“When’s the best time to get our customers/fans involved in the product development lifecycle?”
This is a question I’m asked frequently. The answer to this question is easy. The execution is harder:
The moment you launched the last product.
Yep, as soon as you launch. Because the next product starts being brainstormed and considered the moment the last product heads out the door. And the goal is to integrate your most representative, insightful fans into your development processes as soon as those processes start.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting a massive influx of community voices before you even do your basic research or before the last product has had a chance to breathe. I’m also not suggesting that primary and/or secondary research at the start of a development cycle or proper testing at the end is replaced in any way.
Instead, I’m suggesting that you layer in engagement with specifically selected community members as part of every major step along your product development journey. As you start, pull aside a couple insightful community members to weigh in on product direction. As you begin to prototype, create a workshop with the right group of community members to help you understand how the market will respond. As you get closer to launch, build a community-led beta testing process.
What’s the difference between this approach and traditional user/usability testing? The relationships that you can build with the larger community these folks represent and the ability to launch new products with built-in support. Putting a group of people behind two-way glass and asking them to respond to a new product for a few hours is necessary and important. But it doesn’t yield results beyond the testing itself.
Put a group of community members together with the product development team and asking them to respond to early prototypes not only gives you feedback about how the actual buying community will respond, it creates the sparks of advocacy that will not only help launch the product more successfully but keep the company-community relationship strong. It creates a bond that creates positivity and absorbs negativity.
So when do we get fans involved in the development of new products? As soon as we can in ways that are well conceived to create feedback, loyalty, and community growth.