What are the stages of product development?
Product development is fundamental to business 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 — researching, prioritizing, creating — leaving significant gaps and missed opportunities. Forward-thinking organizations include all aspects of taking a concept from ideation through to go-to-market delivery and beyond.
Product development is a meta level of work that requires CEO hyper-focus, exceptional cross-functional team agreement, and hard work.” — Brian de Haaff, Aha! co-founder and CEO, in "Who Should Really Own Product Development?"
It can be tempting to approach product development chronologically. But the reality is that, while there are discrete stages, the actual process may not be linear. Roadmaps will need to be updated as new information is learned, functionality will need to be refined as technical work begins, and the flow will begin anew post-launch as the team analyzes the value of what was delivered.
You may 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.
What is a product development process?
A product development process encompasses all seven stages of taking a concept through to market launch and beyond. This includes everything from identifying a market need to setting internal KPIs and creating go-to-market materials.
Definition of product development stages
The seven stages of product development are presented sequentially here. Although interdependent, you typically cannot start the next stage without completing the prior. However, you may revisit prior stages and make adjustments throughout the product development process. The definitions in the table below capture the essence of each stage — it is up to your product team to color in the details based on your organization, market, product, and customer base.
Define goals and initiatives
Brainstorm and capture promising ideas
Refine ideas based on strategic goals, estimated product value, and team capacity
Share roadmaps and go-to-market plans with stakeholders
Deliver new functionality via agile development
Bring those exciting new capabilities to market
Assess realized product value by tracking customer usage and love
Product development process flowchart
Process visuals are effective in supporting adherence. A visual such as a flowchart is particularly helpful is particularly helpful if you are rolling out a formal product development process for the first time. You can use it as a reference tool and discussion point when discussing organizational and workflow adjustments.
Many product teams create their own product development process flowcharts using templates that they can update to reflect the unique details of their organization and product.
How to optimize the product development process?
Product development practices evolve over time. Whether you are just getting started or 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 may 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:
1. Discuss and agree to process
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 to 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 have set out 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 the process. Just as you strive to continually improve your product, you want to give the same level of care and attention to the process behind it.