What is product development? Essential guide for product managers

Last updated: May 2024

Product development is the process of strategizing, brainstorming, planning, building, releasing a product to market, and measuring its success. It involves collaboration among cross-functional teams such as product management, engineering, innovation, marketing, and operations.

Whether you are delivering a brand-new offering or enhancing an existing product, the product development cycle begins long before anything gets built. Traditionally, product development was equated with the build phase of the product lifecycle. Teams following strict waterfall processes defined requirements upfront and implemented them in sequential phases. Most product teams now embrace a more iterative approach based on agile methodologies. They incorporate customer feedback early and often, release work incrementally, and welcome and expect change.

Methodologies aside, today's product development is about much more than "how" a product is built. It also involves the "why," "what," and "when" — encompassing cross-functional work from product management and engineering all the way to product marketing. Your goal is to work together to build, launch, and refine a product that customers love.

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A diagram showing the different stages of the product development lifecycle

In this guide, you will learn the fundamentals of product development.


Who is involved in the product development process?

As a product manager, you guide the product's success. You set product strategy, build the roadmap, and define product features. And you sit at the center of the cross-functional product team: folks from across the organization who contribute to planning, building, and delivering the product. This typically includes representatives from product, engineering, innovation, product marketing, and operations.

If I do my job right, anyone I'm working with believes in the product's value as much as I do and they are doing their best work because of it.

Ahmed El Mehalawy

Aha! Product Leader All-Star

Every organization defines its product development team differently depending on its product, customers, and industry. But the product team is often made up of people actively involved in one or more stages of product development. This team also collaborates with people from other teams that participate in the product's success as well — think customer success, sales, finance, and legal. Everyone in a product-led organization plays an important role in understanding customers and delivering a Complete Product Experience.

A product team typically includes representatives from the following groups:

Product management

Product managers play a crucial role in the product development process, with work spanning from strategic objectives to tactical activities. You set product strategy, define what the product team will deliver and when, and communicate progress against the product roadmap.


Engineers are integral to the product development process. They are responsible for "how" the product is built — collaborating on features and user stories, estimating work, planning sprints, and releasing new functionality.


Innovation teams strategize on new ways to approach problems the business and its customers face. They combine fresh product ideas with market analysis to propel product strategy and avoid stagnation.

Product marketing

Product marketers determine how to share the product's story. They craft positioning and messaging, research the competitive landscape, and create buyer personas. They also manage go-to-market campaigns, build awareness, and increase product usage.


The operations team is charged with organizational performance and progress — aligning budgets and processes across teams. Program and project managers track resource allocation, risks, and bottlenecks while facilitating companywide collaboration.



What are the stages of product development?

Although the details of the product development process will look different at each organization, there are standard stages that nearly all teams cycle through — from setting strategy to analyzing success. You typically complete one stage before moving to the next, but you can refine decisions and solutions throughout the entire process.

These are the nine stages of the product development process:

  1. Strategize: Define goals and initiatives.

  2. Capture: Streamline customer feedback and collect promising ideas.

  3. Explore: Brainstorm and refine ideas on a whiteboard.

  4. Plan: Prioritize ideas based on strategic goals, estimated product value, and team capacity.

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

  6. Build: Deliver new functionality via agile development.

  7. Document: Centralize product knowledge for internal teams and customers.

  8. Launch: Bring those exciting new capabilities to market.

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



What are some common early-stage product development frameworks?

Let's back up for a moment and imagine that your organization is just embarking on the product development process. There are a number of different frameworks that the product team can follow to get started. Most approaches advocate understanding customer needs, market research, prototyping, and testing ideas before fully investing in product development. The specifics will vary based on what you are actually building, but below are some common early-stage product development frameworks you might consider.

Design thinking

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


Understand the user and what their needs are.


Frame the problem in user- and human-centered ways.


Gather feedback and create ideas.


Produce preliminary versions of a product or feature.


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 to scope out a product concept and determine whether or not to invest further time and resources in it. There is no 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

New product development, also shortened to 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.


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


What are product development best practices?

Product development is complex — an introductory guide surely cannot capture all of its intricacies. At a high level, however, there are some best practices to keep in mind as you chart your course:

Product innovation is integral to a company’s continued success. It comes down to creating value — for your customers and for your business. It sounds simple enough, but this is difficult work. An integrated product development suite is vital to staying aligned, tracking work, and transforming ideas from concept to launch.