Product Development Process: A Step-By-Step Approach
Bringing a new product to market is hard. The scary statistic is that 95% of new products fail despite all the time, effort, and resources invested to bring these ideas to life. But that shouldn’t discourage you from trying though, because when you get it right, you can transform your industry and build a business that you can be proud of.
To give yourself the best possible chance of success, one of the things you should focus on is maximizing the product development roadmap so that you launch something that can truly move the needle. In this article, we’re going to run through each phase of product development so that you have everything you need to build the next unicorn product.
Let’s dive in.
The Life Cycle of Product Development (What Is It?)
Before we dive in and discuss the particular phases in product development, let’s take a bird’s eye view of the journey a product goes through. We call this the product life cycle. Regardless of what product you’re building, these stages are quite a common progression that we can use to understand each phase of creating/building a new product.
What are the stages of the Product Life Cycle?
Development. This is the very first phase where you’re still figuring out what the product is going to be. You iterate and test your assumptions as you build until you think that you’ve got something that is ready to take to market.
Introduction. In this phase, you launch the product to the market and try to build enough awareness around it to create demand. This is where promotion and marketing play the biggest role to get it in front of potential/future customers.
Growth. If you get to this stage, it means that you’ve found product-market fit and you have a growing customer base. Now, you focus on scaling your operations, sustaining your marketing, and leveraging economies of scale.
Maturity. A mature product is at the peak of its powers. It has fully saturated the market and has fulfilled its potential. This is when you just strive to maintain the results.
Decline. Everything must come to an end. As Neil Patel aptly notices, “even Coca-Cola will end one day. Maybe not the company, but its main product. This might take 100, 200, or even 1000 years. It’s impossible to predict. But every product reaches the end and concludes its life cycle”.
Your product will also eventually reach this last step in its life cycle. It might become irrelevant due to market changes, new innovations, or a million other things. You have two options:
- you can either retire it and move onto the next one,
- or pivot and come up with product iterations to retain market relevancy and postpone the decline phase.
Now that we have a sense of the long-term journey, let’s zoom in on the very first step – the development of your product.
What Stages Does the Product Development Process Involve?
While there is no single way to work through the product development process, there is a range of different approaches that can be used. It all depends on which one works for your specific business. Here are a few of the popular ones:
The Stage-Gate Model splits the development process into different stages, with a ‘management gate’ acting as a key decision-making process at regular points throughout.
The IDEO process focuses on engaging with the end-user and putting yourself in their shoes as you develop the product.
The Booz, Allen, and Hamilton (BAH) model is a carefully structured process based on management best practice that has been refined over the years.
With some of that background, let’s now look at the most common stages in product development.
It all starts with idea generation. This is where you undertake a systematic search for new ideas and insights that can be transformed into products. In most cases, you need to wade through hundreds of ideas to find the one or two golden ones that actually have potential. According to the McKinsey Data Institute, only 4 in every 7 ideas make it to the development stage, and of those only one is actually successful. This is an art and a science, but here are some of the better methods to help you work through these ideas:
- Problem Analysis is all about empathizing with the customer. Can you dig into the problem that they’re facing and let that drive you towards new ideas? What is the pain point? What does the customer need? Then look for ways to solve that.
- Benefit Structure Analysis refers to when you compare ideas to each other based on the benefits they provide to the end customer. The key is to prioritize which benefits are of most importance and focus on the product ideas that deliver those most effectively.
- A SWOT Analysis is a systematic process where you run through the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a potential new idea. Thinking in each of these different dimensions helps to give you a great sense of how strong the idea actually is.
Research and Idea Screening
Now that you’ve got plenty of good ideas, it’s time to select the most viable option. The best way to do this is to combine internal and external insights to verify whether your idea has legs:
- Conduct surveys with your target market to assess the demand for such a solution.
- Create a landing page for your product to see if it generates any interest.
- Run a PPC campaign to get real data on how your product messaging resonates and to check if there is a real need for what you’re building.
Those are just a few examples of what you can do to get data on whether the product is likely to be successful. This proactive work is crucial so that you don’t waste your time on an idea that is not actually going to make a dent in the marketplace.
Now we get to a very crucial step – testing your idea in a visual format for the first time. Typically, the designers will step in here to create a bare-bones version of your product so that you can convey the product idea in a more tangible way for potential users.
There are two main types of prototypes:
Low-Fidelity Prototypes have simplified visual content, a highly simplified navigation hierarchy, and, usually, a limited interactivity. They can be built really quickly and give a potential user a sense of what the final product is going to look like.
High-Fidelity Prototypes are much more interactive and clickable With realistic visuals, and a fully functional navigation hierarchy. They take more resources and time to create but they are also much closer to what the final product might look and feel like. We discuss these more fully in the next section.
When you use prototyping correctly, you can:
- See how people respond to the product idea in its rough visual shape,
- Collect feedback and implement changes to user flows and functionalities before you create high-fidelity designs (and start the actual coding), and
- Verify your key concepts, modifying your go-to-market strategy if necessary.
The ultimate goal of all of this is to clear your prototypes for high-fidelity designs that come next. And one of the most important parts of this is choosing the right prototyping software. Whatever you choose needs to be able to function right from the early wireframing stage all the way through to launch. We genuinely believe that UXPin’s Merge is the best way to go about this. It allows your designers to design with fully interactive components that are also production-ready, i.e., they are already coded and built by developers. This makes the whole product development process faster and easier. It’s much better than designing from scratch and will enable you to spend more time actually engaging with customers.
This step of the process is where you transform your low-fidelity prototypes into high-fidelity versions – adding in colors, interactions, images, and the like. This is where you seek to differentiate your product visually from any competitors.
Once you have your high-fidelity prototypes, you need to test them with potential users and collect feedback in an iterative manner. With each new iteration, you’re learning more about how your product is received in the marketplace and you can fine-tune how it’s built. Again, you can use a tool like Merge to speed up the design process. Your designers can use the code components your software developers have already coded and apply them to maintain consistency as you grow your product.
Faster iterations mean a much more effective product at the end of the day.
Validation and Testing
The ultimate step before the product market launch is to go through the final validation processes. You should be looking to do a wide range of different usability testing to ensure that your product is working as expected and that it’s ready for launch. This can be remote or in-person and it typically takes the form of user session recordings, live walkthroughs, and more.
In each case, try to give the user as little information as possible and see if they can operate your product intuitively. If they can, then you’re on the right track.
Now you hand off all the designs and specifications to the developers to start building the product. In the industry, this is typically called the developer handoff. The developers take all the insights and knowledge collected during the development process and bring it to life.
The success of this phase depends on the quality of your work before this. But if you’ve worked through things systematically the developers should know exactly what is required and they can get to manifesting your vision.
What’s more, if your designers use UXPin Merge, your developers will be able to simply copy the code from the prototype’s component and paste it directly into their code editors.
Finally, the day has arrived! The final stage is about bringing the product to market. Here you’ll come up with a comprehensive sales and marketing plan to announce your product and get it in front of as many potential customers as you can.
This is not to say that your work is finished though. You should still be monitoring progress, verifying the product’s usage, and refining it until you have everything dialed in to grow a loyal user base. Then you’re off to the races.
Product Development Process Redefined: A New, Faster Approach
Now that we’ve run through the entire product development roadmap, hopefully, you have a sense of what it takes to bring a product to market successfully. One of the key themes that you might have picked up is how easy it is for rifts to develop between designers and developers if you don’t have the right structures and processes in place. In addition, it can take a lot of time if you aren’t moving through the phases of product development efficiently.
Tools like UXPin Merge are invaluable for speeding up the process and helping designers and developers collaborate efficiently. In some cases, you might even be able to skip wireframing altogether and start at the detailed design phase because you can import and use interactive components that are 100% ready. All it takes is some small adjustments to the properties and you have a fully functional prototype without having to start everything from scratch. Why not give it a go?
With the right technology behind you and a systematic step-by-step approach, your product is destined for success. We can’t wait to see what you build!