Launching a new product is an exciting event for any entrepreneur. However, turning a concept into a tangible item that consumers can purchase can often be a rather involved journey, one that may be full of unexpected twists and turns, regardless of what’s being sold.
In this guide, we aim to demystify the process of product development by explaining each of the different stages in detail.
What is product development?
Product development is the entire process of bringing a product to market, from the initial brainstorming to the launch of the product. Though often associated with new products, it can also involve introducing an old item to a new market or renewing existing goods.
This process includes several stages that transform a mere idea into marketable merchandise designed to appeal to a business’s target audience. Because this process incorporates a variety of areas, such as designing, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, project management, sales etc., multiple teams within the company are going to need to work together when developing a product.
The 7 stages of product development
Although the exact process for developing products can vary from industry to industry, it’ll generally involve seven stages from beginning to end. Having a well-prepared strategy in place doesn’t guarantee a perfectly smooth product launch, but it can certainly simplify the experience and reduce obstacles along the way.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each step and examine how it can assist in bringing your product launch.
The first stage involves brainstorming new ideas for the product that you’ll be developing. This step is arguably the most important, but the pressure to come up with the ideal item to sell can often make it seem rather intimidating to many merchants. Regardless of the size of your business, it’s well worth taking your time during this phase, but the most essential action is to simply get started!
Keep in mind that while you may think of a brilliant concept for a unique product during your brainstorming sessions, one that the world’s never seen before, businesses often find great success by putting their own spin on something that’s already available.
There are numerous ways to go about generating ideas. Remain open to different possibilities and don’t hesitate to bounce ideas off with other people. Even if you’re already pretty sure about what you want to sell, there are several elements that you’ll want to consider before settling on an idea:
- Target market: This is the group of potential customers for whom you’re developing your product. It’s therefore essential that you determine who these consumers are early on so as to ensure that your concept accommodates their wants and needs.
- Existing products: Before getting started in developing new goods, it’s always beneficial to take a look at what your current product catalog contains. Don’t forget to also check out the offerings of competing companies that may already be selling something similar to what you have in mind. Either way, your new item should be able to stand out from the crowd in order to entice shoppers.
- Purpose: It’s not necessary to have your product and its use(s) completely lined out at this point, but it’s still advantageous to know what purpose it’ll have in your target market’s lives. What differentiates it from other goods on the market?
Then, to refine your idea further, think about implementing the SCAMPER approach, where each letter stands for a way to explore new possibilities for existing goods. Let’s take a look at this model using the example of a litter box for cats.
- Substitute: Think about what can be replaced, e.g., materials, components, name, etc., so as to improve the product. Example: You could use stainless steel instead of plastic for the litter box’s construction to protect against the build-up of odors, stains, and rust.
- Combine: What features or devices could be combined in your product? Example: By adding a camera to your litter box, pet owners would be able to more easily keep an eye on their feline friends while they’re away.
- Adapt: Ask yourself what features or elements can be added or changed. Example: A self-cleaning feature could spruce up an otherwise basic item.
- Modify: Consider what you can magnify, tone down, or emphasize to achieve a new result. Example: To appeal to shoppers with cats who love to dig, you could expand the size of your litter box’s sides to prevent litter from flying everywhere.
- Put to another use: Is there another way to utilize this item? Could it be used in a different industry? Example: You might build a litter box that can also serve as a piece of furniture, like a side table or storage box, to increase its functionality or allow it to blend in more seamlessly with your customers’ décor.
- Eliminate: Determine what you might be able to simplify or remove. This can help you find ways to make your product easier to use or decrease costs for you and/or your customers. Example: You might move unnecessary plastic wrap from your litter box, saving you on packaging costs and aiding the environment at the same time!
- Rearrange or Reverse: What if you were to rearrange or reverse the production process or one of your product’s components or its design? Example: Rather than selling a litter box that must be cleaned, you could make one made from biodegradable materials that could simply be thrown away or recycled after a short period of time to appeal to consumers who may not have the time or physical ability required to maintain a traditional litter box.
After you’ve formulated your product idea, it’s understandable that you might be itching to begin production ASAP. However, it’s essential to perform some research beforehand to confirm that your concept is indeed viable in the current market. After all, no matter how amazing your idea seems, you don’t want to waste significant amounts of resources creating something that shoppers won’t end up buying!
This stage of the process involves obtaining detailed, unbiased feedback from a varied audience. While family and friends are great places to begin, you’ll want to go beyond these groups for the best results. Note that if you’re hoping to get funding from external sources to launch or grow your business, this step will be all the more important and necessitate a high level of thoroughness.
Fortunately, with the internet and the vast amount of information available today, you’ll find that you have all kinds of resources at your disposal for conducting market research and screening your concept for a potential product to sell:
- Google Trends: Use this handy free tool to see if searches for your idea seem to be on the rise. This will assist you in determining if the item you have in mind is likely going to be in demand when you hope to launch it.
- Social media: Reach out to your followers to gauge their interest and/or get their thoughts on possible features to include. Social networks are also great places to build anticipation for your future release.
- Online forums: Community forum websites like Reddit or those specifically focused on your target market are beneficial for obtaining initial feedback. They can also allow you to ascertain the level of interest in the product and what modifications you may need to implement in order to better accommodate your ideal customer.
- Email surveys: Do you already have a lengthy email list? Consider sending out a survey in your next newsletter to get your subscribers’s thoughts or opinions on your product.
- SWOT analysis: Examine your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of your business and to give yourself the best chance of success with your new product.
All of the aforementioned methods are excellent ways to not just obtain feedback about your potential product but also to learn more about your audience’s needs, including their pain points, budget, and what features and benefits they look for in the goods that they buy. Keep in mind that commerce, both online and offline, is constantly evolving. The data that you collect today may not be as applicable down the road.
After you’ve finished screening your idea(s) for your product, you should have a fairly good vision of what you want to create. You’re now ready to get into the nitty gritty of what you want your product to look like.
During this part of the process, it’s important to remember that how you envision the concept of your product in your head may be quite different from the finished result. However, creating a clear product roadmap can aid in keeping you on track as you begin bringing your vision to life.
A product roadmap is a visual tool that details the direction and vision of your product over time. It serves to map out the various goals, both for the long and short term, that you have for your product as well as how you hope to achieve them, which in turn can aid in aligning your actions and/or those of the different members of your team. What’s more, it can also be used to communicate important information to potential investors.
A good course of action when creating a product roadmap is to first sketch out your product’s design, either by hand with pen and paper or on a mobile device if you prefer. Try to be as detailed as possible in your drawing, clearly noting each of the product’s features and components. If you’re not particularly confident about your sketching skills, don’t worry! Sites like Fiverr and Upwork can provide you with plenty of options for outsourcing this task.
After completing your sketch, identify what materials are going to be required to create the product. This can then be used to determine how much it’ll cost to design, manufacture, package, and distribute the item to your customer base.
The information you gather as you work on your comprehensive roadmap during this planning phase can help you figure out what resources you’ll need to make your vision a reality. In addition, it’ll allow you to determine how much to charge for your product, develop your production process, and start working on your marketing strategy.
During the Prototyping stage, you’ll be developing a sample physical product. The aim of this step is to design what’s known as a minimum viable product (MVP), a version of your idea that has all the necessary features to be able to function properly but nothing extra. Creating an MVP will allow you to launch a test version of your product more quickly. However, you’ll of course be able to add more features and perfect your creation later once the sample’s viability is confirmed.
Prototyping strategies will depend on the type of goods being produced. For instance, relatively simple items may allow for a DIY approach, while products that are more complex are likely going to require outside assistance in order to manufacture them efficiently.
This is a key phase in the product development process, as it minimizes potential risks associated with launching a new product. You’ll be able to provide your MVP to a small group of people within your organization or even consumers from your target market to obtain feedback on the user experience, look of the product, and other aspects as soon as possible and make modifications as needed to improve its design in the next step.
From here, you’ll also be able to determine if your current timeline for the launch of your product is feasible or if you’ll need to make adjustments to your schedule. While you may be disappointed if you aren’t able to release the item when originally planned, remember that it’s better to take the time to build a high-quality product that customers will really appreciate than rush through the process only to see dismal results in terms of sales.
5. Detailed design
This next part entails refining the prototype that you created in the previous stage and is also sometimes known as Development. Although your product likely still won’t be 100% perfect yet, by incorporating the feedback that you obtained, you’ll be able to build something that should be fairly close to the final result.
During this phase, you’ll also need to begin building your supply chain, meaning that you’ll be sourcing the materials and vendors required to produce your product and get it into the hands of your customers. Depending on the type of item you want to sell and your unique business, this step can involve locating suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses or other storage facilities, and shipping solutions.
If your product is relatively simple, you may opt to manufacture it yourself. Keep in mind that while this may be totally doable in the beginning, it may become more challenging in the future as your business grows.
If you’re going to work with outside suppliers or manufacturers, be sure to do a bit of research to ensure that you select the right options for you. Today’s entrepreneurs have many choices from which to choose. To start, you’ll need to decide if you want to stay local or go overseas.
Working with local partners makes it easier to keep an eye on quality control and ensure that the company’s practices are in line with your brand’s vision. In addition, you’ll likely receive your supplies or finished products faster. However, collaborating with overseas partners is often less expensive and may give you more variety in terms of available materials.
Either way, building strong relationships with your chosen partners is a must! This can make the initial price negotiation easier as well as facilitate any modifications you’d like to request down the road. Don’t hesitate to ask potential candidates plenty of questions and request samples to gauge their quality and their timeliness in terms of responding to your queries and delivering goods.
Before you release your product to the general public, you’ll need to do some final testing to make sure that every component of the product is ready to go. While you’ll have done a few tests earlier in the process, the Validation phase is likely when the majority of your testing will happen.
In addition to having you and your team members try out the latest version of your product, invite beta testers to test it in conditions that are as close as possible to the real world. Changes to the product should be relatively minor at this point, but beta testing permits you to work out any last-minute kinks that could hinder the item’s success upon launch.
It’s important to do front-end testing as well. This means adding the product to your ecommerce website and confirming that the photos, description, links, etc. all function properly. Once visitors discover your new product on your online store, you won’t want there to be any barriers to them adding the item to their shopping cart and finalizing their orders!
Remember to also test your marketing plan to verify that all your campaigns are prepared and free of errors. Create content for your different social networks to promote your latest innovation and schedule posts ahead of time to keep yourself organized.
By now, you should also have a much better understanding of the costs associated with developing your product. This will allow you to finish working on your pricing strategy and determine how much profit you can expect to make from sales.
Thanks to all your hard work and extensive testing, you should now have a stellar item ready to introduce to the market. The final phase of the product development process, Commercialization, involves launching the final version of your innovation and spreading the word about its release via various marketing techniques.
While you may have already added your new item to your online store in the previous step, give it one last look-over to make sure that its product page is up to date with any changes you may have made since then. Note that if you’ll simultaneously be launching your ecommerce business, you’ll also want to verify that everything else on your website is in tip-top shape and functioning properly as well!
Regardless of the marketing budget you have at your disposal, there are all kinds of strategies you can implement to promote your product:
- Create product teasers: Build anticipation by sharing posts on your social networks or sending newsletters that offer hints or small glimpses of what your audience has to look forward to with your upcoming release.
- Hold a contest on social media: Creating a contest or giveaway is a great way to boost awareness of your product across your social networks.
- Send emails announcing your launch to your subscribers: Tell subscribers all about your newest release in a dedicated newsletter, with a link that directs readers to the item’s product page on your site.
- Collaborate with influencers: Expand your reach with the power of influencer marketing, working with influencers to promote your product on social media and beyond.
- Run paid advertising campaigns: If you have the budget for it, investing in paid advertising methods on social networks, Google, etc. can skyrocket awareness about your product.
Product development and the path to success
When you decide to launch a new item, it’s impossible to know exactly how long it’ll take to develop the product and what kind of expertise will be needed in the beginning. What’s more, while you can have an excellent plan in place, the actual path from start to finish is unlikely to be a straight line—you may very well find yourself returning to a previous step several times during the process.
If possible, avoid rushing through the different phases, also understanding that if you discover that your current strategy isn’t working, it’s perfectly okay to change things up. Whatever your particular plan for developing a product looks like, remember to always keep the customer at the forefront.
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