ARTICLE: Annie Hensley

Use these tips to beat the EdTech competition to market (without sacrificing quality)

The EdTech market is ripe for disruption. Between pandemic-driven changes to educational models and an influx of investors, the industry is now in a state of rapid flux. Which means the pressure is on for your EdTech company to bring useful new features to market as quickly as possible. 

Of course, that’s easier said than done. EdTech has long marched to the beat of its own industry-specific drum. Companies within the industry have historically released new products and features according to a predictable cycle, one that aligns with the academic calendar. At the same time, EdTech as a whole has been slower to innovate. In the past, that has translated to more of a leisurely canter than a breakneck gallop.

Today, though, all of that is changing. As new players enter the EdTech scene (including startups and established companies from adjacent industries), you can no longer rely on the same old release rhythms. The pressure is mounting. The longer you wait to deliver on the things your users want and need most, the more space you prepare for other alternatives to swoop in and become the next “shiny new objects.” 

How to Take your EdTech Products and Features to Market Faster

Now is the time to pick up the pace of innovation and product development. But doing so is easier said than done. How can you release something quickly that has value to both your business and your users? How can you be sure that moving quickly won’t mean taking a hit in the quality department? And how can you get the level of investment right? 

Moving quickly should never mean making rash decisions or abandoning best practices. If you get to market first but your offering is riddled with problems, you might as well arrive at the party last. Use the following tips to step on the gas without veering off course. 

Give all your key stakeholders a seat at the planning table 

Launching any new EdTech product or feature requires a high degree of cross-functional coordination. But that goes double if you’re hoping to speed up your time to market without inviting costly missteps or dropped balls. 

However, internal collaboration isn’t just about avoiding mistakes. It’s also about uncovering the most impactful solutions. Remember, innovation can come from anywhere within your organization. If you want to quickly hone in on the best solutions and execute them flawlessly, you’ll need to make sure each of your key stakeholders has a seat at the table. 

The most successful initiatives are those in which your product, UX design, UX research, and engineering teams are in lockstep right out of the gate. Each discipline offers a unique perspective that shouldn’t be missed: 

  • Product: Business needs and market perspective
  • UX Design: Best practices and ideas for an optimal user experience and design thinking mindset
  • UX Research: Ideas for methodologies to ensure you understand and measure success
  • Engineering: Knowledge of the product’s existing architecture and innovative ways to utilize that architecture to create something new.

Pre-vet your concept with your most loyal customers

Pre-vet your initial concept with a small focus group composed of established product evangelists. Your most loyal users will most likely relish the opportunity to innovate with you. And doing so can save you critical time by making sure your new feature appeals to your existing users. 

Share your early concepts with your focus group and ask for their feedback. Chances are good that they can quickly validate (or disprove) your problem statement. They can also help you understand the primary user needs you must consider as you design solutions. 

Finally, bringing together a small group of product evangelists can set the stage for future research. After all, each of your evangelists will likely come from a slightly different background. That will allow them to provide unique perspectives or nuances, which you can subsequently validate with more users.

Coming out of your early concept validation discussions, you should have a much better sense of your product or feature must-haves, nice-to-haves, and do-not-needs. 

Test later-stage designs with a broad mix of users

Your product evangelists can get you started in the right direction, but you can’t take a new product or feature to market without first casting a wider UX research net. Think about it: If you make all your decisions based on your most established and enthusiastic users, you risk designing your product too narrowly and ignoring the needs of other would-be users. 

As soon as you have a detailed prototype (or a coded proof of concept), plan to test your design with a broader range of users. You can also include your evangelists, but it is key to get feedback from a more diverse group during this stage. 

Plan to include both established and new users of your product, varying the mix depending on who you believe your new feature will serve. Whatever you do, make sure to include a combination of benchmarking metrics (such as the System Usability Scale and Affect Grid) and detailed usability testing

Strike the right balance between testing versus releasing  

The more research you conduct, the more you can fine-tune your product. But research (and the work required to synthesize and implement findings) takes time. The good news? Smart user testing can actually reduce your time to market by pointing your team in the right direction. However, if your goal is to move quickly and beat the competition to market, you must strike the right balance in terms of how much research you conduct before launching your product or feature. 

In any project, you only have “X” amount of time and resources at your disposal. Depending on your particular situation, you’ll need to figure out where up-front research can make the biggest impact and focus your efforts there. For everything else, you can release now and monitor later.  

Define what success looks like and create a monitoring plan

You almost certainly won’t release a product or feature only to let it languish, never to be touched or iterated on again. Once your product or feature is live, track the way your users are utilizing it. As you monitor their behavior, you should conduct ongoing user research that can inform future updates, fixes, and features. 

Be sure to pursue a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. Consider implementing features that track interactions that will yield important quantitative data on the paths your users are taking. There are multiple ways to this, including beacons. We recommend that your product and engineering teams collaborate to decide on the method that best meets your team’s needs. Additional quantitative and qualitative data can be gathered through follow-up surveys and user interviews. Feedback from these sessions should drive the next iteration of your product or feature.  

Partner with an external UX agency  

The best way to speed up your organization’s product development process isn’t to cut corners or run your team ragged. It’s to scale up your resources. When you partner with an external UX agency like Openfield, it’s possible to do just that. 

Leveraging a UX Team can help you ideate, test, and get into the development phase much more quickly. While it would take the average EdTech company months to recruit, hire, and train a new UX researcher, designer, or engineer, a UX agency can assign additional resources to your team immediately as the situation requires it. 

Not only that, but a seasoned UX agency can help your team make informed decisions. They can help you focus and prioritize your UX research efforts given your current objectives, including time to market. Remember, smart research is key to making sure your newest offering is actually embraced in the market.

Interested in hearing how Openfield can help your EdTech company innovate more quickly? We’d love to hear from you.

  • Photo of Annie Hensley
    Annie Hensley

    As Director of UX Design, Annie is responsible for ensuring our team continues to deliver superior client and user experiences that result in tangible business outcomes. That includes fostering collaboration and crossover between our design and research teams, mentorship and career guidance, stewardship of Openfield’s culture and values, as well as, contributing to strategic decisions that ensure our company continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of EdTech clients and users. As an IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC), she is committed to ensuring accessibility standards are met by our team. Annie is a lifelong runner who completed the Boston Marathon for a second consecutive year in 2023. She is an avid lover of parks of all sorts – theme parks, ballparks, and National Parks (even revisiting Parks and Recreation too many times to count).

Spread the word – help avoid the traps of digital product development!