A Simple Guide to Iterative Development

Develop Iteratively and Continuously Improve

Pump Process
“We don't do focus groups - that's the job of the designer.”
-Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple

An iterative approach to developing digital products can be uncomfortable and hard for owners/managers to wrap their heads around. The unknowns around budgets and deliverables can be scary and the non-linear approach can feel messy for those that haven't experienced it before. A traditional approach typically goes something like this: discuss the project internally, define an appropriate budget and then set up focus groups to define what they should build with that budget. The problem with this approach is focus groups tell you what customer's think they need, not what they actually want. Think of all the money Henry Ford might have wasted trying to build a faster horse back in the early 1900s, or Steve Jobs trying to build a better PC in the mid 2000s. Instead of slaving over what their customers were asking for, both men asked their customer's what they wanted to achieve and built a product around their answers, The Model T for Ford, and the iPhone for Apple.

Our team at Pump takes the same approach with digital strategy by plotting what our customer's would like to achieve on our road map, keeping the budget and timelines we need to adhere to front of mind, but leaving the route we take to get there open. We start by understanding how customers want to interact with your brand online and then build a digital experience around that. We ask open ended questions like "tell me about your last experience with this brand", so we can gain feedback about how your customers engage with you and the role digital should play in it. We build iteratively, in short development sprints so we can put concepts and prototypes in front of real customers on the fly to see how they respond to them. We focus our attention based on these reactions which means everything we build on top of the foundation is strategically designed and developed to improve your digital experience. And at the end of the day, YOU end up with a best-in-class digital experience for your customer's.

We recently published an article that compares the pros and cons of working with an internal digital team vs an external studio to curate and execute your digital strategy. As an external partner, our team focuses on the digital experience from your customer's perspective. This allows us to experience your brand the way your customers do and better understand the role your digital strategy should play in it. We then start with a strong technical foundation, plot what your customers would like to achieve on our road map and build features because they provide value, not because customers asked for them. Yes, a trusting working relationship is key to making this approach work, but the end result is a more engaged audience and a seamless digital experience within the budget and timeline parameters we started with. It's just a little messy in between A and B.

Three takeaways about iterative development:

  1. It can be uncomfortable and takes a trusting working relationship to work, but you'll end up with a better final product that will take less time and money to build.
  2. It will help you uncover what is truly valuable to your customer's by experimenting, prototyping and gathering feedback from customers before getting too far down the rabbit hole. Iterative feature launches also keeps your website fresh and customers engaged
  3. It doesn't eliminate the need to sketch a road map and set budgets, timelines and milestones... but it does allow you to find the best route to get to where you're going!