As cool as it would be to open a magic room and have an exciting new product waiting for you, reality just doesn’t work that way.
Developing a successful product takes effective planning, research, lots of work, probably some arguments, and learning from your inevitable wrong turns. And, just like your agency doesn’t jump into projects without a plan, you can’t develop new products without a process (well, you can, but it won’t be pretty).
If you have an idea for a new product, or your last product development initiative was a painful, rocky road, now’s the time to develop a comprehensive, well-thought-out development process. Breaking it down into smaller chunks makes your product development cycle move faster and experience fewer hiccups.
A brief overview of the product development process
So, what is a product development process? It’s a multi-step approach agencies use to turn an idea into a marketable product. Think of it as a product roadmap to guide your way. Stakeholders, milestones, and specific assigned actions with measurable outcomes make up the basis of the process.
A product development process is important for several reasons:
It shows the product development team what they should be doing and when.
It keeps everyone aligned and on the same page throughout the process.
It minimizes the risk of product failure due to important data and research falling through the cracks.
It gives you valuable metrics to measure your team’s performance so you can continuously improve it.
Designing and following a successful product development process guides team members so they can create a market-ready finished product within the deadline.
Note that product development is NOT the same as product management. Product management is the methodology an organization uses to oversee the process of building a product, whereas product development is the process of actually building the product.
Step-by-step guide for every stage of the product development process
While the specifics will vary depending on the type of product and industry, you can set yourself up for success by aligning your approach with the eight stages of the product development process:
1. Idea generation
This step is where you come up with a new product concept. It’s the stage where you spark your creativity and identify opportunities in the market. Some of the ways marketing teams use ideation to pinpoint the “next big thing” are:
Brainstorming: Using their knowledge and creativity, team members can spitball brand-new product ideas or think up ways to upgrade and refine an existing product.
Conducting market research: What are the industry trends? Are your main competitors offering products and services you aren’t?
Examining customer feedback: Digging into customer needs and pain points is a great way to see gaps in what you offer.
Apple noticed a decrease in the demand for headphones. Their marketing team thought wireless headphones would fit with the current trend. They researched Bluetooth technology and gathered user feedback to measure interest. After accounting for potential issues, like easily losing wireless headphones (now known as earbuds), the company created AirPods and claimed a large market share.
2. Idea evaluation
Once you have a list of ideas, you’re still in the early stage of your product development process. Now it’s time to perform idea screening to see which ones have the most viability. During this stage, consider market demand, technical feasibility, and financial sense.
In the late 2000s, Dyson brainstormed new ideas for traditional fans. The current product presented safety issues and was hard to clean. Their idea hinged on creating a bladeless fan that drew air into a base and pushed it out through a hoop.
They used surveys, focus groups, and product reviews to determine if their idea was feasible for the market and found a high demand for a quieter, safer, and cleaner option than traditional fans.
3. Concept development
“Building a great product is a creative, chaotic process which you won’t get right every time, so you have to also be learning from success and failure.”
~ Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix
This is the stage of the product development strategy where, once you’ve selected an idea, you’ll develop it into a more concrete concept by:
Defining the product's features
Detailing its benefits
Pinpointing its target market
Concept development and testing requires collaboration with engineering, design, and marketing.
Tesla designed the Model 3 when they saw a market need for a premium electric car with affordable pricing. During the concept development stage, marketing touted features like its extended battery range, autonomous driving capabilities, and sleek, minimalist interior design. The Tesla Model 3 embodied what was missing in the market, which was an environmentally conscious, high-quality, cost-effective electric vehicle.
A prototype is a working model that offers stakeholders a more finite concept of the product. Prototypes also help test functionality, proactively identify design flaws, and get feedback from potential customers.
Having a product prototype makes it easier to conduct the next stage of the new product development process and reduces the risk of launching a flawed product or one that doesn’t resonate with the target audience.
Fender Music creates instruments for everyone from amateur musicians to professional rock stars, and they were looking for a faster, more affordable way to test out new concepts and designs. They found that 3D printing allowed them to design, build, and test new parts and products in just hours — for a fraction of the price of traditional prototyping.
Once you have a prototype, run it through concept development and testing exercises. This step offers validation that the product meets your requirements and offers a value proposition to your target customers. It can also help you identify any potential issues or drawbacks so you can work out those problems before production and launch.
LEGO strongly believes in using prototypes to test new product ideas. The toy company invites children to “playtest” sessions with its prototypes, where designers observe how kids interact with the product.
Does it engage them? Do they enjoy themselves? Are there parts of the product design that they don’t seem to like? This experience gives designers valuable input on edits and revisions the prototype needs to make the best final product possible.
Once you test and approve the product, producing it is the next step. During this stage, you’ll need to:
Manufacture the product: Find reliable suppliers that can produce enough of a quality product while adhering to your timeline.
Keep a close eye on quality control: Test and inspect the product at various stages to maintain your high standards.
Scale production to meet the anticipated demand: Watch market trends and sales forecasts and adapt your production volume to meet projected demand.
Prepare your distribution channels: Communicate with everyone in your distribution path so they have the information and resources to handle the upcoming product launch.
Once Fitbit tested and approved their fitness tracker prototypes, they kicked off the production phase by collaborating with manufacturers to mass-produce them. They rigorously tested the products to ensure they were delivering data accuracy, durability, and the proper design. Then they worked closely with distributors and retailers to adjust production to match market demands.
It’s showtime! After countless hours of planning, testing, and numerous iterations, your product is ready for commercialization. Making the product available to customers is where you’ll start seeing the reward for your efforts. Ensure a successful launch and receptive market entry by:
Developing a marketing strategy: Identify your messaging, audience, and your product’s selling points. Also, nail down the promotional campaigns you’ll use, like social media announcements, influencer collaborations, and traditional advertising channels.
Develop a sales strategy: Build a robust sales team or embrace product-led growth. Set pricing, create introductory offers, and thoroughly train your teams on the product.
Make sure the product is available through the right channels: Whether you’re distributing your product through physical or online retailers, selling it directly, or a mix of all three, aim to use the quickest, smoothest paths to your customer.
When Spotify launched in the U.S., they struck up partnerships with popular brands, celebrities, and influencers to generate buzz around their arrival and create a sense of exclusivity.
The marketing team promoted the company’s huge music library and unique playlist features to set them apart from their U.S. competition. They also partnered with Facebook to let users share playlists and songs across the platform (which sharply increased user adoption).
8. Post-launch support
The real work often begins once the new product’s fanfare dies away. You’ll need to provide post-launch support for your customers, which looks different depending on your product and industry.
For example, you may need to offer technical support to instruct them on how to use your product (this one’s common with software development). Or you might need your design department to jump in and fix bugs that show up from large-scale use. You may even need to add new features to make your product even better and more marketable.
Stellar post-launch support helps keep your current customers happy (and more likely to make referrals) and increases your brand’s credibility.
Microsoft offers extensive post-launch support after launching every version of its operating system. They do regular security updates, add patches to quickly fix bugs, and sometimes they do updates based on user feedback.
Microsoft listens to its users through online forums, help centers, and customer service hotlines. Their strong post-launch support is one of the big reasons the company retains such a large loyal customer base.
Manage your product launch with Teamwork.com
As with most goals worth reaching, successful product development is less about the “magic pill” and more about rolling up your sleeves and doing the required work. By using this eight-step process, you’ll be better equipped to create, plan, execute, and launch a product that meets a market need and addresses a valid pain point for your customers.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur leading a startup or a seasoned veteran managing an established agency, Teamwork.com has you covered when it comes to your product development process. Our product launch plan template gives you everything you need to improve stakeholder collaboration, keep everyone in the loop, track progress, and hit milestones.