A Simple Product Development Workflow For Your Entire Startup

By following a simple workflow, it is relatively easy to connect the dots from the company mission to OKRs to building features and beyond.

When companies are deep into product development, it is important not to lose sight of how features tie back to the company’s mission, vision and strategy, in the midst of the daily roller coaster ride of addressing customer needs, keeping up with competition and technology, and building cool stuff.

A simple end-to-end workflow can help you stay true to your company’s mission. Let’s take a look at the components of such a workflow.

Company Mission, Vision, Strategy, and OKRs

Most companies have a mission, vision, and strategy to define why they exist, what they want to accomplish and how they plan to get there, respectively. 

The strategy aspect can then be translated into high-level, annual Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and further down to a team’s quarterly/monthly OKRs (see some great OKR examples on okrexamples.co). 

OKRs are excellent for driving the product vision, strategy and backlog, since they help you prioritize the right features.

Company to Product Transition
Company to Product Transition

Product Vision, Strategy, Roadmap, and Backlog

While your company’s vision defines what it wants to accomplish, a product’s vision is meant to inspire your company and customers.

A product vision can be a short statement that describes how it plans to address customer needs, perhaps in the form of a unique value proposition.

The product strategy breaks this down into a handful of high level product themes (e.g. Analytics, Mobile, Tech Debt) to group features that take into consideration: 

  • customer personas and pain points
  • competitor differentiation
  • market needs
  • paying down technical debt
  • expanding customer base
  • reducing churn
  • …and so on

If a feature doesn’t tie back to a startup’s OKRs, then it probably shouldn’t be on the list — it’s that simple!

Here are a couple of examples of good OKRs:

  • Increase retention rate by 10%. Theme: AI. Benefit: Help customers with decision making.
  • Acquire 100 new corporate clients. Theme: Competition. Benefit: Exceed competitor X’s features.

Once a product strategy is in place, it’s time to visually communicate to stakeholders how your project will meet business objectives by showing direction and progress of high level features/releases.

Sample Roadmap
Sample Roadmap

While product roadmaps are excellent for visualizing high-level features, at some point you need to get down to actually building the features. A product backlog helps accomplish this by providing a list of prioritized features with estimates of complexity (not actual time) as user story points.

The product backlog, with prioritized user stories and high level estimates, then becomes the driver for Agile/Scrum sprints.

Product to Engineering Transition
Product to Engineering Transition

Engineering Methodology and Development

A product backlog typically has a few sprints worth of features (user stories), prioritized with high level (complexity) estimates, ready for the engineering team to work on. 

It is common to see two-week sprints in Agile projects. In the beginning of each sprint, the engineering team can pick a set of stories to work on.

Since the product backlog has relative estimates, it can be mapped to the past velocity of the team. For example, If the team is able to complete 100 story points in a given two-week sprint, then they can take that many stories to work on in the next sprint.

Once stories have been deployed to production, often as part of planned releases, they can be available to downstream groups (e.g. marketing, sales, customer service) for next steps.


Bringing It All Together

End-to-End Product Development Workflow
End-to-End Product Development Workflow

This is when it all comes together!

Downstream groups can use the product vision, strategy, roadmap, and ready features, to articulate the appropriate messaging to the customers, for example:

  • Marketing can have enough lead time from the roadmap and use the products vision and strategy for its messaging, collateral and marketing activities
  • Sales can use these to let customers know about unique value proposition and expected features in the near term
  • Customer service can alleviate customer concerns by letting them know when certain bug fixes or new features will be ready and provide regular customer feedback to the product engineering and product teams

By following a simple workflow, it is relatively easy to connect the dots from the company mission down to building features to downstream groups. OKRs complement that by providing control, predictability, prioritization, and autonomy.