A six step playbook for booting up a digital product for the non-technical leader.

We’ve partnered with many non-technical project sponsors and leaders with a business vocation and have seen how they complement those who are engineering oriented. For starters, the non-technical leader is well positioned (if not forced) to build the business, not the code. When they get it right, it’s a beautiful thing. Here are six lessons we’ve learned from those who did it right:

1. Find a trusted technical partner

Let’s face it, the non-technical leader is going to need some help. When looking for help, non-technical leaders should be able to check the box on their technical counterpart’s experience and commitment.

From a technical background perspective, the engineering partner is either a lead developer from a small/lower middle market company, a developer at a digital services firm, or a digital services firm. Why? Because this means they’ve built at least one digital product from the ground up. That experience is critical and they will likely have a good network to build an in-house team when the time is right.

Importantly, the technical partner must be hungry for success… and stay hungry. If you are a small business, the technical partner must be willing to give up cash compensation for future upside in your product. They need to buy into the vision and have a massive incentive for their product to work. Anything else is a huge red flag. We believe this so much, part of our business thesis is built on making True Partnerships.

2. Learn the basics

Non-technical leaders should not learn to code. However, they should become acutely familiar with the process of building software, known as the agile software development lifecycle (SDLC). Best practices and general knowledge are no secret and are well documented online — The Manifesto for Agile Software DevelopmentScrum and the The Non-Techie’s Guide to Servers are three good places to start. As a non-technical leader your goal should be able to explain in layman’s terms how your digital product will work and the process your technical team will use to build it.

3. Manage your expectations

While they may not have known exactly what to expect, the best non-technical leaders are grounded in reasonable expectations. Some of their clear strengths in this area are:

  • Internalizing that a digital product takes a lot of time and effort and it will be far from perfect when it is first released
  • Bringing together the right fractional resources yields the best results
  • Understanding their digital product will never truly be finished
  • Your Proof of Concept (POC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) should be just that — don’t ask/expect your technical team to deliver a gold plated something
4. Go Big & Go Home

Savvy entrepreneurs get to market quickly, listen for feedback, and adjust or pivot. Unfortunately, many product leaders cannot resist the temptation to make their product “the best” from inception — after all it’s their brainchild. This is a mistake that leads to delayed product launches, micro managing, and little to no budget left over for market feedback.

5. Scalability: Sales, Marketing and Support

If you build it they will come. Will they? Are you sure? How will “they” know where to find it? How are you going to engage prospects and sell? Who will answer your users questions? How complex is onboarding? How will you collect feedback?

Having a scalable business plan to answer these types of questions is a must. It’s ok to start small and simple, but creating repeatable and measurable business processes will help unlock the potential of your product… Launching with no sales strategy or churning out users because of poor onboarding and support is a momentum killer.

6. Be the Spirit Captain

Theory Y leadership is a must. As noted above, creating a new digital product is centered around getting feedback — your team is a great place to start. Team members should be encouraged to share their ideas and collaborate. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.