7 Essential Stages of Product Development
January 3, 2022

7 Essential Stages of Product Development

by Brian de Haaff

What is the difference between product management and product development? Go look for an answer online and tell me what you find. (Seriously, do a quick search.) My guess is that you found a lot of blogs and threads, but one consistent refrain. “Product management is why something gets built and product development is how it gets built.” This sentiment is widespread — even though it is not quite right.

The “why” and the “how” are important aspects of building lovable products — but so are the “who,” the “what,” and the “when.”

Our thinking around what product development entails has evolved over the last few decades as the importance of software and digital experiences surged. The one-step-at-a-time planning and work process that served manufacturing companies evolved to a more iterative approach for IT groups and high-tech companies. There was a massive transformation towards agile practices that began in the early 2000s. And the brand manager of the 1980s who worked in consumer packaged goods companies also evolved to a new title and new role that married business, marketing, and technology — product manager.

I feel fortunate to have been part of this evolution starting in the late 1990s. And I am proud of the contributions that I have made with the team at Aha! — from the early blogs about the concept of a Minimum Lovable Product to formalizing product management training and certification programs. Serving product managers and teams is deeply fulfilling.

Aha! customers come to us seeking to build what customers love and they want to be happy doing it. They might say they want to align against strategy or streamline idea collection or find a better way to prioritize features. But simmering beneath it all is a universal need — an organizational shift towards a holistic approach to product development.

Product development is more than how something gets built. It encompasses everything from capturing a raw concept to understanding why customers love (or do not love) what is delivered. It is the entire process of bringing new ideas to life.

Simple on the surface. Yet going from a glimmer of insight to delivering something useful and important is hardly easy. Which is why it surprises me that most of the current writing about product development still focuses on just the building steps and leaves out the process of thinking, prioritizing, refining, and — ultimately — measuring what is created. For those of us who work in software, the cross-functional teams responsible for building something new and continually refining it are the ones who form the product development cycle. And their collective effort is the engine that drives innovative companies forward.

This is why many of our industry-leading customers are investing in an end-to-end product development discipline that includes dedicated space for creativity, organizing formal product teams, choosing purpose-built tools, and an integrated workflow that is rooted in transparency. We see these folks practicing seven distinct disciplines as part of a multi-stage product development process:

  1. Strategize: Define goals and initiatives

  2. Ideate: Brainstorm and capture promising ideas

  3. Plan: Refine ideas based on strategic goals, estimated product value, and capacity

  4. Showcase: Share roadmaps and go-to-market plans with stakeholders

  5. Build: Deliver new functionality via agile development

  6. Launch: Bring those exciting new capabilities to market

  7. Analyze: Assess realized product value by tracking customer usage and love

stages of product development
Value is created by a highly-functional and aligned team cycling through each stage of the product development engine in a continuous loop. The best are disciplined when choosing what to invest in next.

Our customers are telling us that they are ready for a less literal definition of product development. It is not just about how a plan is implemented. There is hidden depth and limitless creative potential when you commit wholeheartedly to the stages I outlined above. This is the space where teams thrive and ideas come to life.

How do you define product development?

The road to planning and building lovable products starts here. Start a free trial today.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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