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Product development typically refers to all of the stages involved in bringing a product from concept or idea, through market release and beyond. In other words, product development incorporates a product’s entire journey, including:
- Identifying a market need
- Conceptualizing and designing the product
- Building the product roadmap
- Developing a minimum viable product (MVP)
- Releasing the MVP to users
- Iterating based on user feedback
Product Development Does Not Mean Product Management
When you understand product development this way, you can see that it is not synonymous with product management, although many people mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. Indeed, product development does not refer to a single role at all. You should instead view it as more of a broad process or method for bringing products to market which involves many teams across a company, including:
- Product management
- Development (or manufacturing)
- Testing or QA
- Shipping or distribution
How the Roadmap Fits into Product Development
As you begin your product development process—whether you start at the conceptualization stage or by first trying to identify and validate a market need—you will want to have a system in place for prioritizing, summarizing, and capturing your product’s key objectives and major themes.
The ideal tool for this early-stage planning is a product roadmap—preferably one designed to convey your high-level product strategically in a clear and visual way. Why is it important to build your roadmap visually? There are several reasons to do so, but here are the two primary benefits:
1. With a visual product roadmap, you and your team can more easily refer back to the product strategy you agreed on, and quickly reacquaint yourself with those high-level objectives to make sure you’re still on track.
Contrast this visual, easy-to-review roadmap with a typical spreadsheet-based roadmap loaded with features and to-do items arranged in no particular order, and you can understand why dedicated roadmapping software makes all the difference.
2. A visually appealing roadmap can also help a product manager present the product’s strategic goals and plans in a more compelling way to the company’s executives and other key stakeholders.
Earning this buy-in is often a necessary step in securing organizational approval to move ahead with new product development, so it makes sense to give your product roadmap every advantage you can before presenting it to your stakeholders.
What is Agile Product Development?
Agile product development is another term you might hear often. This simply refers to the familiar product development concept we described in the introduction—all steps involved in delivering a product to the market—but including the principles of agile software development, such as rapid iteration based on user feedback.
The benefit of the agile framework is that it allows an organization to shorten the cycle from brainstorming through actually launching a product—because the product team intentionally pushes out versions of the product (starting with its early-stage MVP) much more quickly, and with much fewer updates and improvements in each release. This allows for the team to enlist the feedback of actual users to incrementally make the product better.
A Second (and More Literal) Definition of Product Development
Finally, you might also encounter a far more narrow definition of product development, describing the product’s actual development: This would be the coding stage in the case of software, or manufacturing in the case of a physical product).
When it comes to software, development teams can create and maintain their own product development roadmaps to prioritize, summarize, and communicate their plans to build and ultimately release the product. Below, for example, is a product development roadmap template that your team can use in order to stay on track during the actual development process.