What does it take to turn an idea into a product?
Inspiration. Hard work. A dedicated team.
All those things are important.
But if you want to consistently churn out reliable products that you’re customers will buy, you need a proven process.
In this post, we’ll show you an 8-step new product development process you can model in your organization.
But before you see the process, let’s define it.
What Is the Product Development Process?
The product development process is a collection of steps required to transform a concept into a viable good or service for your customers.
A product manager usually drives this process from a big picture, strategic point of view.
They’re responsible for conducting research to understand what customers really want, develop a roadmap for building and promoting the product, and analyzing the feedback they receive after launch.
Of course, product development isn’t a one-person show.
Most of the departments in your organization will be involved in the product development process, including design, marketing, sales, finance, IT and the product manager is responsible for communicating the plans to each of them.
They all play a role in one way or another throughout the product development process.
Improve Your Process with These 6 New Product Development Steps
1. Brainstorm Ideas
Developing new products means you have to spill all your ideas on the table and start sorting the viable from the unfeasible.
There are many ways to brainstorm ideas but a recommended favorite is Fuzzy Front-End (FFE).
It’s an informal ideation process that encourages everyone in your team to pitch every idea they have for solutions that solve customers’ problems.
The reason it’s called “fuzzy” is because this process takes place before any serious development begins.
The lack of structure or defined direction allows some of the strangest ideas to come out, but also some of the best. However, most ideas pitched during a FEE session will never become products. But it will generate enough ideas that you can play with, combine, rip apart, and start again.
Part of the Product Development & Management Association (PDMA) Toolbook for New Product Development lays out the 5 elements of FFE in no particular order:
- Opportunity Identification - You identify opportunities that are worthwhile to pursue.
- Opportunity Analysis - You assess opportunities to confirm those worth pursuing.
- Idea generation and enrichment - You take your chosen opportunities and move them through the stages of birth, development, and maturation into a concrete idea.
- Idea Selection - You further widdle down options and proceed with ideas that achieve the most business value.
- Concept Definition - You make a compelling case for investment in the product initiative using both qualitative and quantitative information, which your executives use to make a determination.
2. Research and Screen Ideas
Once you have a clear and compelling product idea, you’re going to be inspired by the potential it holds for your customers and business. But you shouldn’t rush to production just yet.
You need to validate your idea first.
Validating a product idea ensures you don’t waste time developing something your customers don’t want and your business can’t afford.
There are several ways to validate your product idea:
- On a small scale, you can pitch your idea to family and friends
- Then you can gauge interest by sending out surveys to existing customers or non-customers in your audience to get feedback.
- You can start a crowdfunding campaign and raise revenue while validating your product idea (because people won’t donate unless they like it).
- Asking for feedback on industry specific forums or subreddits will give you many insights into your prospects.
- Research demand for your product idea through Google Trends and keyword searching.
- You can even set up a squeeze page that sells the idea and encourages people to sign up to your email list if they’re interested. The bonus is that you now have a list of hungry buyers to promote the product to when it launches.
You’ll inevitably encounter the products of competitors through this process, and this is a good thing. Conducting a competitor analysis, especially on products close to the ones you’re developing, will reveal unique features and benefits you can build into your product that your competitors didn't.
3. Test Concepts
To move your validated idea forward in the product development process, you need to create a testable concept.
A product concept is a much more detailed version of the new product idea. And instead of developing one concept, you want to create several so you can discover just the right one for your customers.
If your product idea was an ultra-comfortable office chair, your product concepts may be:
- An affordable and smaller chair for students or small businesspeople.
- A mid-priced chair with extra padding that may be a bit bigger, perhaps made from more expensive material like leather, perfect for at-home professionals or a corporate office.
- An expensive, plush chair with the right back and arm support that is striking to look at and supremely comfortable.
You’ll take these concepts and display them to various groups of target consumers either symbolically, through illustration, or physically, through a prototype. Which is why there may be overlap between this step and the next.
4. Prototype Concepts
Prototyping is a way to create a sample finished product that looks and feels close to the final product.
Accomplishing this step may take a bit longer than expected. You’ll have to experiment with many versions of your product before you get the prototype you want - some features will be removed while others are added.
You also have to realize that different types of products require different prototypes. You could probably prototype a new dress for your fashion line by yourself without requiring much in terms of labor and time.
But many products will require advanced machinery or other technology to produce a reliable prototype. Some prototypes require CAD software, 3D printers, dies and molds, and many other materials or machines that you may not have. If you don’t have these capabilities in-house, you’ll need to outsource prototyping to a third-party.
5. Develop Product Strategy
Once you have a working prototype, you’re ready to develop a product strategy.
This strategy is very much the “vision” behind the product’s capabilities and how it will serve your customers.
But more importantly, it lays out the steps and tactics for getting the new product into as many hands as possible.
There are at least 3 aspects of a sound product strategy we encourage you to follow.
Have you identified your target customer yet?
You have probably covered this step in some capacity at this point. But we want to emphasize how critical it is to know everything you can about your target customer because they form the foundation of your product strategy and your product’s success in the market.
Ideally, you’ll have a customer persona that includes all the tiny details you know about your customers along with the big demographic data.
And even if you already have a customer persona, you may need to create another one for your new product if it differs enough from your existing product line.
We mentioned earlier that you may do some cursory competitive analysis while researching and screening ideas, but you’ll want to conduct a deep analysis of your competitors as well.
Identify their strengths and weaknesses, study their marketing, and figure out ways to differentiate yourself from them.
The more you know, the easier it will be to sell your new product.
Every product strategy must include specific ways the new product will generate revenue and how much it will generate in a given time period.
This means you need to know if the product will be sold in stores or only online. If the product has a continuity program or if it’s a one-time purchase. Whether customers will continue consuming it, like a soda drink, or buy it once and use it for a long time, like a car.
However the product will generate returns on your investment, it must be well-understood for the entire product development process to be successful.
6. Develop the Product
This is when “product development” actually happens. You’re going to take the concept and prototype and plan you have and initiate production.
Apart from its functionality, the design of the product should be your primary concern. Whether you’re selling online or in-store or anywhere else, you only have a few seconds to capture a consumer’s attention. The design should be clear, compelling, and able to capture the style and preferences of your target market.
But simplicity in design doesn’t mean a low cost option.
You want high-quality over anything else. You don’t want your manufacturing vendor taking shortcuts and developing a good-looking product that breaks before its warranty expires. If the product happens to be high-quality and inexpensive to produce, all the better.
Now before your bright and shiny new product can be released to the world, you need to protect its intellectual property.
Go to the official U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website and register the IP for your product, including trademarking the name and any other proprietary technology.
And at this point, you’re ready to release the first version of your product, get feedback, improve upon the initial release, and launch again.
The product development process is complete.
How to Make the Product Development Process More Pleasant and Less Bumpy
New product development requires a lot of people to participate, give their opinions and feedback, manage a growing list of projects and tasks, and hit deadlines.
Miscommunication is inevitable.
Oftentimes, the reason mistakes are made and information isn’t properly communicated or understood is because someone wasn’t listening to words being spoken or didn’t correctly read what was written.
The key to better communication?
Make it visual.
Humans understand images and videos faster than text, and it’s the preferred medium of communication amongst internet users and employees.
At CloudApp, we believe fast and easy collaboration is a must-have for truly efficient product development.
Our software allows any team member or department to host quick meetings through a webcam, even with everyone out of the office.
Technical processes or difficult tasks can be made into GIFs for easy follow-along.
And walls of text giving critiques can be replaced with annotated screenshots.
We’ve been ranked by G2 Crowd as one of the top sales enablement tools and we can help you develop better products with better communication.