What Is the Product Development Cycle?
The product development cycle is the process of taking a product from an idea through its market release and beyond. This cycle involves many departments in a company: product managers, developers, designers, QA testers, and others.
What Are the Product Development Cycle Stages?
There is no universal definition of the product development cycle. Businesses disagree about how many stages the cycle includes. Even those who agree on the number of steps disagree about where one ends and the next starts.
Another point of disagreement: Some teams believe the cycle goes only as far as the product launch. Other companies—including ProductPlan—believe the cycle continues beyond the product’s market release and includes improvements to the product over time.
Here is how we define what we view as the seven stages of the product development cycle. You can use these steps as a guide to creating your own product development strategy.
Stage 1: Develop the idea.
This is the brainstorming stage. The product team looks for ways to solve problems for their user personas. During this phase, the team will generate several product ideas.
Stage 2: Validate the idea.
By the end of the first stage, the team will have a long list of product concepts. The goal now is to narrow the list to one product or feature worth pursuing. There are several ways of screening ideas to learn which are the most viable.
For example, the team can weigh each product idea according to a consistent set of criteria. One way to do this is with the weighted scoring feature in ProductPlan’s roadmap app.
The team should also screen its product concepts by speaking with its ideal customer user personas. These are the people likely to buy a product from the company, so their view on the list of ideas should carry weight.
Stage 3: Build a prototype.
For a company that develops software, the engineering team can create a very simple mockup of the application. They could even develop only a wireframe.
If the business manufacturers physical products, the team might want to build a physical prototype and give it to a focus group or small group of customers for their feedback.
Stage 4: Create the messaging.
In parallel with building and sharing the prototype, the product team will be working with the marketing department to create the product’s market strategy. This will include:
- Developing the product’s value proposition
- Creating tools and materials for the sales department
- Building marketing and advertising campaigns
Note: The marketing team can work on the product’s messaging and materials simultaneously as the developers build the prototype or mockup. But the product team should share their focus-group feedback with marketing as soon as possible. For example, they should let marketing know what these early users found most useful about the product.
Stage 5: Build the product.
After gathering focus-group feedback about its prototype or mockup, the team is now ready to build a minimum viable product (MVP).
This does not need to be the full-featured product the team envisioned during its brainstorming session. The team will have time to build out the product. The goal now is to ship an MVP as quickly as possible. The sooner the company puts a working version of its product into users’ hands, the sooner it can receive useful feedback to improve the product.
Stage 6: Release the product.
After developing and testing its MVP, the company is now ready to launch it to the public. The MVP will help the company gain several important insights at once, including:
- The level of market interest (and whether it is higher or lower than the company’s research suggested).
- The types of buyer or user personas signing up for the product (and whether or not these are the people the product team anticipated would show the most interest).
- How real users react to the product (and whether or not this data aligns with the company’s assumptions).
Note: At this point, the marketing team has likely been running a campaign to generate interest. The sales department has probably reached out to prospects to let them know the product will be available soon.
Stage 7: Improve the product.
Finally, the product team will take real-world feedback from its early users to improve the product.
In fact, the team will likely take this user data and repeat several of the stages above. For example, they might return to Stage 5 (build new functionality or fix existing functionality), then move to Stage 6 (release the updated product and analyze user feedback), and then return to Stage 7 (apply that feedback to make the product still better).
This is why we believe the product development cycle does not end once the product first hits the market. Product teams should be continuing to develop their products well after launch.