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3 mistakes Singapore early-stage tech startups make developing products

After seven years of helping Singapore early-stage tech startups with their tech product development, our team have seen all kind of situations that can appear during the development phase:

These are the struggle that many early-stage tech startups face with their new tech products. If your company are developing or planning to develop a Tech product, below are the three most common mistakes startups make developing their tech products so you can try to avoid:

1. Overhead planning

By planning, we are talking about the process of how you are moving from ideation to the practical development of your tech product. A perfect plan should be one that maps every possibility out from the beginning to the end, and stakeholders can follow through the end.

However, Reality is unpredictable, and your plan can be off-track by random factors that you have no control whatsoever:

  • Government new regularity
  • Competitors’ new release
  • Natural disasters that sift users habit
  • Etc.

It varies from case to case, but most of the time tech startups do not have the resource to waste in fail attempts. What we need to focus on instead of spending time on lengthy planning are:

  • Produce a plan for a non-perfect product with essential functions
  • Early release for early customers feedback
  • Prioritising functions that brings the most value to your customers
  • Getting early sales on the customer segment that benefit the most by what your products can offer at the moment

2. Goal mismatch between teams (business vs tech)

A fight fired up in your weekly meeting between the software engineering team and the operation or sales team?

Developers: “This software/function is exactly what you asked us to develop. What do you mean you cannot work with it, and we have to do it again?”

Business team: “It is as described. However, you got it wrong. What we need is …”

Sounds familiar enough? The conversation we see here is similar to what Bill Pfleging writes in his book, The Geek Gap: Why Business And Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other And Why They Need Each Other to Survive.

The idea Bill gives us is that the geeks (technical people, developers) are project types, solving puzzles, and once they finish, they will hand over to the suits (business people). While the suits do not care what puzzles the geeks solved, the final product has to be useful and sellable. Different goals between the geeks and the suits create a gap in communication and expectation that threaten the success of a project. The final product sometimes technically works but can not be sold to ordinary users.

As a tech startup with limited finances and times, mismatches can cost you a considerable portion of your resource. It is your job as a founder to build a process that can significantly limit opportunities for mismatches to appear.

Source: CNA

3. Unorganised / not-optimized tech product development process

Startups build things from the ground:

  • The team
  • The process
  • The tactic
  • etc.

We learned to create some of them, but most of the time, what we do is improvising with our business. This is even truer for software engineers who are stigmatised with untidy desks, unkempt hair and all-over-the-place working space (watch Silicon Valley series).

Take the case of choosing tools for your team. Most of the time, a small software engineering team can make do with Slack (a communication tool), and Asana (a task management tool). However, as the team grows in number and reporting hierarchy, a more formal process is required to serve your process best, ensure everyone is on the same page, and things go as smoothly as possible.

Take our team as a case study, when we were small, and consists of 3 members only, we used the waterfall process, which is the most common and traditional process to manage a tech product development. A request flows from the top to bottom one by one.

A typical waterfall process

Because the team was small, some of us have to in charge of multiple roles; but things were smooth. Assuming that our process was good enough, we started taking new projects as well as hiring more staff. In just a few months, the team already quadrupled in size; this was when things started falling apart. The biggest three problems we were facing are:

  • More team members joined and specialised in a specific step of the waterfall; each of them only worked based on the given requirements, and most of the time did not understand the big picture of the project.
  • When a request needed to be changed in the middle of development, the team was confused. The request had to go through flows from the top to bottom again.
  • When there was an error from the early stages of the waterfall, it would not be noticed until the code was finished and handed to the next steps, sometimes until the very end. By then, the good-for-nothing code already consumed a lot of effort and time.

We were struggling to fix these issues and learned the hard lesson that the waterfall model was no longer suitable, we were naive to believe that what we could improvise our way to growth without preparing a strong foundation for it.

source CNA

When you design your product development process, keep in mind that you are creating the foundation for your growth. Over time, improvising is harder, and the standard process becomes more critical. Want your team to be fast and flexible, require a suitable process.

In a nutshell

Now knowing all three common mistakes Singapore early-stage tech startups make developing products, you probably want us also to tell you:

  • How to have an agile development plan with a reasonable timeline?
  • How to avoid mismatches between the technical team and the business team?
  • How to create a formal tech product development process that can help your team grow?

You can read it in our next article: How early-stage tech startups can use SCRUM on product development.

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