There is no greater joy than watching users flood into your app, use your product, and start paying for it.
The hard part, I have to admit, is going through that product development process.
Of course, it's not as simple spewing features every other week and asking people to try it out.
You need a product strategy in place, have wireframes built, and mockups designed before you can pass it to the development team.
With the odds stacked against you, how can you ensure your new product development has a process that doesn’t make you just another “me too” product?
Your new product development process should be a conscious decision birthed by the problems your customers have.
After all, you don’t just want to build a product, do you? You want users to find value, start paying for it, and love your product with every fibre of their being.
The key to go from a product idea to generating several happy users isn't just about posting to groups and communities. It's about getting the smaller details right in your product development process. At every phase. Across disciplines.
What is product development process?
We previously discussed what product development is and how it's often misunderstood to be only about the development of the product.
Product development process is all the steps that need to be carried out to bring a new product idea to market.
In reality, the product development process includes the entire lifecycle of the product - from validating the idea to building the product, all the way to its launch.
The product development process requires collaboration between multiple teams and usually involves members from:
- Product management
- Testing or QA
- Launch and distribution
In the early stages of the company, a single person is more likely to wear multiple hats in the different stages of the process.
The 4 steps in new product development process to turn your idea into a product
Product development is a continuous process.
Every time you unearth new learnings about your customer, their needs or their workflow, you need to take a step back and see if things still make sense for your product, and course-correct if needed.
Which is why, your product development process doesn’t stop, nor does it go in sequential steps. You might have to go through multiple, smaller iterations of your product before you can actually launch.
But the good news is, with every iteration you'd have gathered plenty of knowledge about the market and your customers, you'd be in a much better position to scale your product for growth.
Let's jump in and look at all the steps in the product development process.
1. Ideation and Research
Every great product was once just an idea, an itch, a frustration the founder had with the existing status quo.
Whether you are building a product for your new startup or looking to add a new product to an existing lineup, this is the stage where you will have to tread carefully. Because an idea, when it first hits you is at its most vulnerable form. Even the smallest form of critique or negative comment can fizzle it out of existence.
Share your new product idea prematurely to the wrong person and you risk killing a billion-dollar idea. Share it too late and you risk spending too much time on something that wasn’t worth investing in at all.
So, how do you validate your new product idea?
If you are sitting in a large company, you probably already have all the data and research you need to validate your new product idea. But what if you are a small startup with a limited resource?
Your first instinct might be to go and ask your friends, peers, or maybe even strike up a conversation at your local startup event if you’re the social type. But before you even start asking your friends for feedback on your new idea, you need to ask yourself:
- What market are you developing your new product?
- Who is your competitor in the market?
- What is something that you provide either as a standalone feature or as a capability that your competitor doesn’t?
- How does this benefit help your customers?
- Why your customers need this benefit?
Once you have answers to all the above questions, it is time to talk to a set of prospective customers to see if they resonate with the problem you are solving.
The goal with every conversation you have with people is to inch closer to an accurate description of who will want your new product, what their current workflow is, and what their pain points are.
Even if you don’t get it right on the first attempt, by having more conversations with people on how they currently work and understanding their current pain points, you will be able to articulate better.
"We needed to stop building what we thought the market wanted and get back to basics. Instead of writing code, we went out and talked to customers. We spoke with people who used our largest competitor"
~ Hiten Shah, Founder UseFYI
With this information at hand, you should now be able to strategically plan what to build for your product.
2. Strategic Planning
Most teams have a plan as a roadmap either on a paper, notebook or in a project management tool.
But there’s a lot that goes before a feature gets added into the roadmap.
At this phase, most of us spend time thinking about what to build than thinking about why we should be building certain capabilities. When we focus on why we're building our product, our thought process naturally shifts its focus on the end users and their pain points.
Adding a bunch of features to a roadmap is the easy part. But the hard part is making sure the right set of features are added and prioritizing which ones to build first.
After all, there is always more to build than there are people to build them.
Depending on what market you are building your new product for, the number of features you need to build will vary. For example, if you are building a CRM tool, there are plenty of basic functionalities you will have to build to call yourself a CRM tool, followed by the functionality that differentiates you from the competition.
The key to a great roadmap is to have a balance between features that you need right now and the features you want in the future.
Because if you don’t build the obvious features that you need right now, your customers will leave due to lack of features. And if you aren’t building features for the medium or the long term, you risk losing your customers due to lack of differentiation.
As hard as it is to nail differentiators, it doesn’t have to be a separate feature by itself. Differentiators can be baked into the experience, say, by making the product easier and faster to use.
Prioritize your features with Zepel's drag-and-drop cards, assign owners for who is responsible for ensuring the feature meets the quality standards, and set deadline to ensure you ship on time.
3. Development and Testing
Before you even bring in your team, it is important to know what the feature should do.
You know you need to bring in your designer, build wireframes, and pass the design for your team to build it. Even after your development team has built it, you know there will be iterations on the feature that will take the feature back to the design team. Even after a feature is passed to the QA team, it still comes back to the development team for bugs that need to get fixed.
Yet most teams mistake this step in the process by assuming product development to be linear. This non-linear aspect to product development process makes it harder to collaborate, predict, and become efficient. It's why issue trackers and generic project management tools often fail.
It is easy to want to start building the feature once it’s prioritized. But when we take a moment to jot all the capabilities we want the feature to perform, it gives the chance to come back and break the feature down and build it in phases.
That way, we get to ship features faster, get feedback from users, and iterate better.
Product development is a non-linear process with plenty of back-and-forths happening across and within teams.
Knowing which tasks need to get done and which ones are still in the burner is a step-up from completely sitting in the dark. But when you are running behind and need to course-correct to ship a useable feature on time, knowing what’s “not done yet” is hardly sufficient.
You need to know the progress of the feature from the perspective of every team involved.
After all, knowing that Martin hasn’t shipped out that feature yet isn’t half as useful as realizing that it is functionality complete and currently going through final touches by the front-end team who are waiting for an update from the design team.
With an initial version of your product ready, you should now be able to show your product to a small group of target audience and ask for feedback.
Talking about your product in communities such as on Facebook Groups, Slack communities, Reddit, and BetaList is a great way to get a quick influx of users into your product and get their feedback.
4. Launch and Commercialization
A well-planned launch can be powerful. It lets you get in front of an audience, helps get your product adopted, and ultimately bring customers.
With all the answers for the questions in the first step and feedback from your early users, you should now have enough information to position yourself that resonates with your target audience and attract them during your product launch.
But your work isn't nearly half done once you've launched.
Think about the time you used a software and ran into an issue… You found it online, enjoyed using it because it solved a pain point you had. But there was that one pesky issue that kept getting in your way. You report it to the team, but after a few months, it’s still there nagging and disrupting your development workflow.
What do you do?
As a product manager you need to keep track of your users, see how they are using, measure the success of your features, get feedback, and tie it all back into the product.
Customer feedback comes with multiple motivations. From feature requests to enhancements or more serious issues that disrupt their workflow. The key is to be able to capture all feedback into your project management tool, so you can prioritize them and keep your users happy.
By using an in-app chat tool or adding a feedback button within your app, you can quickly gather and prioritize user feedback. This can serve as a good fodder to keep engaged users happy and likely make them want to start paying.
The difference between good products and great products can be seen at how fast they build, gather feedback from their users after launch, and tie it back into the product.
After all, you wouldn’t want to lose one of your engaged and paying users because you didn’t incorporate their feedback.
Your new product development process is never "done".
It is a continuous loop that goes through multiple iterations that will help you not just ship features on time, but also build bug-free, useful features that gets adopted.
Because when you build products that is glitch-free, useful, and has user feedback baked into it, users don't just return to your product due to notifications and alerts. They come back to your product because they want to.