Every product started as an idea. The difference between products that outperform in their market and those that fail before taking off isn’t just luck. The best products rely on solid product development strategies to set them up for success.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What product development is
  • The history of modern product development
  • Why teams need solid product development strategies
  • The core steps in product development
  • And who determines your project’s success

What is product development?

Product development is a term that describes the steps that turn an idea into a product. Essentially, this is the entire life of your product from start to finish. Using solid product development strategies from the beginning helps you avoid complications down the road. Even more, when you decide upon the approach you will use before even coming up with your idea, you can generate ideas that are already more likely to succeed.

Sometimes, even the best ideas can fail, much like how unlikely candidates succeed. Using a tested approach and understanding your market ensures your product will profit. Thanks to years of trial, error, and meticulous documentation, companies don’t need to experience a failure themselves to find a reliable path to success. This is why we have modern product development.

What is the history of product development?

Product development strategies didn’t start with one company. In fact, they evolved from a natural human process. Humans are idea-generating powerhouses. You could say that product development began with the advent of the wheel, agriculture, or the industrial revolution and be equally correct. Ultimately, the date you choose depends on which part of the process you’re looking at. Everything from the initial idea to the physical product is product development, and the process is as old as we are.

Modern product development has its roots in the early 19th century. Industrialization made it possible to mass-produce goods while constantly making the process more efficient. From the early 1900s to the 1950s, the most significant developments involved breaking the production of physical products into smaller tasks to speed up manufacturing. The assembly line is one example of modern product development methods as we use them today.

After that, the 1950s until the 1980s brought about improvements in mass production. This increased worker safety and reduced waste. Now, it’s understood that the health and happiness of your team directly impact your business’s success. but in the earlier days of product development, this was a relatively new idea. Over time, workers’ conditions improved and gave way to more effective processes within companies.

From the 1980s on, technology took hold of the business world. Technology companies applied the same strategies used in the production of material goods, but they needed changes to bring about the same success. For example, it’s easy to see the effects of changes to an assembly line. If you use a different material, you can see that it’s stronger or more delicate. If you change a line of code in your software, however, you need new testing procedures to see its effects.

Since the 1980s, technology has brought about new product development strategies for organizing teams and creating goods. Now, the internet makes these available to anyone with the will to learn and create.

Why do you need a good product development strategy?

A good product management strategy benefits your team throughout the whole product lifecycle. Think of it as using a map when visiting a new place. Thanks to those who drew that map, you can get you to where you want to be and avoid trouble along the way. In product development, you’ll rarely run into a situation that’s exactly like yours. However, you can use what was learned in similar situations to plan for your best outcome.

A well-tested product design strategy reduces the “wandering“ that you do during your product development. This shortens the time it takes to create your product and reduces errors. In addition, these strategies get your team working together from the start instead of picking up one task where another left off. For example, your legal team might work with your development team in the early stages to ensure that their ideas for a product have no obvious compliance issues.

If you think back to the assembly line example, you’ll see some significant differences between this approach and those used with software development teams. Unlike people working on an assembly line, your team won’t handle just one very specialized task. Instead, your team members will each perform multiple tasks instead of one specialized part, and they will learn from the other parts of your company during the process. Frequent interactions with other departments help them understand how the rest of the company contributes and help them work together more harmoniously.

What are the stages of product development?

You can break down product development into five stages. The Interaction Design Foundation defines these as:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

While your team won’t necessarily go through these steps in a linear order, they must include all of them to stay on track. No matter what product development method you choose, they will all cover these steps.

Empathize

You may be reading this article with an idea for your product already in mind. However, even though you see a need, do enough people experience it to make your product profitable? Market research lets you empathize with your customer and find out what they need to solve the problem at hand.

In this case, it’s best to start by surveying them about a problem that you want to solve. First, identify the people that experience this problem and document their opinions. Some use focus groups, others use surveys, but any kind of feedback from your demographic will show you the best path to solving their problem.

Though some other steps in product development do not happen in a linear order, this step must always come first. Without understanding your product’s users and environment, you can’t guarantee its success. So, in this stage, your team will research the people that you’re trying to target, understand their needs, learn about their outlook on the world, and see the details of their current situation.

Define

Finding a problem to solve is only one part of the equation. Next, you have to find out how driven people are to find a solution. Are they willing to pay for a fix, or is it a mild inconvenience at best? Marketing can help people understand the problem and the benefits your solution brings, but it can’t take the place of starting with a well-thought-out approach. If the people with the problem crave an answer, you will have a much easier time designing a successful product.

The best way to define your potential solution is to outline some possible ideas. Think creatively, and don’t worry too much about the details yet. Think of this as a brainstorming session. Rather than saying no to ideas, get everything you can on the board, either by yourself or with your team.

Much like the empathy stage, the defining stage must occur in a linear order, at least for the first time around. If not, your team risks funneling effort into an impractical solution and misusing their resources. The defining stage is where your team breaks down the information collected during the empathy stage and comes to conclusions based on your data. Here, you can create buyer personas and user stories to align the rest of your efforts. The Interaction Design Foundation recommends creating a narrow problem statement at this stage so you can pinpoint exactly what it is you’re trying to do. A finely targeted effort helps your team pinpoint their efforts and stay on track.

Ideate

Now that you have a couple of ideas to work with, you can develop them into concepts for your product. Here, you can be more critical of what’s practical and what might not work one applied to your customers’ situation. Do these ideas solve the issue? What would the potential cost look like? Is there another solution like this on the market?

Start with the wider goals and break them into smaller tasks. If you find out your encountering questions that are too broad to address, break them up even further. For example, you could break up the task of reducing manual data errors to creating a system that automatically tracks inventory without requiring extra data input.

Prototyping

This is the stage where you act on the steps you’ve outlined during the ideation stage. Prototyping creates an early version of your product so you can have a tangible understanding of your idea. Now that you have something that performs the essential functions, you can see how the features interact. New ideas may come up that help you find new opportunities to address your customers’ issues.

This phase will come up several times during the product development process. Each time your team identifies a new idea, you will prototype it and then test it in the following stage. Frequent jumps between the prototyping and testing stages ensure that you’ve found the most effective way of helping your customers.

Testing

The testing stage is one of the essential steps in product development. Here, you take a prototype you developed in the last step and begin using it in the same scenarios as your customers. Testing involves people both within and outside of your team and will continue even after launching your product. Eventually, when your team is satisfied, and your customers provide positive feedback, you will have your finished product.

Tech is constantly changing, so even your “finished product” may not be the final version. New feature releases, software updates, and bug fixes will be a regular part of your processes, and they will give valuable insights into the market. Your team can harness these and create new products based on these ideas.

Who is involved in product development?

Good product development involves your entire team. It may be easy to think of software development as something handled only by your development team, but realistically this isn’t enough. The most successful products involve help from the entire company, starting in the early stages of development.

The method you choose will decide who needs to be on your team. For example, your team will need to bring on a Scrum master if you select the scrum framework. That said, you can find outside experts with skills that complement your team no matter what methodology you choose. Here’s a brief overview of the roles you will find on most product development teams.

Your project manager determines your success

You can think of product managers as extensions of your CEO. A project manager combines your business goals with your technology and gets a big picture view of the overall requirements. Your product manager should posse a wide array of skills to help your project reach its fullest potential. Often, these skills include engineering, sales, leadership, and business development. Larger companies will need more project managers to achieve their goals. Each product manager will oversee their product’s lifecycle from beginning to end.

Smaller teams may bring in outside talent for this part of a project. For example, a fractional Chief Operating Officer, or fractional COO, is essentially a part-time COO with experience from multiple companies. They can guide your team and assist with planning while keeping the project within its outlined budget.

Similarly, a fractional Chief Marketing Officer can guide your team from the empathy stage, so your product stays aligned with its customers and turns a profit. A fractional CMO offers the unique angle of a marketer’s point of view, which can help your marketing team understand exactly how to highlight your product’s best features to your customers.

Conclusion

Approaching product development without a plan is like going on a trip without a map. You may get where you need to be, but it’s much faster and safer with reliable guidance. A team with a well-thought-out product development strategy is already on the road to success.

Now, you understand what product development is, how modern product development methods came about, the benefits and components of a good strategy, and who drives your team to success. Now, you can explore the finer details of product development to get the most out of your ideas. These strategies

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