Whether you’re leading your company’s entire product division or managing a specific product, you know how challenging designing an edTech product from the ground up can be.
Once you come up with an A+ product idea, you’ll need to align all your stakeholders, develop and test features, ace your marketing plan—and everything in between.
In this article, you’ll learn how to plan your edTech tool like a pro by following the lead of our incredible project management team.
Find out how to pick the right team members, tie your product development cycle to the school year, and more with these expert tips for product planning.
Let’s dive in!
1. Assign Your Team
To design a great learning tool, you’ll need a strong, cross-functional team. Together, this team will take your learning tool from initial concept to wildly successful product.
Make sure they all have the right skill sets, so you can build the edTech product that will serve your users best. You’ll need the following internal and external team members to get your product off the ground:
- Product owner: The person in this must-have role has a holistic understanding of your product and business down cold. They maintain the fidelity of your product vision, and, in some cases, the spirit of the pedagogy.
A strong strategic thinker and decision maker, your product owner also understands how all the individuals on your team work together, and they’ll communicate those connections to external teams along the way. They should have the final say on all decisions.
Skills: Basic understanding of UX/UI principles, as well as back- and front-end technical needs. Understands business needs and how your product fits into the organization, including how it will be marketed and sold.
This person is also an incredible communicator. They’re great at looping in the right internal stakeholders at the right time, leading the charge on actionable feedback, and consolidating feedback and approvals, so your external teams can get back to building.
Challenges: It’s not always easy to find the right person for this job! Many VPs of Product already have too much on their plate to completely own the development of a new learning tool. Because of this, your product owner might need additional support from your organization or from other team members. Just don’t try to launch a new product without finding a great person to own the process from start to finish.
- User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) designer: A user experience design team will be responsible for creating the overall experience of your product, including the product’s structure, organization, and feature interactions. They bring strategic value to your discovery and design process, conducting competitive audits, user research, and user testing along the way. When user research is part of the overall experience design, you get better, more strategic results.
With strong backgrounds in visual design, the user interface designers produce the look and feel of your product. Ideally, these teams work very closely together or have overlapping skill sets. For example, user interface designers will work from the wireframes and prototypes developed by your user experience team, incorporating brand elements like color, animation, photography, and typeface to bring your product to life.
Together, your UX and UI designers collaborate and think holistically about the end user experience of your edTech product.
- Front- and back-end developers: edTech tools are highly visual, complex products that require separate developer skill sets. Front-end developers focus on coding the visual elements of your product, while back-end developers support technical requirements and functionality, as well as database development and shared services.
Challenges: Quite often, the dev team is brought into design and discovery discussions too late to provide meaningful feedback. In order not to waste time or resources, invite your dev team to the table early so they can be part of the creative process and identify technology solutions to support improved UX.
Make them aware of early strategic decisions, including the requirements for your minimum viable product (MVP). This way, your developers will fully understand what they’re building, including how design decisions impact their work. Give this team multiple opportunities to voice their concerns while final requirements are being written and approved by your business.
Ideally developers will have multiple touchpoints with your design teams, in order to review and annotate wireframes. At the very least, they should be asked for feedback before final designs are approved.
- Additional stakeholders: It’s crucial to get the right people in the room at the right time. Don’t forget to invite additional stakeholders along the way, including sales, marketing, content engineers, or other leaders. New to aligning stakeholders on product goals? Check out our guide to working with stakeholders throughout the discovery process.
2. Define Your Minimum Viable Product
In agile workflow models, you road map every point along the way in order to identify the minimum viable product (MVP) you can put in front of a user for a positive experience. Ideally, the MVP is a compromise between the business needs and your user needs.
What are the minimum number of main features or screens that will support a teacher, student, or admin user throughout their experience? Perhaps the student-facing side of your MVP is on track. But will a teacher persona find your product valuable without reporting features? (Not likely!)
With your internal stakeholders, the product owner will prioritize these features and communicate these needs with external teams before a timeline is developed.
In an ideal world, the minimum number of features is the first thing you’ll consider, aligning with available personnel and timeline before you begin.
Of course, variables like time and personnel will always affect how quickly you can move and what you can accomplish. Do you have 6 months to roll out a product, or two years? Who do you have on your team and what actions do they need to complete to cross the finish line?
While the term MVP is often used interchangeably with a phase 1 roll-out or pilot designs, we encourage you to really consider what it means to have a minimum viable product. Resist the temptation to change the parameters of your MVP to meet a pressing issue or need in the short term. Keep your eye on the integrity of your designs.
3. Conduct User Research & Testing
Take it from the UX experts: most product teams haven’t conducted enough user research before they begin designing edTech tools. Having a thorough understanding of your personas and testing regularly with users is the best way to make sure your product will:
- Meet the expectations of your users
- Create long-term solutions
- And address persona pain points.
A great project manager can help you create a scalable way to research and user test during discovery, as well as while you’re building the project. A strong UX firm that specializes in edTech can also facilitate access to teachers, students, and administrators, so you can get the right kind of feedback for your learning tool at the right time.
4. Identify Your Deliverables
Project deliverables should be well-defined, with clear ownership and feedback processes.
How much time will teams take to review and provide feedback? What’s a reasonable turn-around time between iterations? The more you clarify processes in the early stages of product planning, the easier it will be to deliver assets on time.
Here are the five most common edTech product deliverables you can expect your teams to work on throughout discovery and development:
- Initial research. What pain points or problems are you trying to solve with your learning tool? How will your edTech product be used in classroom or administrative settings?
- Competitive audit. Knowing what other edTech brands are doing right and wrong will help your team determine how your product can replicate successes or fill a gap.
- Personas & user journeys. Research-backed user profiles and narratives designed to help you with decision making. These assets will address questions like: What do you know about your users? What does their day-to-day look like right now? How will that change once your learning tool is in their hands? Depending on the type of tool you’re designing, you’ll want to account for personas as varied as teachers, students, administrators, and parents.
- UX Wireframes. Gray scale, structural outlines of our learning tool, including sequencing and interactions. Once you approve wireframes, you’re committing to the overall structure and navigation of your learning tool.
- Designs. Designs encompass visual direction, including the product look and feel, which always reflects your brand. This look and feel is also applied to wireframes as a first step to developing your full user interface.
5. Develop Your Timeline
Plan, plan, plan—and plan some more. Whether you’re using an agile or waterfall workflow, you’ll need a strong timeline with well-defined deliverables and flexible milestones. These milestones should include launch dates and adequately timed feedback sessions, as well as meetings to confirm product requirements.
In order for timelines to work well, make sure your product owner can communicate what consolidated feedback looks like internally and externally to your project management team. How long do your internal teams need to review design decisions? How can you collect the most actionable feedback or clarify internal decisions for your external teams?
The more you work with project managers to clarify these details early in the planning process, the easier it will be for your external teams to receive stakeholder sign-off and keep meeting deadlines.
6. Align Your Timeline to the School Year
Speaking of timing—edTech companies should align their product development timelines with the school calendar.
Take advantage of administrative buying cycles by launching your products in spring, when administrators are beginning to make decisions about products and allocating their budgets. This means you’ll need to start planning and designing a complex product at least 8-12 months—or more!—before the school year begins, kicking off in the prior fall or winter.
Your sales team will want in on this timeline, too. They’ll begin selling the product to administrative buyers in the spring or summer before your learning tool launches. Planning to have the major features of your product completed by this point will help this team develop marketing materials.
Want to test a pilot of your product with users before you officially launch? Plan to conduct a pilot program, as well as additional user testing, in the summer leading up to your launch date.
7. Clear the Communication Channels
Every major project needs a well-organized and accessible hub for sharing assets, in addition to a tried and true communication system. By making all documents easy to find, you’ll cut down on project management hours and speed up your work. Similarly, transparent communication channels help everyone stay on the same page.
Here are common tools we recommend for project management and communication:
- Jira. A bug tracking and project management tool designed specifically for agile workflows.
- Google Spreadsheets. Track timelines, product requirements, resources, and ongoing questions or needs.
- Slack. Communicate asynchronously and in real time with your entire team.
- Microsoft Teams. An alternative to Slack and Google products.
At the beginning of your project, choose the tools and processes that will best support your needs, whether that’s weekly or daily touch-base calls, design reviews, or stand-ups. All communication should be documented and easily accessible across your teams.
8. Have Fun!
edTech is a special industry. Everyone is focused on supporting the needs of teachers and students by making products that really work in the classroom. This is fun work! By striving for flexibility and building camaraderie, you can keep your project moving forward while leaving room for ease and delight.
Well-planned edTech product design is worth the effort. Keep your stakeholders aligned, your external teams informed, and your creativity flowing with detailed timelines and regular communication.
By the time you’re ready to launch your learning tool, you’ll have prevented headaches, heartaches, and hassle—and you’ll already see ROI from everything your teams have learned along the way.
Are you planning on launching a new edTech tool next year? Contact us below to find out how we can help!