Product development refers to the complete process from producing initial ideas to marketing the product itself. It also covers renewing an existing product and introducing an old product to a new market through identifying market needs, conceptualizing the product, building the product roadmap, launching the product, and collecting feedback.
A product manager is essentially responsible for all of the above; creating both an internal and external product vision as well as leading product development from scratch. This individual defines customer needs, works with stakeholders and teams on creating the required product, and carries responsibility for the overall product success.
Each development project involves unique challenges which require unique solutions making it vital for product managers to be knowledgeable in three main spheres: business, technologies, and user experience.
That being said, there is a lot of work in product development that is not unique and can be reused time and time again to benefit a business successfully with many tasks and sequences of tasks being the same across projects. Product development involves standardization and continuous improvement without destroying creativity.
This article will outline the 5 most critical phases in the product development process. All of which product managers should follow to discover a valuable, usable, and feasible product. It will also suggest further ways to achieve a more streamlined production process that play an essential part in defining, designing, building, testing, and delivering the product.
Phase one: idea generation
The first phase is crucial in guiding the overall process of product development and in laying the foundations for all other phases. It involves brainstorming, fleshing out a concept, and sharing innovative ideas.
A product manager should be actively analyzing current trends and identifying opportunities to develop a new successful product or improve an existing one, by adding necessary features to it. While building something fundamentally ‘new’ can be creatively fulfilling, many of the best ideas are the result of integrating upon an existing product.
For example, although the vacuum cleaner had already been invented by the time James Dyson was on the scene, the Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner, with a centrifugal force that drew dust into a clear canister and allowed for maximum suction, was revolutionary.
It was the newfound capabilities that it provided, which allowed the vacuum to take off as well as it did. The new direction James Dyson took in branching off of an existing product brought the entire company great success, with Dyson’s work being a classic example of how to incorporate timeless innovation in collaboration with new technology.
Phase two: screening
The screening stage is designed to filter out the viable ideas from those originally generated. Discouraging and ultimately eliminating the pursuit of costly unfeasible ideas and unnecessary variation in workloads and work processes, which lead to distractions and delays. Product managers play a crucial role in defining the long-term mission of a project and building a clear, realistic plan to reach the desired result at this stage.
After all, the 2020 Product Management Insights Report demonstrated that the key activity of the majority of product managers (84%) is setting a product strategy, crafting a clear roadmap, and overseeing its completion.
Decisions made throughout the screening phase are greatly affected by external industry factors with analyzing competition, legislation, and changes in technology all having a major influence on the organization’s decision criteria.
Analyzing, testing and researching, and checking to see if someone doesn’t already have a patent on your exact product idea are all crucial to this process as a patent protects an idea for a specific invention for a certain period. If you were to spend the money to manufacture and sell a product without checking for an existing patent, it could lead to expensive conflicts.
Phase three: concept development
Concept development involves the business conducting a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to a potential gap in the existing market.
Undertaking research, finding out potential costs, revenues, and profits arising from the product all come under phase three and this phase is, arguably, the most critical stage of the entire development process. After all, keeping the target audience at the forefront throughout the entire process is crucial.
At this stage, the product manager needs to make sure that all members of a team are working harmoniously to achieve the main goal through clearly communicating the requirements to the development team and organizing the development process in the most efficient yet effective way.
A focus group should have the opportunity to review a sample of the new product, proposed advertisements, and key product features and the thoughts and opinions of this target group should be taken into consideration with high regard, as having customers buy your products or services is the ultimate goal. Obviously.
Truly, the importance of gaining feedback from a substantial and unbiased audience for product validation cannot be stressed enough. Posing questions to the focus group would be an insightful way of determining how likely it is that members are to buy the product.
Phase four: product development
Phase four entails the actual design and building of the product. Product development commences with the building of a prototype, which facilitates market testing. In other words, bringing the product to life by creating an MVP to use as a sample for a successful launch.
The results of testing and prototyping will make it clear whether the idea is to be pursued further, and whether the undertaking of large-scale production will be necessary. However, unfortunately, it is unlikely you’ll produce a finished product in a single attempt - prototyping usually involves experimenting with several versions of your product, slowly eliminating options, and making improvements until you feel satisfied with a final sample.
James Dyson, for instance, is fanatical about product ideation and development, famously working on 5,127 prototypes before launching the first vacuum model (which is patented). In an interview by Fast Company in May 2007, Dyson asserted the importance of failure in one's life:
"I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one.”
This rigorous process not only made the product incredibly hard to copy but also shows in a much broader sense how even one of the greatest engineers of this generation battled failure many times.
Yet, today his work has become inspiring to many, something which is often sought after yet rarely achieved. Although many product developers seek to cultivate a culture of innovation to the grand level of James Dyson’s foundation, many often lose the ability to distance themselves from the financial side of making money from the product(s) which they are selling.
Despite its stressful and, at times, emotionally draining moments, product development should be an enjoyable process that nurtures creativity and encourages the next generation of PMs.
Product managers should be constantly seeking to work on their existing products, testing them, analyzing data, and managing defects. It’s only once the product manager has made the final decision on what the end-product should be like that the entire process can move forward in its development and, ultimately, be launched.
Phase five: commercialization and rollout
The final phase of the new-product development process focuses on commercializing the new product. This phase includes; test marketing, launch, and evaluation.
This final phase is significant in the delivery of the overall project with the market research conducted during the conception stage greatly influencing the timing and location of the product launch. It is common, in many cases, for a product development team to hand over the reins to the marketing team for a product launch with a promotion campaign for the new product being a vital part of getting the product out there and into the world.
Product managers often collaborate with product marketing managers at this stage due to marketing being one of the major contributing factors to a product’s success. Marketing involves researching, observing current industry trends, collecting and analyzing customer feedback, defining pricing, and developing a marketing strategy.
The goal of test marketing is to improve the success of the product launch. The marketer will usually launch the marketing plan to a smaller subset of the market to quickly analyze how the plan can be improved and refined before being launched to the full market.
Test marketing provides a wonderful opportunity to get feedback from buyers in a realistic buying situation in which they experience the full marketing mix - but it’s a challenge to do it right.
- The expertise needed to conduct test markets.
- Challenges when it comes to the duration of testing.
- Selecting the test market.
- Associated expenses of these trials.
Many large organizations employ independent marketing research agencies that specialize in test marketing.
Often companies issue press releases about new products to increase visibility through earned media. The press release can be sent to targeted press outlets, posted on the company website, sent as an information message to customers, and distributed to industry influencers.
The goal of the press strategy is to build broad visibility for the product, backed up by the credibility of the media outlet.
Price discounts and channel partner incentives
Companies will, sometimes, offer a price discount during a product launch, providing potential customers with the incentive to buy the product. If a product is sold at a reasonably discounted price, it is more likely to be spoken of by ‘word of mouth’, and engaging a larger community of people in the long run.
Similarly, if the company depends on a partner to sell or distribute the pricing, it might choose to offer pricing discounts and incentives to the distribution partner. However, a completely new product or concept can carry some risk, and an incentive at launch can encourage channel partners that might be reluctant to sell it aggressively.
Although product evaluation should be a recurring activity that should be undertaken by the product manager throughout the entire process from as early as the idea-screening stage, objective evaluation of the product at every stage leads to better investment decisions and better products.
The difference in this final stage of the process is that the marketer has the benefit of significant market data for the evaluation, which can help improve the marketing plan going forward. It is only at this stage - after the product launch - when the product manager can see which buyers purchase the product, how competitors respond, and, in some cases, how the new product interacts with other internal and competitor products in the marketplace.
The ultimate objective
The ultimate objective of these five critical stages in product development is to provide a way of cultivating, maintaining, and increasing a company’s market share by satisfying consumer demand.
Without a doubt, product managers should be creating or developing products to the best possible quality. Aiming to provide maximum satisfaction to users should go hand-in-hand with this, to achieve a sense of stability in an ever-evolving global market.