So you've got a great product idea. What next?

The answer is lots of hard work researching and analysing the idea during the exploration phase. As our Chief Product Officer, Joanne Anderson, says in how to decide what products to build, a product idea starts with something that sparks someone's imagination, a light bulb moment about a legaltech product that ideally combines utility, desirability and efficiency. It's usually something they wish they had at their own fingertips and could range from a big idea, like a system to manage thousands of live contract obligations or a crisis management tool, to a narrow one that makes a day-to-day difference to productivity, like filing emails efficiently or keeping track of passwords. Then, with the expertise of the right people who can advocate for and progress the idea, the next decision is should it be built? If the answer is a resounding yes, can it be built and how?

These are big questions that are fundamental to any product launch's success and should be examined in the exploration phase of the project. At Clifford Chance Applied Solutions (CCAS), after passing the initial entry criteria, which include the idea fitting inside our product 'grid' (specifying the broad types of legaltech product we make), meeting seven specific decision criteria (e.g. among other things, is the solution scalable, does it address our target market and fall within our technical capabilities?) and could it fit on our product roadmap, we start to focus our research on the most important aspect of any product, the end-user.

Who is the customer?

It's fatal to a product's success to assume that we know what the customer needs or even who they are at this stage (legal, compliance, finance teams, HR?). The only way we can truly understand that is to talk. By interacting with potential end-users, we learn a lot about whether we have the beginnings of a product and, more importantly, the customer's pain points, which the end solution can then address.

Meetings, workshops and quantitative surveys with the experts in the Clifford Chance practice areas, our clients and the wider industry all help to focus the idea on a specific job-to-be-done, which is always what drives an eventual subscription. Customers don't buy a particular solution because they are a certain type of business or because they really like hanging out with the CCAS team (although we're pretty sure they do); they buy it because it helps them accomplish a (usually tricky) job in the context of their role at work, like making risk-based decisions about the international transfer of crucial personal data or establishing the applicable Covid-19 employment schemes in an unfamiliar jurisdiction. 

In many cases, we may be trying to displace an existing competitor, so we must also narrow down a point of differentiation that improves upon the existing solution. Once we establish a pattern by speaking to several end-users, we can then consider the technical solution's bones that might get that job done.

What is the market?

Alongside customer outreach, our research must also establish some external commercial factors, like the size of the realistic serviceable obtainable market. This represents the slice of the market CCAS can be expected to capture based on the proposed target customers in the relevant jurisdictions, alongside our existing relationships with clients as a global legal network. If the target market is small (for example, limited to a specific type of licensed financial institution), we need to ensure we can effectively secure a larger share of that market.

We also need to know who we're up against. Many of the firm's competitors innovate in the same fields as CCAS, along with other legaltech companies, software firms and other professional services companies. We conduct a competitor analysis to establish what these competitors offer, what their products do and how much they cost. Can we differentiate our products by taking a new angle, widening or narrowing the product's focus, producing higher quality outputs or being more competitive on price?

Once enough evidence has been gathered, the deliverables of the exploration phase start to take shape in the form of a solid business case evidenced by the customer and other stakeholder input, a set of considered assumptions to examine further in the design phase (to acknowledge that we don't know everything about the product yet) and a lo-fi prototype – the fun bit - that we can use to guide further conversations with customers and continue to generate support for investment internally.

Keep going

Finally, it’s important to realise that conceptualisation and research cannot be neatly ticked off the product delivery task list and filed away as the product team moves ahead with the project. Things change, markets develop, new competitors emerge, a pandemic hits: Conclusions and assumptions drawn at the research stage need to be frequently revisited and verified as we progress through the design stage. Only that way can we be sure that we are building a product that takes that spark of imagination and uses it to inspire our customers too.