The product development process enables businesses to organize and capitalize on growth opportunities. Whether you’re considering launching a new product or expanding your existing product line or service offerings, the product development process is critical to getting started.
In this guide, we’ll cover the following:
What is product development?
Why is product development important?
The six stages of product development
Best practices and tips from experts for effective product development
If you’re already familiar with the basic concepts of product development, feel free to skip to sections you’ll find most relevant.
What is product development?
As the name suggests, product development is the process businesses use to build a new product or improve an existing one. This encompasses several stages, from product ideation all the way to a commercial launch. It involves several departments working together, or a dedicated team, with each member having different specializations and responsibilities.
These various roles can include:
Finance and operations
A cross-functional team is essential for a smooth product development process, as one person can’t (reasonably) do it all, and having different specializations means you’ll be less likely to get stuck or run into problems.
Why is the product development process important?
Businesses need to make sure they’re always trying to accomplish two things: meeting the changing demands of consumers and staying competitive in the market. The product development process helps you achieve these two goals at the same time by continually assessing your offerings and gaining feedback from customers.
Product development drives innovation in any industry – the iPhone is an obvious example of product development that took mobile phone technology into a new era. Being an industry innovator, therefore, is a key way to stand out from the competition.
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The six stages of product development
There are six main stages of product development, although there may be more depending on the level of involvement from sales and marketing teams. These six stages include conceptual design/ideation, idea validation, initial product design, prototyping, product testing, and launch (otherwise known as commercialization).
A little side note before diving into each of these stages: to make sure your business stays on top of changing markets, consider adopting a continuous product discovery framework. This refers to having regular touchpoints with your users and continually improving based on their feedback and insights.
Using a continuous product discovery framework means your product development process is likely to be in a constant state of repeating itself (you know, they say practice makes perfect!).
1. Conceptual design/ideation
So let’s imagine you’re thinking about building a new product or improving an existing one. The first step is to think about your ideas. This stage is probably the most fun (apart from a successful launch, of course!).
Your team will begin by mapping out different ideas that you think will help solve the pain points your customers are having or that will enhance their customer experience. Ideally, you’ll have a base of user research or market research to start from. If not, consider the following factors when mapping out your ideas and concepts:
Business analysis (SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
Target market, and by extension, product-market fit
Business risks (financial, market, technical, etc.)
As an example, Allbirds recently announced the release of the world’s first net-zero carbon shoe, M0.0NSHOT. On the pre-launch page, they share a design inspiration board and details on the product. Not only does this give us some insight into how the product was developed, it also helps to build some buzz for the launch.
Once you’ve nailed down your ideas, you can consider more specific details, such as functionality and design.
2. Idea validation
Once you have a few conceptual designs, you can move on to the validation stage. Designs at this stage don’t need to be incredibly detailed and functional, but it’s helpful to have drafts with supplementary context to explain what different parts of the design will do later on.
To validate your design concepts, you’ll need to put them in front of your target audience and test which concepts work best for them. Good tools for validating conceptual designs at this early stage are design surveys and preference tests.
These two testing methods are great for early design concepts as they don’t need functional designs for the test to be effective, and you can quickly find out which designs resonate most with your target audience.
3. Initial product design
The idea validation stage should produce insights to help you move forward with a specific design. You can focus your efforts on fine-tuning the design draft, which is where UX designers will hone in on developing designs that worked well in the validation tests, as well as addressing any issues with the chosen design.
Once designers have built a more detailed design, your team can repeat usability testing to ensure the designs match user expectations and address feedback.
At the prototyping stage, your team will really get their hands dirty developing a functional design for the product. This stage will also involve more steps if you’re developing a tangible product, as you’ll need to consider manufacturing, resources, and/or sourcing the product if it’s going to be outsourced (or partially outsourced).
If you’re building a digital product, you won’t need to worry about manufacturing, though you will need to think about intellectual and technical resources, i.e. do you need to hire software engineers or developers? You should also figure out your product pricing model at this stage.
The goal of the prototyping stage is to produce a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP needs to have some basic functions, but it probably doesn’t need all the bells and whistles just yet. By developing an MVP, you’ll be able to test the prototype much quicker and make any necessary changes quickly and affordably.
5. Product testing
Once you’ve built a functional prototype for your product, you’ll be able to start your final major testing stage. Your previous design tests should have rooted out most issues with the design and (if digital) the layout of your product on screen, so the main purpose of testing your functional prototype is for front-end technical functionality and user experience.
For digital products, Lyssna offers prototype testing, where you can import designs built in Figma and get your prototypes in front of real users in minutes. For tangible products, you can organize focus groups or individual product testing where you can get detailed feedback after extensive use of your product.
The BBC in the UK even made a TV show about this stage of product development called The Customer Is Always Right, which shows entrepreneurs just how important it is to test your prototype before an official launch.
After ironing out any issues that prototype testing may have revealed, your product should be ready for market. However, before your launch, you need to have certain operational procedures in place, for example, customer support teams, operation manuals or online help guides, a marketing launch campaign, and with tangible products, supply lines and manufacturing contracts.
When selling products online, you’ll also need to configure the e-commerce functionality. If you already sell other products, simply adding the new product to your existing catalog shouldn’t be too time-consuming. However, if it’s your first product (or a separate business venture) you’ll need to implement an e-commerce solution on your website first, which can take a little more time before you announce the launch.
As mentioned previously, even after launching your product (or announcing improvements), it’s a good idea to continually test and gather feedback to look for any issues or opportunities to improve the product further.
Best practices for product development
Knowing the basics of product development is great, but what even better is knowing how to make the process more efficient or impactful. So here are a few quick tips on product development best practices, from people with a ton of experience developing products in multiple industries.
Create a product development roadmap
Creating a product roadmap is a great organizing tool for your team to track milestones and keep folks accountable. Our expert below also highlights how product roadmaps are helpful for proactive risk assessments:
“Using a product roadmap aligns your product development process with the company's needs and goals. It also helps identify potential risks and challenges in advance, allowing you to mitigate them proactively. This reduces the likelihood of costly delays during the development process and optimizes your team's productivity.” — Milo Cruz, CMO of Freelance Writing Jobs
Use the continuous product discovery framework
As mentioned previously, continuous testing helps discover issues and opportunities quickly. The more your business can act on ideas and feedback, the more likely you’ll be able to come up with solutions. Our expert below also emphasizes the importance of tracking progress with frequent iterations:
“Iterate often. Regularly testing and refining your product will help you make sure that it meets user needs and that any changes made don't adversely affect performance or usability. It's also important to have measures in place for tracking progress and ensuring that the team is on target for hitting milestones.” — Daniel Chabert, CEO and Founder of PurpleFire
Avoid ‘feature creep’ by building a minimum viable product (MVP)
You don’t want to get sidetracked with too many features before you’ve even built a functional prototype. The more sidetracked your project gets, the more you have to push your launch date. And the farther the launch date, the more expensive (in time, effort, and money) the whole project will be.
“Start by focusing on building the minimum viable product (MVP) – a version of your product with only the essential features needed to solve a problem for your users. This helps your team stay focused and avoid feature creep.” — David Stellini, Co-Founder and CTO of All Front
Get feedback as early as possible and throughout the design process
Getting lots of feedback from both customers and other stakeholders will help ensure you don’t miss key issues. In our product development process framework, we’ve placed importance on testing for this exact reason. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have even more insights – it’s better to have too much than not enough.
“It's important to get feedback early and often. This will help you identify any issues before they become too costly to fix, and it's also a great way to keep your product development process agile and iterative.” — Daniel Chabert CEO and Founder of PurpleFire
Top tip: don’t launch a product without validating it first
There’s no worse feeling than thinking you’ve come up with an awesome product idea and rushed into building and launching it only to find the market or target audience doesn’t want or need it.
The main difference between a bad product launch and a great one is when the product idea is validated and tested first. That’s where Lyssna comes in.
When you sign up for a free Lyssna account, you get access to unlimited active tests. Through Lyssna, you can test with real users, whether you source them yourself or use our recruitment panel.
So don’t make the mistake of launching an unvalidated product. Test it out first through a product development process to ensure the greatest chance of a successful launch.
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Frequently asked questions about the product development process
Alexander Boswell is the Founder/Director of SaaSOCIATE, a B2B SaaS, MarTech and eCommerce Content Marketing Service and a Business PhD candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s playing baseball and D&D.
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