GUIDE 2022

What is a Product Development Method?

Have you ever wondered how a product you love to use came into existence? What phases of development must it have gone through for you to take benefit from? The answer to these questions lies in the product development method.

Product development is a journey that involves many technical challenges. Product development methods streamline the entire process from ideation to a successful product launch. These methods govern the software development processes for delivering high-quality products and are now used by other industries for developing physical products.

This article thoroughly explores the product development method’s benefits, stages, and approaches.

 

What is Product Development?

Product development is a process of executing a product idea from conception to realization with structure and careful planning. It provides a framework for performing the entire set of activities involved in the development process with effective cross-team collaboration.

Product development is considered the first stage of a product life cycle. The product development process continues throughout the other stages of the product life cycle, catering to iterations of the user feedback and implementation loop until a product matures.

Companies utilize various approaches, whether getting into new product development or renewing existing products. Depending on the industry, product type, and other factors, product development approaches vary. The overall purpose of the development method is to provide a systematic delivery of the final product.

 

Why Do You Need a Product Development Method?

The product development method helps businesses avoid product pitfalls and offers the following benefits.

Improved Clarity

Product development methods introduce clarity into the project by defining the scope. These methods provide a product roadmap for all operations, objectives setting, ownership assignment, decision-making guidance, and task tracking to stick to the timelines.

Better Knowledge Transfer

Documentation is a crucial part of the knowledge-sharing product development process. The development method helps determine the documentation strategy that fits your chosen development process.

Teams can better transfer knowledge internally and externally, whether documenting is done at each stage before moving to the next step (waterfall method) or leaving it till the end of the final stage (agile methods).

Effective Team Collaboration

Product development suffers significantly without team collaboration. Aligned teams on a project are essential for systematic onboarding, task delivery, tracking, and smooth project completion.

ROI-FOCUSED Resource Management

The product development process directs your attention to high-value tasks and incorporates the automation of low-value activities. Thus, businesses can optimize resource utilization with reduced costs & time. Time-bound targets and tracking improve productivity & efficiency, maximizing the return on investment.

Reduced time-to-market

This method provides a step-by-step process to follow through in delivering a final product so that you don’t miss anything. It ensures the achievement of the set targets on time.

 

6 Stages of the Product Development Process

Approaches to product development might vary but consist of the following six stages to reach a successful product launch.

1. Idea Generation

Every physical or digital product starts as an idea. Thus, the product development process begins with ideation. It is a brainstorming stage with a focus on generating product ideas. Anything can inspire an idea, but not all ideas are viable to realize. Therefore, the analysis of ideas takes place from various angles to see which ones survive the initial screening.

For screening, businesses need to be aware of the product’s target market, their existing product suite, and their knowledge of the competitive landscape. Companies conduct a SWOT analysis at this stage to identify the product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

While you may not have a clearly defined product roadmap at this stage, first evaluating your idea can help refine it. Ask questions like, is your product unique enough to capture the market share? What functionality would you offer in your product? What user experience are you aiming to deliver? These questions would help you identify a market need and lead to a polished product concept.

2. Product Definition

Once you have a good idea of the product, functionality, and target market, defining the product is the next step. It is also referred to as the concept development stage, focusing on the scope of the product development process.

At this stage, business analysis happens. The team begins to define the product roadmap. Performing competitive analysis, mapping out the distribution strategy, and establishing the value proposition based on market research are some of the activities carried out in this phase.

Gaining clarity over marketing strategy and KPIs to evaluate and measure success at the time of product launch is also one of the main activities performed while defining a product.

3. Prototyping

During the prototyping phase, the business plan becomes more detailed, along with documentation of the product development plan. Based on feasibility, risk, and competitive analysis conducted at this point, the creation of an early-stage prototype can begin.

The prototyping stage ends with a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is the primary product with the core functionality to operate. Building an MVP provides initial feedback on how the users will interact with your product. Instead of making assumptions, you can understand how your product would appeal to prospective customers with an MVP.

4. Designing

Based on the MVP prototype, the creation of the designs for the product mockup begins considering the target audience and analysis conducted at the earlier stages of this process. A successful product design involves sourcing, initial feedback, communication with the stakeholders, and several design iterations to reach a desired final product. Once revisions are complete, a product goes into the validation and testing phase.

5. Validation and Testing

Validation and testing are crucial to the product development stage, ensuring your developed product reflects the product concept and works as intended. Testing of the product functionality and often beta testers are a part of the process for quality assurance.

Once the product is fit for launch, the marketing team can test the marketing plan before the consumer launch. It involves checking if the marketing campaigns are ready for the final launch.

6. Commercialization

With all the planning and execution of the stages involved in the product development process, a product gets ready for rollout. With all the development, validation, quality assurance, and marketing efforts, a team attains confidence in its product at this stage. For a successful launch, marketing materials go out, and your product goes live for potential customers to try.

 

What Does a Product Development Team Look Like?

A product development team includes various stakeholders relating to the different segments of the business. Product managers perform a vital role in the product development process. They overlook the entire product development process. Other stakeholders include the following;

  • Senior Management partakes in the development process for making critical decisions such as project approval, product launch approval, resource investment, etc.
  • Project Management tracks progress, oversees the timely delivery of the project within budget, helps in cross-functional team coordination, and manages resources.
  • Product Management is responsible for creating the product roadmap, following through all the stages of the development process, and delivering product releases. The project manager ensures the process bridges any identified gaps in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Design team is involved in the prototyping phase and provides support in the product design. They are responsible for translating brand guidelines and user experience into the final product.
  • Development/ Engineering team builds the product and functionality and is responsible for product integration.
  • Marketing team works on the product marketing strategy and takes care of the product launch plan activities. They conduct market research, devise buyer personas, and create awareness with product messaging.
  • Sales team collaborates with the product managers to devise a sales strategy and execute the same upon launch, along with measuring success metrics.

 

Different Product Development Methods Used in the Tech Industry

Following are the standard methodologies used to build products. While these methods are rooted in software development, other industries also use them to build physical products.

Waterfall

As the name suggests, a waterfall is like a continuous stream of activities, one following the other, known as the linear product development method. Based on a sequential approach to finalizing a project, the waterfall method works best with projects having a fixed scope and timelines with little room for change. Usually, the project requirements are clear and defined at the start of the development process.

Agile

Unlike the waterfall method, agile takes on a relatively flexible approach to product development. It encourages iterations and change in the form of sprints. The agile approach leads to improved product versions with faster internal and external feedback incorporation. Agile thrives in the organization with a collaborative culture, a change adaption attitude, and user-focused product delivery.

The agile method takes on other shapes as follows:

    • Scrum
      Scrum is a sprint-based development process. Sprints are target-specific time-bound short periods of performing assigned tasks. The outcomes of each sprint are reported and analyzed from starting a new sprint. Scrum is centered on team interactions and meetings for planning and executing each sprint.
    • Kanban
      Kanban is a method that visualizes the tasks assigned to different teams and their tracking. A kanban board can execute the development process, and it prevents workflow bottlenecks, and helps manage the workload on different teams at a given time.
    • Lean
      Lean is unique in its development approach, focusing on customer value. It counters the development challenges such as a lack of focus on customer needs, high costs, long product development cycles, etc. It allows companies to use the minimum viable product to strategize a value-driven product life cycle.

Hybrid

The hybrid methodology is a combination of agile and waterfall methods. It is a relatively new product development process. This method is best for both long-term and short-term projects of varying complexity. The linear phases of the waterfall method break down into sprints. Each sprint directs the next sprint, and teams can work simultaneously on different stages. The hybrid method calls for thorough planning in balance with iterations.

It’s impending to face unique and complex challenges in the product development process. By following the step-by-step process, businesses can minimize the bottlenecks and smoothen their product launches.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.