What is product development?

Product development is the complete process of delivering a new product or improving an existing one for customers. The customers can be external or internal within a company. And it can support many different types of products from software to hardware, to consumer goods and services.

Product development methodologies are used to build many new offerings. In this article, we are going to focus on its impact on software development for paying customers. It encompasses all stages required to bring a new experience to end users — from ideation and analysis to design, engineering, and testing.

A clear product development process gives companies a way to explore new product ideas and learn what customers want in the early stages of conceptualization. The objective is to ensure that the new or enhanced product satisfies a real customer need and helps the company reach business goals.

How do teams approach product development?

The first stage in any product development process is to identify and analyze the business opportunity — this can be how you serve external customers or build internal products for the organization. Before a concept moves to implementation, you must determine if and how it supports overall business objectives. A feasibility study, for example, can help teams determine whether a concept has the potential to be successful before a full go-to-market investment is made.

Once you have a clear vision for what you want to achieve, the next step in your product development process is to define what will be built. Researching customer needs, prioritizing features, and testing concepts help you narrow in on the key capabilities that will be delivered in a new product or release.

Many product teams create lightweight wireframes, mockups, and prototypes to show what they envision and to capture early feedback. This also ensures that engineering understands exactly what to build and how the functionality should be implemented.

Your product development methodology will guide how you approach the implementation of your product development process. For example, if your organization follows a waterfall approach, you will ideate and define all release requirements upfront. If your organization is agile, your approach to product development will be more incremental.

What are some common early-stage product development frameworks?

There are a number of frameworks that product teams follow to start the product development process. Most approaches advocate understanding customer needs, market research, prototyping, and testing ideas before fully investing in product development.

Determining the best approach for your organization largely depends on your product. For example, hardware products might follow steps differently in the product development process than software solutions. Medical and financial products may require more legal and compliance activities and therefore lengthen the product development process.

The specifics will vary based on what you are actually building, but below are some common early stage product development frameworks.

Design thinking
Design thinking is a framework for design and innovation. It includes cognitive, strategic, and functional processes for developing new concepts. It is central to user and human-centered design. The table below shows the fundamental steps behind design thinking.

Empathize

Understand the user and what their needs are

Define

Frame the problem in user and human-centered ways

Ideate

Gather feedback and create ideas

Prototype

Produce preliminary versions of a product or feature

Test

Determine what works and identify any issues

Front end innovation
Front end innovation represents the beginning stages of the product development process. It should not be confused with the user interface, which is often referred to as the "front end" as well. Front end innovation is used for scoping out the concept of a product and determining whether or not to invest further time and resources. There is not a universally accepted definition or dominant framework but you can see common components below.

Strategic planning

Establish company and product vision

Idea selection and analysis

Conceptualize and understand product feasibility

Product definition

Build a business case and gather requirements

New product development (NPD)
NPD is the process of taking a product from concept to market availability. It can apply to developing a new product as well as improving an established product.

Idea generation

Brainstorm ideas internally and gather ideas externally from customers

Idea screening

Analyze and prioritize ideas

Concept testing

Turn an idea into a defined concept

Market strategy and business analysis

Determine the cost and potential profit

Technical product design and development

Design and develop the product

Market testing

Perform beta testing or a trial run of the product

Commercialization

Complete a comprehensive go-to-market launch and introduce the product to the market

Who manages the product development process?

Product managers are responsible for guiding the success of a product. This starts with setting strategy and building the product roadmap. But product managers also guide a cross-functional team as part of the product development process. This team includes design, engineering, marketing, IT, sales, support, and finance. This kind of cross-functional alignment helps organizations deliver a Complete Product Experience.

While product managers are at the center and oversee the entire product lifecycle, its success is a collaborative effort. Each group of the cross-functional team owns a particular area and also likely has a functional leader who is a part of the process and works closely with the product manager.

Innovation and new products are integral to a company’s continued success. Establishing a defined product development process that works for your organization ensures that you launch products that fulfill customer needs.


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