The product development process is comprised of seven phases:
- Determining the product's future
The first four steps in the process are pre-launch whereas the final three take place during and after launch. This article will walk you through each of the phases to help you become better oriented with the product development process, identify the stage your product is currently in, and help you plan subsequent stages.
Conception is the first phase of the product development process. While the conception phase certainly entails getting a team together to work on a product, the most important activity during the conception phase is deciding on what exactly it is that we want to build. In order to do so, we usually focus our efforts on two tasks:
- Collecting user problems;
- Brainstorming solutions to the collected problems
Most of the ideas during the conception phase — for both the tasks above — usually come from within the team.
The planning phase entails the following:
- Organizing customer interviews and conducting market research to verify that the problem we conceived of is real and urgent;
- Looking at the business case for the brainstormed solutions to figure out the viability of the business models that can arise from them;
- Creating a roadmap of what we're going to make, how long each of the features may take to develop, and the future times at which each of those features should be ready to test and ready to ship.
Having made our roadmap and jotted down the list of features during the planning phase, we now move on to the third phase — development. During this phase, we work closely with the development team to bring our ideas to life in the form of a minimum viable product, or MVP, which can then be used to gather customer feedback on our solution. This step entails the following:
- Crafting user stories that express and validate the need for each of the items on our specification sheet;
- Finessing the product specifications and timelines with inputs from the development team to ensure that everything that we have planned is feasible given the resources at our disposal.
It is really important to carve out adequate time to work on each of these tasks because we have to stick to the plan until we start receiving user feedback on our MVP; changing the development plan mid-way is usually counterproductive and can lead to prolonged periods of blind development — periods during which actionable insights from the field are few and far between.
Having developed the MVP, we take it out to our target customer group and gather feedback. If you've ever tried a product alpha or beta, you've been exposed to products in their iteration phase. The activities undertaken during this phase are:
- Crystallizing the key metrics;
- Gathering feedback from users — this is a crucial part of the process. Successful companies such as Fullstory and UserTesting have sprung up to make the feedback gathering process easier;
- Testing the assumptions made during the brainstorming process — having gathered data using tools similar to the ones mentioned earlier, we can test the assumptions we made during the brainstorming process and revise them for subsequent iterations.
Once we are satisfied with the state of the product following various iterations and extensive testing, we can move on to planning its public launch.
The launch process involves the following:
- Working with the various teams — marketing, sales, PR, legal — to best position the product for public launch;
- Being receptive to early feedback and prioritizing the feedback received to optimize subsequent steps in the product development cycle.
This is the phase of the product that immediately follows the public launch of the product. During this phase, we have to use all the feedback we have gathered to determine the future trajectory of product development — maintaining the current state or iterating through more versions of the product. If we come to the conclusion that the product requires more iterations, we have to:
- Reevaluate the importance of the key metrics we decided on during the iteration phase;
- Make changes to the product so as to optimize for the key metrics;
- Devise ways to maximize the return on the capital invested to develop the product.
If we are maintaining the steady-state, then we have to:
- Ensure our marketing team continues to market the product to the right audience and the sales team continues to get in touch with the customers who are most likely to sign up for our services;
- Determine the future of the product.
Having reached a steady-state in the development of the product, we have to determine whether to continue servicing the product. This question can be answered by thinking of the following questions:
- Is our product competitive enough with the rest of the competition?
- How much money are we spending to keep the product up and running? Is the return on investment satisfactory? Can we find more efficient ways to deploy the capital?
- Does the product fit in with our company vision?
Your answers to each of these questions can determine whether you want to continue supporting the product in the near future. If not, you should start thinking about your “sunset strategy” — messaging current users, allowing them to retrieve their data, etc.
These are the seven stages any product eventually goes through. The best product managers are able to master and shepherd products through these seven stages. Hopefully, now you will be able to identify and understand what needs to be done at each of these seven stages.