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Product Development Process: How To Build a Product That Sells

Paul Hersztowski

Paul Hersztowski

Head of Studio

The product development process is a distance you need to cover to bring your product from idea to market.


No matter if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an established business owner, you need to know how to develop a product. Yes, it is the software developers who take care of technicalities. But the product is not only code.


It’s a whole universe of decisions and challenges and as the product owner, you’ll also be involved in the process. A process that’s never finished if you want to stay ahead of the competition. 


That’s why it’s important to know how product development works and what to expect on the way. This article is an overview of everything you need to know in the beginning.


What Is Product Development Process?


The product development process is a set of steps required to turn an idea into a marketable product. This means a lot more than just creating a tangible asset for your business.


The core of new product development is bringing added value to the market. For this, you need a thorough understanding of your customers, their needs, problems, and of course - competition. That’s why product development process revolves around continuous learning, discovery, and iterating.


Developing a new product is just one phase of the product life cycle. It’s followed by the introduction, growth, maturity, decline, and reinvention phases. Keeping these in mind helps you put the product development process in a wider business context.


As a product owner, you will be involved in all of your new product development stages. Let’s take a look at what you can expect.


6 Stages of Lean Product Development Process


Lean product development is one of the most efficient strategies to build a product. Lean principles were inspired by Allen Ward’s study of Toyota Production System. Some of the most important ones are:


  • Focusing on shipping value fast and often,

  • Reducing waste by identifying and removing bottlenecks,

  • Efficiently managing the product development process,

  • Empowering teams through good communication, cross-functionality, and learning.

  • Here are new product development stages you will encounter in the lean approach.


Here are new product development stages you will encounter in the lean approach.


Step 1. Ideate: Transform inspiration into a concrete concept.

There are many ways to generate ideas for a product. However, even original concepts often draw on the existing ones and their potential for improvement.


One efficient method to use in the ideation phase of product development is SCAMPER. It prompts you to rethink existing products in a way that could add value:


  • Substitute: Can you create a better product by replacing some of the features?

  • Combine: Can you extend the functionality by combining multiple products into one?

  • Adapt: Can you adjust a product to satisfy a new audience?

  • Modify: Can you change the product to optimize it?

  • Purpose: Can you re-purpose the product for new contexts?

  • Eliminate: Can you remove features to make the product faster/cheaper/simpler?

  • Rearrange: Can you change the product by rearranging its elements?


Step 2. Validate: Research the market to avoid working on the wrong thing.

When you settle on the idea, it’s tempting to jump right into building it out. That’s often a recipe for failure. You should first validate whether your new product is feasible, desirable, and viable.


Here are two main ways to do it:


  • Researching your audience (e.g. by creating a survey and inviting your target customers to fill it)

  • Analyzing the competition and market.


To go one step further, you can combine both. For example, talk to your prospective customers about what they like or dislike about your competitors. You’ll be one step ahead of the game.


Step 3. Roadmap: Create a flexible plan with solid milestones.

When you validate your idea through market research, it’s time to start planning. The lean product development process requires you to have a roadmap. This means defining milestones and action steps needed to build the product.


The trick to creating a good roadmap is making it just concrete enough to allow you to move forward. You need to put down major milestones to ensure you have a clear direction.


At the same time, new product development is, to a large extent, an unpredictable journey. Make sure there’s room for flexibility and adjusting the roadmap as you proceed.


Step 4. Prototype: Build the first blueprint for your product.

One of the most important milestones is creating the prototype of your product. Once you have it, the whole product development process shifts.


From now on, you are no longer working with ephemeral concepts. You have a basic version of your new product in place. Now all you need is to focus on building it out and maximizing value.


Remember that the prototype isn’t a final product with fewer functionalities. In lean product development, prototyping means simulating a few core features of the product without the need to develop them yet.


Step 5. Collect feedback: Test with users from the earliest stages of product development.

User feedback is the key driver of product improvements. You should show the prototype to your customers as early as possible.


One of the principles of lean product development is to reduce waste. User testing enables this because people immediately tell you what is and isn’t working. 


Incorporating early feedback allows the development team to focus on the features that create actual value.


Step 6. Iterate & Launch: Bring the new product development process to fruition.

In lean product development, work is shipped in small batches. This means short iteration cycles and frequently verifying product hypotheses before moving on.


Iterating ensures that all decisions made in the product development process are tested. This minimizes the odds of investing in the wrong solutions. Bugs are fixed almost as soon as they appear. Clients are involved in each iteration so you aren’t creating your product in a void.


When the launch time comes, you know you’ve created the best possible solution for your customers.


New Product Development Is a Learning, Not a Building Process


Lean product development is a series of work interactions where people learn about their market, users, their problems, and solutions they could use. When the process is well-managed, the chances for the emergence of a great product becomes much bigger.


For this kind of learning, you need top-notch project management. To ensure that the new product development process runs smoothly, these practices are recommended:


  • Effective communication. Good flow of information between the product owner, customers, and the development team allows you to stay up-to-date with everything.

  • Cross-functional teams. Having teams organized around a product – rather than a single area of knowledge – enables better decision making and efficient use of resources. 

  • Optimized workflow. Aligning the product development process with your specific business needs helps to get the work done not only faster, but smarter.


The Takeaway

Incorporating lean principles into the product development process allows you to organize work around learning, not just building an asset. This is important for a few reasons:


  • It encourages focusing on customer value.

  • It optimizes the development process and helps reduce waste (e.g. prevents working on the wrong feature)

  • It empowers the development team to ship work fast and iterate often.


New product development is challenging. However, lean principles can make this challenge fun and rewarding.

And what better way to stay focused on your business goals than enjoying yourself in the process?

Easter egg ;)