The Product Development Process
6-Step Framework From Ideation to Release
Product development involves the management of many distinct processes that feed into one another. Mitigating financial and reputation-related risks inherent to launching a new product starts with tackling each element of the design process and honing your offering to match your prospects’ interests.
Below, we delve into the details involved and provide an alternative to the traditional, six-step protocol most companies have come to regard as the only way to push their products out to the public. Integrating external third parties for your product design and development can help your team innovate without losing sight of the core elements at play in the process. As for the process itself, read on to learn what the purpose of each step is and how you can approach it for better results.
The product development process can be broken down into a series of simple steps. Each of these ties into one another and support the end goal of gaining market share with a high-demand product. Although some sources list only five full steps in this process, we’ve identified six in total that directly impact the results companies get when they have finished working on a product. These are:
- Initial design
- Validation and testing
Idea generation fuels your development team’s efforts and helps boost your chances of capturing new, blue ocean niches. When choosing product ideation techniques, a product manager has to think about their team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Genuine product ideation encourages your entire team to participate and leads to the creation of not only known profitable ideas but seemingly wild, unproven ones as well. In a properly managed product development process, unfettered product ideation is vital for bringing new ideas and features into focus.
Customer pain points
The problems your customers are currently facing should be your primary concern during this stage of your product’s development. Succeeding organizations have long channeled the incredible power of providing solutions for customer pain points. Among many other exceptional examples are companies such as Twilio, which successfully satisfied a major need in the area of telephony—a bridge between the traditional telephone network and the internet that developers could depend on at scale.
Product discovery—also known as scoping or concept development—involves refining the general concept of your product. At this stage, your team must clarify your proposed product’s strengths and (ideally) minimize its potential shortcomings. Both customer research and hard evidence from experimentation make it easier for your company to make smarter decisions at this stage, helping your product to succeed later on.
It is crucial for your team to understand and act on the need to lay the groundwork for later stages at this point in the development process. Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to turn your attention toward user stories, interface design choices, or building the final product just yet. Get the value proposition right, determine your target audience, and define your business model first. You can toy around with feature proposals and more at this stage, but stop short of fleshing out an actual build—this part is all about ideas.
Prototyping helps make a case for the investment your company intends to make on the proposed product’s development, while limiting upfront costs as much as possible. This is done through the use of a detailed plan that factors in all of the following facets:
Quantifying the gain/pain ratio
Identifying the user’s perspective during the earliest phases of the product development process can help your business to better align its design goals and priorities with those of the target audience. Gains for your customer translate to ease of use, less effort to get things done, better pricing, and lower time expenditures for the types of results they aim to achieve.
Pain, on the other hand, comes across as anything that is annoying or irksome to your customer. These are the things that get in the way and keep them from finishing the tasks they may have at hand. To emphasize gains, you’ll need to focus on making your customer’s life easier. This involves getting to know them more intimately and adapting design choices to their interests.
Conducting competitor analysis
Understanding your company and product’s competition helps in reframing your value proposition to capture customers. Direct competitors with similar or identical products to yours can help to inform your own product design decisions. For this part of the process to go smoothly, you should have a clear concept of who your competitors are and precisely how their products are competing with your own. This is a great way to keep all of your decision-making processes centered around facts instead of gut feelings.
Enlisting the major product features
This part of the process can make or break your business due to its direct tie to your value proposition. Each feature of your product is intended to solve a specific problem. If these features fail to solve the problems you have identified in previous steps, then your product will fail to perform.
Great features get great results, but bad features (especially too many of these) simply dilute your product’s overall effectiveness in the eyes of your customers. Features worth implementing should apply not only to a small subset of potential users but to as many of your target customers as possible to be effective.
Creating a value proposition chart
A proper positioning strategy helps your team to determine how your product should be presented to customers. This involves laying out all of its proposed benefits and how it can solve each of your customers’ problems. A value proposition chart or canvas conveys this clearly along with information about your product’s competitors.
At this stage of the development process, the focus shifts to prototype refining. In parallel, your marketing, sales, and manufacturing divisions must begin coordinating the eventual launch of your product.
Here, aspects such as aesthetic quality and feel must be carefully balanced with ease of use and simplicity to ensure your target users can get the most out of the final product. Changes to the design that enhance these qualities will ultimately have a direct impact on your product’s general success and profitability.
Validation and testing ensure that prototype designs will work as intended. This step essentially helps your team decide when a product is ready to launch and be delivered to customers.
Traditional approaches with physical products leveraged in-person interaction at trade events and kiosks to gauge customer interest. Modern application testing can be conducted entirely online and yield usable results.
At any rate, two distinct stages of testing exist and can be utilized:
1: Alpha testing
Test engineers must initially gauge how well your product performs under pressure. Changes are suggested as issues are discovered. These tests are most informative when conducted under strict conditions and monitored scientifically.
2: Beta testing
Here, the voice of the customer or “VOC” is used as the primary gauge of effectiveness. Unbiased feedback from focus groups and beta testers gives your company actionable insight to further improve your designs. Generally, beta tests are conducted selectively, without exposing the unfinished product to too many target users at a time.
This step in the product development process is essentially the product’s full launch. Marketing and sales plans are brought to fruition at this stage and combined with additional testing strategies to improve profitability. There are three distinct substeps to this critical part of the product development process:
1: Marketing the product
Uncertainty at launch represents risk to your organization. This step helps reduce uncertainty by broadening your market-testing efforts to encompass additional strategies. Identifying additional markets and tailoring marketing to meet the demands of new audiences at this stage can drastically improve your results.
2: Creating a brand voice
Your product must stand out to be picked by prospects. Improving your brand voice can help customers find common footing with your product. This leads to brand loyalty and improved profits over time.
3: Conducting intriguing webinars
Webinars and similar promotional measures help your company make its case to new customers and increase brand awareness while building authority in its niche. These promotional tools give your team a chance to communicate and engage directly with your prospects and existing customers.
Two primary approaches to the product development process exist: Agile and Waterfall. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Waterfall product development process
Waterfall development encourages planning ahead and prioritizing preparedness. With the scoping of your project completed, a Waterfall approach can help you keep costs to a predefined minimum and reach release targets on time. Waterfall development is known to place limits on when and how sales can be generated, and customers can be acquired.
Agile product development process
The Agile development process emphasizes the importance of speed and flexibility at all stages. Small teams benefit most from this approach as they can quickly spin up a functional product, generate sales, and tweak their positioning over time. Agile product development results in iterative improvement of an initially limited product.
The traditional, six-step process detailed above is well-known and time-tested—it’s the stuff of training videos and textbooks. However, it has a few disadvantages. Modern changes in technology have made this method less effective with time. Now, a lean approach can provide better results. This means making a minimum viable product, or MVP, can prove to be more profitable and less of a risk.
Your MVP is not the same thing as a prototype. Instead, it is meant to be a fully functional product in its own right. This means that it can be launched immediately and used to gauge market sentiment, and so on. At most, the process for producing a minimum viable product amounts to three key steps.
The MVP process scales down from six to three important steps:
1: Concept fit
In this step, each product idea that your team generates is singled out and vetted to ensure only the best ones remain. These essential features are the ones that your minimum viable product will actually be built with.
2: Market fit
Finding the right market fit for your product is crucial for lean development as your feature set is intended to be pretty narrowly targeted. There are four primary considerations at play in this step:
It is essential that the technology you intend to base your product on be thoroughly vetted beforehand. Each element of your product’s tech stack should have its costs, relative dev/maintenance complexity, and security assessed in detail by your team to ensure it is safe to work with both in the short and long term.
Defining use cases
Your target audience’s use cases for your product should be made clear to ensure they match the proposed feature set. This means the way customers intend to use your product to achieve their goals will need to be determined in as much detail as possible.
Cost of development
Development costs should always be considered, even in a lean development environment. Some costs will only exist during development while others will continue to exist once the product has been completed. Both should be taken into account and optimized upfront.
Confirming commercial potential
The risk your team will take on by developing a product must be offset by its overall commercial profit potential. Defining this can help in allocating an appropriate amount of capital to development.
Development is the final step and arguably the most important. After all, this is the part where your product takes its shape and passes from concept to reality. Four main substeps comprise this integral part of the process.
Developing the MVP
Once development begins, your MVP is actually built to the standards that were decided on in the previous steps. Development time may vary, but MVP development requires less of a time commitment than traditional processes often do.
Confirming the business plan
Your business plan will need to be confirmed along the way to ensure your product can produce the types of results your company is counting on. Quality guidance pays off at this stage as trusted partners can help you to optimize your product’s profit potential in unexpected ways.
Drilling into research about target consumers
Finding out what your target audience thinks about your product design at an earlier stage is one of the most powerful advantages of an MVP development strategy.
Developing supporting infrastructure
The tools and processes that enable your product to conform to necessary performance standards while staying within budget will need to be defined and (in some cases) produced in house by your chosen dev team.
Going from concept to finalized creation can be tricky to manage without the right help and guidance. Producing something that not only works but is enthusiastically snapped up by prospects at market takes expertise and attention to detail, no matter what development process you choose. That being said, a minimum viable product development process is definitely the way to go if time and total costs are of the essence to your organization.
To learn how you can get started on your next digital product with expert guidance and a committed team backing your ideas, book a call with us today.