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Step 2: Product Definition

The next phase is a three- to six-week product definition workshop. This step, much like a traditional software requirements analysis, is the key to avoiding surprises halfway through the project. The product definition stage begins by defining the scope of the project, including identification of target customers, their needs, and the functions the site must perform. Sample customers are identified—and, if possible, interacted with—to understand the design context. This is where cognitive disciplines become an absolutely crucial element of successful web implementation. This helps derive a more complete understanding of targeted customers, including their environment, habits, goals, and conceptual models. In turn, this helps to define an e-commerce product that's truly intuitive for those specific customers to use. Use of these cognitive experts continues through the product design and development stages.

In parallel with gathering information about the customer's requirements, the product definition phase examines several technology choices. These choices include everything from development environments to hardware platforms to integration with existing systems. Existing network and security infrastructures are also examined to evaluate whether they're e-commerce ready. This phase typically involves IT executives, as they're the ones who ultimately will have the responsibility for operating the site. The result is the selection of a technology framework for the project.

Another parallel task in product definition is an analysis of the business environment. The goal of this analysis is to identify any needed processes, such as marketing plans, or potential organizational changes. Business goals are clarified and critical success factors are established. These may range from specific dollar sales to more subjective qualities such as customer loyalty indexes. A cross-functional consensus on the product is established, when possible, along with executive buy-off.

Most importantly, the first prototype of the product is developed. Even at this early stage, you should avoid building interface-only prototypes. Prototypes, although they may lack some of the final functionality, should incorporate all the key business logic of the product. Both user interfaces and back-end databases are easier to derive once the business logic has been defined, rather than vice versa.

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