The 9 stages of product development (+ tips to optimize the process)

Last updated: May 2024

Product development is fundamental to growth — what you build now represents the future of the business. Developing, launching, and improving new offerings is how companies stay competitive in market and continue to meet evolving customer needs. Product development is also where organizations invest the most resources, regardless of the end user profile or product type.

Despite that level of investment, many companies still take a narrow view of product development. A literal interpretation only covers “active” development work: the researching, prioritizing, and creating. This leaves product development teams with significant gaps and missed opportunities.

How do you know whether what you are prioritizing will create value for your customers and your company? How do you know whether what you delivered actually provided that value? Are you tracking how that value changes over time? Is there a repeatable process the team can follow to success?

Forward-thinking organizations take a disciplined approach to product development. This includes all aspects of bringing a concept from ideation through to go-to-market delivery and beyond. The most sophisticated and innovative companies take it further, offering a defined framework, workflows, and templates for each stage of the product development process.

Bring your product strategy to life with Aha! software. Try it for free.

Whether you are just beginning to learn about product development or are a seasoned product manager looking to optimize your team’s product development practice, this guide has what you need to get started. Use the following links to jump ahead to a specific section:


What is the product development process?

The product development process encompasses all stages of taking a concept to market launch and beyond. This includes everything from identifying a market need and whiteboarding concepts to setting internal KPIs and creating go-to-market materials.

It can be tempting to approach product development chronologically. But the reality is that even though there are discrete stages, the actual process might not be linear. Roadmaps need to be updated as the team learns new information, requirements and user stories should be refined as technical work begins, and the flow begins anew post-launch as the team analyzes the value of what was delivered.

You might go back and forth between stages several times. This is why it is essential that the cross-functional product team working through the product development process has a shared understanding of what each stage entails. The process must be consistent and followed faithfully — one-off approaches are not sustainable.


Definition of product development stages

The nine stages of product development are presented sequentially in the following table. The definitions capture the essence of each stage and include links to related guides for further learning. Although these stages are technically interdependent, you typically cannot start on the next stage without completing the prior one. It is common to revisit past stages and make adjustments throughout the product development process as you learn new information.

You can also jump ahead to the section covering product development process examples to learn about typical activities that occur at the different stages and get how-to tips and templates created especially for product managers.


Every breakthrough product starts with a vision and strategy, so establish a clear path forward and achievable goals. Success in subsequent stages depends on the goals you set upfront and how you decide to measure success.



Centralize customer feedback. Plenty of people within and outside the organization will have an opinion about what you should do next — you need those inputs to deliver the most value.



Brainstorm and refine ideas on a whiteboard. Great ideas will propel the product forward, so harness the power of visual thinking and mock up how new functionality could work.



Prioritize features, estimate value, and manage capacity. Refine ideas further based on goals, estimated product value, and available resources.



Share roadmap views and go-to-market plans. Showcasing the roadmap is more than unveiling new features and a timeline. Product teams can use this phase as an opportunity to answer questions about product direction and solicit feedback.



Deliver new functionality via agile development. Many development teams choose an agile product development methodology to organize and prioritize work items across sprints.



Create a product knowledge base. Gather all of your disparate documents together, then create customized product resources for customers and colleagues.



Bring exciting new capabilities to market. Translate technical functionality into messaging that resonates with your audience.



Assess realized product value by tracking customer use and love. Analyze delivery metrics, monitor ongoing product KPIs, and report on progress over time.


Product development process flowchart

Product development requires input and collaboration across the organization. There is the core product team, which includes product managers, developers, designers, and marketers. Then, there is the broader product team, which typically includes representatives from teams that impact customer acquisition and engagement (such as salespeople, support agents, and partners). And of course, there are the executive sponsors who provide guidance and support.

You also need everyone to understand the different phases of the product development process and to follow your organization's preferred frameworks. When folks are not clear on what the stages are or what activities occur at different points, you could end up with dysfunction and stall-outs.

Process visuals are effective in supporting adherence, and particularly helpful if you are rolling out a formal product development process for the first time. The following graphic shows the nine stages of product development. You can use it as a reference tool and discussion point when talking through organizational and workflow adjustments.

The different stages of product development include strategize, capture, explore, plan, showcase, build, document, launch, and analyze.

You might ask folks to share what activities they feel the organization does extremely well at each stage and what could be improved. This type of lightweight SWOT analysis can be valuable when you are defining the way you want to work. Many product teams also create their own product development workflows using templates that they can update to reflect the unique details of their organization and product.



Example of a product development process

The product development process should be universal. Regardless of the company or product, you should be engaging in each of the nine steps as part of taking an idea from conception through to market introduction — starting with strategy and moving through to ongoing measurement after launch.

What is an example of the product development process in action? Again, there are nine steps: strategize, capture, explore, plan, showcase, build, document, launch, and analyze. Some folks want tangible examples from successful technology companies. You can look for examples of product development processes to see how products are developed at name-brand companies such as Apple, Google, Netflix, or Spotify.

High-performing product-led organizations have one thing in common: They invest in helping teams be productive and deliver value. Typically, these organizations have unique (and even proprietary) frameworks that shape the way they work. But ultimately, they through the same nine stages — albeit in different ways.


What is a product manager’s role in the product development process?

Product managers hold a unique position. You are responsible for guiding the product development process through to a positive outcome for your company and customers. However, you must do so often without explicit authority over those who contribute to that process.

If you are new to product management, are starting as a product manager at a new organization, or simply wish to better understand what is expected of product managers throughout the product development process, this section is for you.

We will go deeper into each phase, outlining responsibilities and typical work items, sharing how-to guides, and adding helpful templates that are sure to benefit you. You can also scroll down for a summary table that you can use for quick reference.

1. Strategize: Establish a clear vision and goals

Most of the foundational strategic work is owned by company leaders in collaboration with a chief product officer, VP of product, and senior product managers. Together, you set the top-level goals and initiatives that will influence the product team's areas of focus.

The strategy phase of product development includes crucial work such as establishing positioning and messaging, conducting market and competitor analysis, and developing user personas that clearly describe specific segments of your target market. This foundation helps bring the customer's voice into everyday decisions.

At a single-product company, product and company goals might be the same. And at organizations with a portfolio of products, each product will have its own goals and initiatives. Product managers are responsible for delivering against the defined product strategy and ensuring that the product team's work tracks back to these top-level goals.

How-to strategy guides for product managers

Strategy templates for product managers

2. Capture: Centralize customer feedback

Putting strategy into action is hard work. Plenty of people within and outside the organization will have an opinion about what you should do next, and these ideas and requests are essential for innovation.

This is why this phase of product development hinges on product managers investing in idea management. It is the product team's responsibility to review and evaluate ideas from customers, colleagues, and partners.

When you centralize customer feedback, you can collect, review, and score requests consistently and transparently. The focus should be on transforming concepts into real solutions that are aligned with business and customer needs.

How-to idea management guides for product managers

Idea management templates for product managers

3. Explore: Brainstorm and refine ideas on a whiteboard

It is now time for conceptual thinking. Using a whiteboard tool to make your thoughts visible is useful at nearly every stage of product development, but is especially important when you are exploring new ideas.

Product managers are responsible for leading brainstorming meetings and ensuring the team stays focused on identifying approaches that are in line with product goals and customer needs. Depending on the size of your organization and team, you might also start sketching out new features or create wireframes to demonstrate how functionality could work.

How-to ideation guides for product managers

Ideation templates for product managers

4. Plan: Prioritize features, estimate value, and manage capacity

After exploring comes refining ideas further based on goals, estimated product value, and your team's capacity. In this stage, product teams shift into detailed roadmap planning led by the product manager. This includes defining the epics, major user stories, and features that fit under each initiative. Keep in mind that your product roadmap is different from your release plans (they detail phases of work, release dates, and dependencies).

A product value scorecard gives you consistent criteria for estimating the value of ideas, refining during feature scoping, and then measuring again after release. Establish a prioritization framework and value metrics that can be used consistently across teams and stages.

After building the roadmap, you need to detail how the tactical work will get done. Collaborating with engineering on how much effort it will take to complete upcoming work is a critical piece of making your roadmap a reality. This is where capacity planning becomes critical. You need to balance your ambitious plans with the resources available to complete the scope of work.

How-to planning guides for product managers

Planning templates for product managers

5. Showcase: Share roadmap views and go-to-market plans

Roadmaps serve as a communication tool for internal and external groups. And getting buy-in and anchoring the team around a shared vision requires everyone to know their role in the product's success.

During a roadmap presentation, the product manager shares roadmap views tailored to the audience. For instance, whereas company leaders will want to understand how major initiatives roll up into company strategy, the customer support team will want to see the benefits of upcoming functionality, guidance on when it will be available, and tips on how to introduce it to customers.

Showcasing the roadmap also involves more than unveiling new features and a timeline. Product teams can use this phase as an opportunity to introduce early go-to-market plans and support team alignment before releasing new functionality.

How-to roadmap presentation guides

Roadmap presentation template

6. Build: Deliver new functionality via agile development

In this stage, the team's focus shifts from planning to building. This is when you bring product and engineering together to deeply review the details of what you have planned, including features and requirements.

The engineering team now owns the development work: estimation, sprint planning, and acceptance criteria. And the product manager validates that the team is building the right thing across every phase of development.

Many development teams choose an agile product development methodology to organize and prioritize work items across sprints. The input of a product manager is still necessary throughout this phase. In fact, some companies' product managers act as product owners on scrum teams.

Regardless of what methodology your company chooses, it is imperative that product managers have a solid understanding of the framework the development team follows.

How-to agile development guides for product managers

Agile development templates for product managers

7. Document: Create a knowledge base

Although you might not be responsible for creating customer-facing materials, cross-functional teams will rely on your product expertise to craft the right messages and content. Leverage all of the product information you have documented throughout the development process to deliver the content resources colleagues and customers need for success.

The advent of AI writing tools is a boon to product managers. You can quickly create documentation, technical instructions, release notes, and other self-help resources using material you already wrote during product planning.

One of the best ways to ensure this product knowledge is accessible and updated is to publish wikis within a knowledge base site. These can be private to internal teams or public for customers.

How-to documentation guides for product managers

Documentation template for product managers

8. Launch: Bring exciting new capabilities to market

Product managers are responsible for coordinating the releases and launches that bring a new product experience to market once it is ready. Regardless of your release cadence, you need to consider all of the cross-functional activities needed to support the release — from marketing and promotions to customer support.

Remember: A product launch is not a single event that gets wrapped up in a day or two. It requires just as much planning as any other stage in the product development process.

Depending on the type or size of the release, launch activities might include making marketing announcements, providing customer-facing or internal training, and more. Consider creating your own launch checklist to align the team around the work that needs to get done.

How-to launch guides for product managers

Launch templates for product managers

9. Analyze: Assess realized product value by tracking customer use and love

Successful launch done. On to the next? Not so fast. Important post-launch work includes analyzing product usage and gathering customer feedback. There are some standard product metrics you might track, but numbers alone cannot tell the whole story.

The metric that Aha! uses to measure realized value is lovability: how much your customers truly love a product and want to tell others about it. You can measure lovability in various ways, including with a simple in-app survey that asks customers to rate their overall satisfaction. Some product teams also use metrics such as net promoter score or customer satisfaction score.

Product managers typically build dashboards to monitor both product usage metrics and customer sentiment. Tracking and reporting on KPIs serves a few purposes. First, you are able to understand whether your assessment of potential value in stage four was accurate. Second, you can share how the product is performing in market with executive stakeholders and teammates. Third, you can take those learnings and improve the way you assess potential value going forward — spotlighting opportunities that might not have been obvious in the last iteration.

How-to product value guides for product managers


Product development process activities and deliverables

The following table outlines some of the most common activities and associated deliverables that a product manager and team complete during the product development process.

Stage of product development




  • Establish a clear vision and goals.

  • Research market opportunity.

  • Complete competitive analysis.

  • Product vision

  • Product goals

  • Product initiatives

  • SWOT analysis

  • Product positioning

  • User personas


  • Centralize customer feedback.

  • Set up a portal for collecting ideas.

  • Define customer segments.

  • Ideas portal

  • Customer segments


  • Brainstorm and refine ideas on a whiteboard.

  • Map out concepts.

  • Design potential user experiences.

  • Product discovery

  • Mockups and wireframes

  • Proof of concept


  • Prioritize features.

  • Estimate value.

  • Manage capacity.

  • User stories

  • Product backlog

  • Release plan


  • Share roadmap views.

  • Preview go-to-market plans.

  • Product roadmap

  • Roadmap presentation

  • Go-to-market strategy


  • Deliver new functionality via agile development.

  • Provide feedback to the engineering team.

  • Estimation

  • Sprint planning

  • Acceptance criteria


  • Create a knowledge base.

  • Write product documentation.

  • Publish self-help resources.

  • Release notes

  • Product wikis

  • Technical materials

  • Support documents

  • Sales enablement


  • Bring exciting new capabilities to market.

  • Launch a marketing campaign.

  • Support organizational readiness.

  • Product messaging

  • Launch announcement

  • Ads

  • Distribution channels


  • Assess realized product value.

  • Track customers' usage and love.

  • Product KPIs

  • Analytics dashboard

  • Customer sentiment scores


How to optimize the product development process

Product development practices evolve over time. Whether you are just getting started or are refining an existing workflow, optimizing your product development process is a vital part of continual improvement.

If your product team follows a specific product development methodology (such as scrum), you might have built-in checkpoints for evaluating the effectiveness of the team’s output. Those do not supplant the need for dedicated optimization efforts to the overall product development process.

The five steps outlined below show a basic flow that product teams can follow to optimize the product development process:

1. Discuss and agree on processes

Refer back to the visual or written documentation your team created. Discuss the details within each stage. Are there any consistent roadblocks? Areas of tension or dysfunction? Work together to find solutions and agree on any updates as a group.

2. Define roles and responsibilities

Product team members should have clarity around their roles in the process. Review roles and responsibilities, especially as related to any speed bumps revealed in step one. Ask for verbal commitments to the duties defined and honor the critical role each group plays in product success.

3. Assess success metrics

Performance is a very real dimension of product success. Do you have the right product goals in place? Is the team aware of how product value will be measured in production and in market?

4. Evaluate tools

Tooling is another dimension to consider. The product development process you define requires cohesion. Is the team using a purpose-built product development tool that allows for tracking at every stage of the process?

5. Incorporate learnings

Reflect on the process after each major release or go-to-market launch. Take what you have revealed through each of the prior steps and see where you can immediately refine your approach. Just as you strive to continually improve your product, you want to give the same level of care and attention to the processes behind it.