GuidesProduct development

The ultimate product development guide

Last updated

22 March 2023

Author

Chloe Garnham

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Every product you use, whether physical or digital, has undergone a journey to come to life. 

That typically involves several key stages—market research, ideation, design, development, user testing, and optimization, to name a few. 

The journey is known as product development, and if you follow best practice steps, there’s a much better chance that the product will efficiently go to market and succeed once it does. 

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What is product development?

Product development refers to the entire journey of a product, from ideation through to the final offering. The final stage of the product journey is to take the product to market. 

New products, as well as rebranding or recreating current products, are part of this product development process. 

A useful product development journey helps ensure that products created solve problems for people, are easy to use, and, ideally, they delight the end customer. If the product development journey is efficient and you follow best practice steps, then it may do better in the market.

What’s an example of product development?

Many leading global companies use product development as a key aspect of their growth strategy. 

For example, take Apple, a highly innovative company known for its continual new product offerings. Products such as the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch are continually edited, renewed, and redelivered to give customers new features, abilities, and services for everyday tasks. This helps to keep customers interested in a competitive market. 

Amazon is also highly-focused on new product development. While the company is globally known for the Amazon online store, products including home assistant Alexa, Echo smart speaker, and various wearable smart devices are continuously being updated and released. 

Ultimately, product development is one of the key drivers of success at many leading companies today. 

What’s agile product development?

Agile methodology is becoming increasingly common, particularly in tech companies. Agile is premised on a few core ideas—continuous feedback, small iterations, and fast improvements.

In product development, agile practices can be very useful. In agile, you value fast processes, flexibility, and small changes over longer, inflexible processes—such as in a waterfall approach, where stages gradually move from one step to the next. 

In agile methodology, there is commonly more back-and-forth between stages, and teams work in sprints to bring sections of a product to life. This nimble approach can increase innovation and creative freedom.

Product development vs product management

Often confused, product development and product management are slightly different concepts. 

While product development is the entire process of bringing a product to market, product management refers to the role taken to run that process. 

Product managers run the life cycle from the ideation stages all the way to marketing products. Usually, product managers focus on how they bring the product to life—including managing the product roadmap and timeline.   

Product development, however, focuses on what is being brought to life—the product itself. 

The product development roadmap

A product development roadmap is the outlined process that helps manage the product journey. Some companies call this a way to keep management or outside teams informed with an updated document that all parties can refer to. 

The roadmap includes the overall intention, the direction of travel, the key stages of development, and the progress of the project. It’s usually managed and updated by a product manager, who helps keep teams to schedule. 

It’s important to note, though, when working in an agile way, sticking too close to the roadmap can dampen innovation and problem-solving. So, while a road map should act as an overall guide, it’s not necessarily the only reference point for the team.

How to create the ultimate product roadmap

The most important product development steps

While individual product journeys will differ, most projects will cover a few best practices steps. These crucial steps include: 

1. Market research

Research may be one of the most critical steps of any product development journey. While something may seem like a good idea, in reality, the product may not really benefit the market. 

Through market research, you discover what the market needs, where key problems are, and whether there’s a sizable market for new ideas. You also gain the chance to see what your competitors are already doing and whether there might be a better solution you could create. 

This type of research typically identifies market readiness, size, competition, and demographics.

Some helpful questions to ask as you research include: 

  • Do we truly understand our competitors?

  • Do we deeply understand our target market?

  • What are the key problems we could solve? 

  • Is this a real-world issue for people? Is there data to back that up?

  • What do we not know about this issue? 

2. Ideation

The next step in producing any product is deciding exactly what to create. This is where new product ideas are born.

Ideation can occur in many forms—one person may come up with an idea, a team may actively workshop new products or a new product may be born out of a customer request or issue. The team may create a new product, or they may improve or streamline a current offering.  

There are many ways to come up with new product ideas. Some starters include: 

  • Paying attention to trends

  • Looking for issues and challenges in customer forums 

  • Asking your customers what they want and need through surveys 

  • Leaning into your research to solve real-world problems 

  • Considering how you can improve on what the market currently offers 

  • Leaning into your team’s key or rare skills 

  • Considering what might be needed in the near future 

3. Developing an MVP

Once you’re satisfied that a market exists for your intended product, it’s then important to create prototypes

Designing an MVP means identifying exactly the minimum you can develop and still be a viable product to the market. Prototyping means creating the early, low-fidelity, and low-cost version of your MVP for testing. This can involve something as simple as a series of paper drawings or a more complete working prototype of the product. 

Prototypes allow users to see and interact with what will become your final offering without you having to invest in creating a complete version up front. 

That way, you can gather data about your users, iterate, and ultimately create an even better product. 

By prototyping, you can discover:

  • Any issues that might exist in the product

  • Better ways of bringing the product to life 

  • A visual representation of the intended product 

  • Whether the product is easy to use 

As part of prototyping, it’s important to get real-life users to give their opinions, as this challenges the assumptions made by the design and development team. Having real customers look at your prototypes and give their opinions is enormously useful for better understanding how your products will solve the issues they’re designed to fix. 

If possible, it’s smarter for companies to test the first rounds of their concept with as little to no development costs as possible. This keeps a company agile and nimble enough to quickly adjust to findings without spending too much on developers.

4. Initial design

Once you complete the prototyping stage—and you’ve gathered enough feedback from users—key team members will then work together to create a mockup of the final product. 

The team will base the design on the MVP, consider crucial feedback, and design with the key issue in mind. 

There may be several stages to go through—including back and forth between stages to create the initial design. 

At this stage, it’s typically helpful to consider: 

  • Sourcing: once the idea has been proven viable and profitable, one can assemble the required resources with confidence, knowing they will find a healthy return on investment.

  • Stakeholders: ensuring communication is frequent between all key departments and stakeholders will ensure success down the line. 

5. Testing and iterating

Once a prototype is complete, it’s time to gain feedback through testing and then iterate to improve the product offering. 

Testing can take many forms—focus groups, user testing interviews, A/B testing, and more.  

This is a critical design stage. It’s an opportunity to identify issues and roadblocks, understand more about your final customers (users), and streamline the product. 

Once you’ve gathered feedback, it’s important to take it into account and iterate the initial design. For example, if users find your product difficult to use, this is a chance to make the sequence more user-friendly and streamline any challenging aspects. 

Designing, testing, and iterating go hand in hand—there may be many rounds of both to ensure that the product is the best it can be within your budget. This means steps four and five here are more of a loop until the final design hits the metrics it was meant to.

The ultimate guide to developing a customer research plan

6. Releasing the MVP to the market

Once you finalize the designs, it’s time to develop the product. At this stage, developers take the finalized designs and turn them into usable products. 

The developers should receive both final designs, any prototypes, and any user stories to help them produce the final product. 

Working with the marketing team during this time, who’ll produce a go-to-market strategy, is also essential. 

When launching the final product, it’s helpful to think in phases. Phased releases to a controlled alpha audience can help usher in a new product without much risk. If the product isn’t received well, you can use the phase to collect the reasons why and iterate more on the remaining issues. 

Once feedback turns positive, you can feel confident releasing to a larger beta audience to repeat the process, finally releasing to your entire audience with full confidence. A phased launch ensures your product fits its intended purpose and succeeds in the marketplace. 

A better process for successful products

Before setting out on any product journey, it’s important to have a best-practice product development plan in place. 

Many businesses fail due to simple but avoidable mistakes. Things like skipping prototyping, a lack of initial research, and too little user testing can mean the products never reach the market—or when they do, they don’t succeed.

Spending time upfront to develop a solid process with key steps in place can be the difference between delighting the market with your new product or not.

The right product development process is the first step in any successful product journey.

FAQs

What are the ‘five Ds’ in product development? 

There are many ways to run a product development process. Some teams follow the ‘five Ds’ approach. These are discovery, definition, design, development, and delivery.

  • Discovery means identifying what needs the market has and how the product will fill those gaps. 

  • Definition refers to the product itself—defining exactly what the product does. 

  • Design means creating the early product, as well as testing the product with real-life users.

  • Development is the process by which you create the final product.

  • Delivery refers to the way you deliver a product to the final customer.

What’s the typical lead time for new product development? 

Timings are unique to individual projects. That’s because some products may be highly complex and take years to produce. While others may be simple and take significantly less time, the more complex and newer the idea, the more time the project is likely to take. 

As a general guide, new products often take at least a year or more to produce. 

What are the benefits of product development?

Having a rigorous product development plan in place can ensure that there’s a true market for your product, that your profit margins are satisfactory, and that you create products that delight the end customer. 

It can also ensure you complete the project on time and within budget.

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