Converting an exciting idea into reality can be a significant challenge. In fact, an eye-watering 75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail. For many companies, the product development process seems mysterious and puzzling. But luckily, it doesn't have to be.
Here we're going to discuss product development in detail - from the idea to the product's launch on the market. Critically, it's important to note that we're not discussing the product lifecycle but the product development stages. So, let's get into it.
What's the Product Development Process? And Why It Is Important To Understand the Product Development Stages
In simple words, product development refers to the journey of taking a product to launch - it can also cover renewing an existing product or introducing an old product to a fresh market. And we do this with the product development process. The product development process consists of five primary stages, each with its own sub-stages.
By following these product development steps, we break the work into manageable tasks and can organize and collaborate more effectively with experts from different departments.
When you embark on any new software project, whether the minimum viable product (MVP) of an innovative idea or a revamp of an established high-load service, you will always go through these five stages. The difference between success and failure lies in how you prioritize these stages, prepare for them, and capture the result.
For example, a lack of budget is one of the most commonly cited reasons for shutting down new projects. However, most budget issues arise from poor planning at the beginning of a project. Or in other words, planning is critical to avoiding failure. You can always optimize a project with adequate planning. But if you fail to plan and start creating things in a random order, you'll quickly run into problems and struggle to develop, test, and debug your product in time for the planned launch.
But what are the steps in the new-product development process? Let's take a look.
Stage 1: Discovery
Tools: Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Trends, Sketch, Figma, Mockup
Outputs: product concept, product specifications, approximate budget
In the discovery stage, we determine, formalize, and make an approximate estimation regarding the project. Let's break this down.
Product Idea Research
When it comes to product idea research, The SCAMPER method is excellent for working out an idea. But what is the SCAMPER method? The SCAMPER or technique is a team brainstorming activity used to develop or improve products or services. The term is an acronym for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify/Magnify, Purpose/Put to other use, Eliminate/Minimize and Rearrange/Reverse.
Substitute: What can be replaced? For example, you may want to make changes to components or resources. You may discover that something is unnecessary or doesn't add enough value but can be replaced with something less resource-heavy that still creates an impact.
Combine: What can be combined? Can you combine two different products or their features into a new product?
Adapt: What can be added? Can you add new functions or elements? Can you get ideas from your other products or your competitor's products?
Modify/Magnify: What can be modified? Here your focus is on making changes that will positively impact the presence of your product in the market—for example, the name and design or new features.
Purpose/Put to other use: Could you put the product to a different use? This is about exploring how your features could be used in different ways or appeal to different markets. For example, many smartphone companies also use the charging port for audio output.
Eliminate/Minimize: What can be removed or simplified? Sometimes removing some elements or features can improve your product or open the doors for a new type of product entirely.
Rearrange/Reverse: Could you rearrange or reverse fundamental components of your product? For example, fast-food restaurants flipped the traditional eat then pay model to pay and then eat.
There are also other things you need to pay attention to regarding project ideation. For example, when ironing out the concept of a new product, you need to work through the following issues: target audience; product objectives, KPIs; product value for the target audience, and unique selling proposition (USP).
Equally important, you should work through the following tasks:
Product validation: This involves discussing the idea with someone you know and trust, conducting a survey, and researching the market demand using Google Trends or other tools.
Competitive analysis: Two primary methods here are Strategic Group Analysis (a market research tool that compares the attributes of competing companies and determines how one performs against the other) and Porter's five forces analysis (a model that identifies and analyzes five competitive forces that shape every industry to determine competitive strengths and weaknesses).
Analyze whether the idea is effective and realistic to implement: You can do this by performing a SWOT analysis, a robust framework for analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Determine success criteria for the product: You can do this by using standard KPIs like order value using individual and specific goals relevant to the product.
Product Specification or Wireframe
A specification, commonly referred to as a product spec, contains a product description and outlines key requirements for building the product. It's a critical document for developers and UI/UX designers. It's important to note that the specification does not describe the implementation method. It is up to the developer to find the best solutions.
The most helpful specs come with a wireframe, so it's a good idea to put one whenever possible. A wireframe is the pay layout of the site and details the arrangement of elements: buttons, images, and texts. Wireframes are an excellent addition because they make it clear how the user will interact with the future product.
The output of your specification should be system logic and user mechanics details; all requirements for security, reliability, and documentation; and any materials for the product content.
Project Development Estimation
In this step, you look for a vendor and analyze the estimates they provide (you can read how to find a vendor here. Potential vendors estimate project costs and time frames based on the specifications.
At this stage, look for a vendor and analyze the estimates they provide. Potential vendors estimate the project based on the specifications. The document you get back describes the application development plan in the following easy-to-understand way:
- Scope of work - a brief description of the product structure, specialists needed to implement the product.
- The labor input in hours by specialists.
- The cost of the work.
- Implementation deadlines.
- Risks, including the probability of their occurrence and recommended prevention measures.
Stage 2: Pre-Development Stage
Tools: Google Sheet, Google Doc, Productboard, Moqups, Figma, Jira, Trello, Slack, Google Meets, Google Calendar.
Outputs: formed team, configured development environment, configured team interaction processes, design concept.
To properly execute all pre-development processes, you must provide the vendor with as much information as possible. This means your business presentation, gathered requirements, early prototypes, specifications, competitor information, customer portrait, and any other information you deem valuable.
There are also several sub-stages in the pre-development stage, so let's take a closer look at them.
Forming Your Development Team
You can't develop anything without a development team! Here we'll outline the key players in a development team, but it's worth noting that in small companies, one person might perform several roles.
The product owner is responsible for achieving business goals and positioning and promoting the product in the market. Tasks that fall to the product owner include:
- Defining the product concept.
- Managing the task list (backlog).
- Requirements specification.
- Managing the development status.
- Generating ideas for improving performance.
Each project will have a project manager when an IT company creates new and unique products. And depending on the complexity of the development requirements, a team lead might also be involved. Project managers help with the direct implementation of technical tasks, goal setting, requirements gathering, task distribution, and deadline control.
Not every project needs a team leader, but large-scale projects of high complexity typically do. For example, a project to create SaaS products likely requires a team leader. The team leader is the head of the development team and is responsible for all technical management.
Designer (UI/UX Designer)
The designer develops all of the elements of the system layouts, defining the forms, colors, sizes, fonts, and graphic elements (pictures, banners, logos), which should be present in your product.
Developers (Front-end / Back-end)
These are the coders. While the front-end developers work on the client-oriented elements of the product, the back-end developers take care of its functionality (everything the user can't see but is critical to a working product).
A Quality Assurance or QA engineer tests the product to detect and fix bugs. The idea here is that QA engineers find bugs early so the development team can apply a fix before the user finds them.
A technical writer does the documentation for the development of various programs. These are the people who are supposed to help users master the new technologies and explain how to use the product.
Process and Environment Configuration
This is the setup phase. It includes knowledge transfer from the product owner, sales department, and business analyst to the project development team. Documentation is reviewed as part of the knowledge exchange, and the teams set up the development process.
Then, the project manager and the product owner compile the project backlog. You can read about what the project backlog is and how to compile it correctly here.
Next, the project manager and product owner (and sometimes the team lead) organize the team. They set up the development environment, establish communication links, connect third-party services, determine development methods, and plan the first sprint.
Finally, the design of the product also takes place in this stage. And the QA lead or team (responsible for the project's quality) also prepares the testing documentation.
The goal of the prototyping step is to create an application design that works most effectively for the product's objective. More specifically, the development team will create a design concept (which describes the aesthetics and overall mood of the product), a set of interface components (UI-kit), design layouts, and interactive prototypes.
Stage 3: Development
Tools: Trello, Jira, sketch, mockups, Figma
Outputs: Scrum backlog, test cases, track report, MVP
The development stage is where the actual product is created, tested, and deployed. The development methodology you choose will vary depending on what specific product you're making. For example, you might choose a different development methodology for creating an eCommerce app vs. a SaaS platform, CRM, or ERP.
In project management, there are classical and flexible methodologies (gradual processes vs. short iterations) to choose from. However, it's critical to remember that while all methodologies help us prioritize tasks and minimize losses, they're not a silver bullet. At Active Bridge, we adhere to Agile development methodology and the agile product development process and manage processes according to Scrum framework guidelines. You can read more about Agile here.
In simple words, project creation happens through sequential iterations. We can represent this through an MVP (minimum viable product), MMP (minimum marketable product), MLP (minimum loveable product), MDP (minimum delightful product), and MAP (minimum awesome product). Often, these aren't complete but still represent a workable product that will gradually improve from one iteration to the next.
But what does an iteration look like? Each iteration contains sub-stages, and the work is done in cycles. Sub stages include UI/UX engineering, full-stack development, and testing and deployment. The project manager oversees the iteration process and keeps the team's communication in check while the developers write code and create project documentation. At the same time, the UX/UI designer crafts interface design solutions that solve specific customer problems. And the QA engineer tests the implemented features and, if needed, sends them for debugging.
Stage 4: Release
Tools: Jira, Trello, Slack, GitHub, Heroku, CircleCI, Google Analytics, GSC
Outputs: release automation, backlog grooming, features update, continuous delivery
As part of the release stage, the team will test the MVP, gather reviews, and record all notable changes in the changelog. Then, when pre-launch testing proves the product MVP is ready to go further, it’s moved into production. The release offers the product or its basic version to initial users.
Next, information gathering takes place to improve the functionality and interface and prepare the solution for the subsequent releases or final launch. Finally, all collected information is added to the product backlog for new features to be imagined in future development iterations.
Stage 5: Post-Release (Implementing Changes, Debugging, Launch)
Tools: Jira, Trello, Slack, GitHub, AWS (Heroku), Google Analytics
Outputs: continuous delivery, errors monitoring, implementing changes
And finally, we arrive at the final stage - post-release. After bringing the product to market, it's time to work on its continuous improvement. For example, you need to pursue ways of increasing product quality, performance speed, and efficiency. At the same time, you'll want to explore ways of reaching new audiences and boosting the loyalty of your existing users.
To do this, you need to start planning the next iteration, returning to the very early stages of the product development process. You'll gather new ideas on how to improve your product based on market trends, customer reviews, needs, and tendencies.
At Active Bridge - a web, cloud-based development company with nine years of experience - we follow this development process. As a result, we've successfully implemented over 20 long-term projects across various sectors, including finance, healthcare, education, logistics, and insurance. If you still have questions about the project development process or need in-depth expert advice, contact us using the form below.