perfection is a weighted vest.James Clear
And remember, you can’t iterate if you’re not shipping products:
You can only iterate on something after it’s been released. Prior to release, you’re just making the thing. Even if you change it, you’re just making it. Iterating is when you change/improve after it’s out. So if you want to iterate, SHIP.
An iterative process should also include incremental improvements, and not just update the existing features:
Iterative processes involve refining and improving a software project or product based on received feedback or new information. The goal is to achieve continuous improvement by incorporating changes in a trial-and-error fashion. In incremental design, new features are built on top of an existing version as an update or upgrade. Teams using this approach may deliberately introduce a bare-bones version of a product to speed up time to market, resulting in what is often called a minimum viable product.Rahul Awati
Use your iterative process to put less pressure on the need to be brilliant:
Product managers don’t normally have revolutionary ideas straight out of the gate. Instead, we break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable ones and find simpler and executable solutions to those specific challenges. Throughout the process, we iterate to better understand problems, enhance solutions, discover new issues and improve the user’s experience. That is why the best and most successful digital products go through that cycle of building, analysis and iteration.Fareed Huda
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