A Day in the Life of Basware’s Innovation Engine: Ideate, Iterate, Refine

“By 2022, 50% of all legacy spend analysis software will be retired; replaced by artificial intelligence (AI)-powered, cloud -based solutions.” - Gartner

As we find more ways to unlock the power of automation and exciting new technology in the world of finance and procurement, how do we keep people at the center of our focus? That critical question was at the heart of my panel discussion this spring at ProcureCon Indirect East 2018. Core to our conversation was the concept of user-centered design and its importance in creating tools that not only solve problems, but also empower people to better do their jobs.

A Day in the Life of Basware’s Innovation Engine

As a Senior Product Manager, I split my time between working with product teams to develop new tools and capabilities, while also building close relationships with customers and listening to their needs. Fundamentally, good products are developed from the customer-need up, while also anticipating customers’ needs in the future by brainstorming ways we can revolutionise the purchase-to-pay space. While it may sound intuitive, you would be surprised to learn how many product teams are working on new tools and solutions with little regard for its practical purpose in the field. As such, I’d like to walk through my ideation process and share my best practices for successful user-centered product design in three elements: ideate, iterate, refine.

Ideate Past Customers’ Immediate Needs

New projects should always start with the customer and the end-user, keeping in mind that while these can be the same person, they are often very different. For example, with e-procurement solutions, the customer is often a Chief Procurement Officer, tasked with managing and visualising spend, while the end-user is the employee who is making purchases through the platform. Each of these individuals have different needs that must be addressed when designing the product. But beware – often customers and end-users think they know what they want – that is until they have it or something far better. This concept of perceived versus actual need is at the heart of true innovation. Take for example the paradigm shift from BlackBerry to iPhone. While BlackBerry fulfilled the need for sending and receiving emails on-the-go, consumers really needed a hand-held computer that happened to also be a phone – enter iPhone. While it’s critical to observe and evaluate actual needs of customers and end-users, a product’s true success ultimately rests on the product team’s ability to ingest customer input and imagine how they can surpass expectations.

Iterate Early in the Process

After coming up with an idea that keenly recognises need, it’s time to begin developing the solution. Most junior product designers go wrong here by working away in a vacuum until they have a finished and polished product, but this is a massive mistake. Product design should always be an iterative process, with each step coinciding with a re-evaluation of how the features of the product are working to fulfill the needs of the customer and the end-user. Some product teams do this by creating a minimally viable product (MVP) for customers and end-users to play with, while carefully observing and collecting data. At Basware, we’ve practiced this with several of our tools over the years including vendor and item ratings and our mobile application, each of which were first demoed with key customers to collect feedback. It’s best to iterate before we are invested beyond the point of return. The entrepreneur’s mantra of failing early, often, and cheaply applies here.

Refine Based on Feedback from Multiple Sources

After working hand-in-hand with customers and end-users to develop a product that fulfills their real needs, we are eager to roll it out to everyone. While the goal is to get as close to a finished product as possible, no product is ever really finished. This is where we take a proactive approach to refining the product in the first few months after its launch. Build into the product several channels and avenues for people to provide feedback, report challenges, and leave comments to fuel the refinement process. Different users have different perspectives, and I always prioritise tracking and categorising their input to help inform what updates need to be made in the next iteration of the product. As refinement takes place, tools eventually get better over time, especially as customer and end-user needs shift and the world of AP and procurement evolves.

Success is Achieved When People Want to Use the Solution

By following the ideate, iterate and refine process, we develop products that go beyond functionality and into usability, the most important element of successful product design. By building usability in from the beginning through user-centered design, we create a solution that people actually want to use – and that makes all the difference.

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