Everybody’s heard at least one story of how people have stumbled onto a genius invention, product, or even discovered an idea that just fell into their lap, right? Well, even the best of those "chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter" ideas had the benefit of being run through a new product development process. You can have all the best ideas in the world, but without the skills, hard work, and a trusted, theory-based process to bring them to life, you’ve already slashed your chances at success. By a considerable amount.
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What is product development? Our definition
The product development definition we like the best is the most simple; it’s the process of converting an idea into a functioning and complete product for an end-user. Beyond that, it depends on which part of the process your job is part of that determines what that definition means for you. The marketing end of things describes how the product is brought to market and made into a successful product through connecting with customers. From a developer’s perspective, we get into the technical side of the product’s actual creation so that the final product is market-ready.
Understanding the product development life cycle stages
To better understand the product development process, you’ll also need to take a look at the product development cycle and the different stages of life that the product will go through. The development process is just one of the steps in a product’s life cycle, but we need to illustrate how it fits into the context of the life cycle as a whole.
We’ll be going over this in greater detail throughout the rest of the article, so for now, we’re going to table this item — but here’s where it fits into the cycle. Do remember, though, it is a cycle, so this song is on repeat, and we’ll be back around to do it again.
This is the early stage of the product going public. There are two ways you should aim for your product’s introduction to the world to go; around launch time when the product is ready or earlier, while it’s still in development. It does get a bit tricky here, though. You need to choose wisely because even the best of the best can get caught in a sticky situation. A few years ago, Apple announced a dual-charging wireless surface for iPhone and Apple Watch called AirPower. Unfortunately, that original product never actually hit the market, and it wasn’t until the Qi-based MFi version of MagSafe came out that they came up with a rather lackluster fill-in product.
The AirPower product concept was well-received, but it just couldn’t get past concept development, testing, and into production — meaning the product strategy was essentially a complete failure. Overall, it was a major bummer, and although they mostly kept it quiet, we clearly didn’t just forget that it happened. It’s best to choose the time wisely when you’ll introduce and start pedaling a product. Pricing is also a factor in this part of the life cycle.
Assuming your product has made it to market and caught on, the growth period sees a lot of marketing and a push for sales. This part doesn’t happen on the cheap. Pushing a product towards your target audience and existing customers is a priority, and in the same breath, it needs to be accessible to a general audience. Social media and other proven advertising tactics are used to get the message to the masses. Social media is usually the cheaper route but can still have a cost. TV, radio, print, and digital news placements are often the more expensive way to go because of the starkly higher creation and distribution costs.
If your product makes it through the introduction and growth stages successfully, it should be a goal to spend a significant amount of time in the maturity phase of its life cycle. It shouldn’t quite plateau; instead, sales, customer satisfaction, and market share should stabilize. It’s also highly recommended that you fire up the development phase of this process again. You’ll want to be looking at sales numbers and other metrics along with the product itself and feedback you’ve received. Take into account new features that have been put on the to-do list or the "maybe" list and begin prioritizing them and discussing everything because the next step, although not immediate — well, it can creep up on you.
Ideally, your product should go into a gradual decline (just make sure you spot it before it’s too late) rather than a nosedive into oblivion. At this point, anyone who wants the product has now bought it, or they‘re waiting for the next version to come out. So they’ll either spend less on the current version when the price drops, or they’re willing to pay "x" amount when the new one launches.
Apple does this every year with iPhone, iPad, and a few other products. People have a chance to buy the “old news” version for a discount or pay the regular price and get the new one.
You can choose your destiny among these routes. Either your product stays on the market while the new one is wrapping up development and preparing for launch, or it gets removed from the market and replaced simultaneously. Be careful of the dead-end, though. If things don’t go as planned, and it can happen to anyone, this sadly could be your going-out-of-business sale. Sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Other companies always have a chance to beat your product through market share or just a flat-out better product.
So, what is the new product development process (NPD process)?
As mentioned above, the product development process steps are included in the product lifecycle; the NPD process itself is the collection of steps that go into taking a product from idea to market and into the hands of paying customers.
You may notice that there seems to be a bit of variation in how this process is composed from article to article. All of them tend to present the same idea though; they just go about it differently. It’s why you may see it written as a 5, 6, 7, or even an 8-step process. We’ve laid it out into seven steps that we think are the most efficient and easiest to follow. Here we go.
1. Idea generation
The new product development process usually starts with a good
oldnew-fashioned idea. A modern brainwave with hopes to change the world and make some money. And you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Even if it’s on a bar napkin or in the Notes app on your phone in the middle of the night after a dream.
You’ve heard the story of Amazon and Apple starting in garages, and it probably started with some guy saying, "ok, so listen… what if we did this?" Of course, in a more established business, that isn’t precisely how it usually goes (at least in terms of formally submitting an idea for consideration). Still, no matter how you come up with the ideas or accept them from customers and employees, idea generation is where it all begins.
Brainstorming new ideas in the first stage in the process happens all the time, but it’s what we do with the ideas that matter. Most people do it without a second thought; random thoughts that sound like great inventions or apps and whatnot, quickly followed by going back to whatever we were watching on Netflix. The folks who think of ideas and don’t let them go are responsible for the things we use in our daily lives and those items or services that we just can’t live without. Somebody quite literally thought up the internet one day, and without it, you wouldn’t even be reading this article.
This very website came from a spark of an idea from our founder, Ian Lawson. Our story begins many moons ago when ‘ol boy Ian was a partner at a digital design agency. He was responsible for developing websites and interactive products and was hard at work creating sitemaps and navigational flows using a content-first approach. The result had to be both easy to understand and able to perform well with search engines. They used a laundry list of software and a mountain of emails to create and iterate until they found the best solution for each and every project.
A collaborative effort between project managers, SEO strategists, stakeholders, etc. but with basic email as the only "collaboration tool" to speak of.
The time and resources it took became pretty cumbersome so we searched for solutions – nothing existed.
His actual quote in the moment was likely less eloquent. The search for a solution to help with this massive time-suck was underway but yielded absolutely no compelling results.
Luckily, thanks to his software design and development experience along with technical know-how, he decided to solve the problem in-house. The idea for Slickplan was born from necessity rather than as a business venture. It ended up being a smashing success, and the rest is history.
2. Idea screening
The process of idea generation is sometimes endless for people. Some folks just have a gift. But again, it’s those that do something with the ideas that excel. On the other hand, screening those ideas for value is what’s tricky. Knowing what to put the effort towards and how to spot a flop before wasting time and money is key. Entrepreneurs have this on lock. It might take a few tweaks before an idea passes the screening process, but it’s imperative that they are screened.
Idea screening is necessary because what may sound like a brilliant idea in your mind may not be very logical on paper or in real-world applications. It’s one thing to be a niche market, but if that idea you have is only suitable for your needs, that isn’t niche at all; it’s just a life hack that nobody needs but you. Screening is also necessary because even in existing products, many ideas come through the gate all the time.
Plenty of good ones, but not all of them are possible. It may sound easy to bake a feature in, but what may sound easy to a person that only sees the front end of things can be an absolute nightmare for the people on the backend who know it cannot be done without a complete teardown and rebuild. It isn’t that the idea stinks; it’s just that it would be an insane amount of work for something that wouldn’t be universally useful to all users.
3. Concept development
Things get a bit more complicated from this point on. Those ideas that made it past screening now need to materialize in this "discovery" phase. At least on paper. Is there a market need for the idea? Does it match up to the company’s objectives? What similar products are there on the market, if any?
Additionally, the development of a concept allows further information to form. You may find what once was a good idea turns out to already exist or maybe just isn’t all that great of an idea anymore. Test marketing a product (or startup as a whole) can also give a bit of insight into how the world would respond to such a product, and if there isn’t any buzz, you may reconsider at this point.
When the concept of an app or product is in development, there needs to be a clear value proposition. What exactly is this doing for the customer, and how will it improve their life? What value does it provide for them and at what cost? This involves taking the idea and building on it, adding detail, and forming it into something the entire team can work towards. Focus groups, shareholder meetings, and discussions among people involved in the project all go into this step. Literally talking your way through the product all the way to its launch. These scenarios and tests, aside from putting an actual product in a person’s hands, are the most direct way to determine how a product would line up with what target customers want and need and how it might pull in potential customers not yet thought of or reached in previous iterations.
4. Marketing strategy development & business analysis
These are two critical factors in the new product development process. The business analysis side of things includes looking at existing products on the market, pricing out production costs, profit margins, advertising costs, etc.
Marketing strategy is where things can become quite fun. This is where the product meets the people’s minds. If people don’t know it exists, they can’t spend money on it. In this step, you should be determining who to market to and how. Establish what is effective marketing for the target demographic you’re aiming for. Find ways to make it memorable. Whatever you do needs to be effective in selling a product. You can be fun, irreverent, dramatic, whatever, as long as it’s with a purpose.
Business analysis is pretty straightforward in terms of market research, connecting customer needs to new product ideas, factoring in budgets, and a business’s focus. Finding distributors to deliver to your target market and even your marketing plan should fall into what business analysis includes.
Marketing is a whole different ballgame. The examples are everywhere we look. Vegas has "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas", a line that has been used and abused, bastardized and burned into everybody’s memories. People who weren’t even alive when that hit the market know that line. Apple used to have a tagline that said, "It just works." Think of your local TV and radio. Here in Dayton, Ohio — everybody knows "la prova e nel gusto, the proof is in the taste," and every digit of that pizza place’s phone number by heart. It’s incredible how catchy some of these things are and how well they stick to your mind. These companies did precisely what they sought out to do.
Marketing can be highly effective, and when you get it right, it can pay off BIG TIME. Ironically when marketing does go wrong, sometimes it can be oh-so-right. People love to say, "all publicity is good publicity," and to a point, there’s some truth in that. As long as your marketing isn’t blatantly offensive, it isn’t one of the -phobics or -ists and is reasonably sensible to the public, then even the dumbest trainwreck of a commercial or ad can be memorable. Aim for famous, not infamous.
5. Detailed design & product development
So far, you’ve done tons of research, discussion, and planning. Now it’s time to bring it all together and get a design together with your product development team. Putting together a minimum viable product or MVP to please the needs and wants of the early adopters and your base customer group should be the focus here.
Throughout the stages of the new product development process, your business plan should include some ideation of product design to at least set the tone. Then, you build on it as you go along, taking in new information and shaping the product along the way. Slickplan recently had a complete overhaul, and believe us; it didn’t happen overnight. It was basically an entire product launch unto itself.
We took years of suggestions and ideas, internal and external wants and needs, fixes and repairs, and designed a system that was recognizable at its core but with a noticeable and welcome upgrade and improvement that people would enjoy using for many years to come. It took a lot of hard work in design and development to make it happen, including everything on this NPD process list.
6. Prototyping & testing
Your product development strategy can absolutely never, and we mean never ever skip prototyping and testing. Besides the need to validate the product as complete and acceptable by the public, you need to know the level of viability to expect and if changes need to be made.
Prototyping, of course, is your example or model of the product built to test before going into full-on production. For what should be obvious reasons, this is the time to work out some kinks that were not evident in the theoretical portion of the design. Things don’t always go exactly as you may have thought they would on paper.
Testing can include beta testing with power users, feasibility studies, usability testing, market testing, questionnaires, focus groups, and much more. There are an endless number of tests that can be done and the more, the better. More data is always good because it’s during this stage that the problems need to be worked out as much as possible.
7. Launch & commercialization
The last step in the new product development process is launch and commercialization. Once the final product is in place, it’s time for launch. Commercialization, by definition, is the act of putting a product on the market for the purpose of financial gain. This is what you’ve worked for this whole time. It’s finally here. You can breathe now. Pat yourself on the back a bit. But don’t get cozy. By the time you’re on the market, you’d better already be starting the process over again because, like a new car, once you drive it off the lot, it’s used.
At launch, you’ll be putting everything you’ve got into play. The product goes live, marketing goes into full swing, problem-solving on-the-fly, interacting with customers, collaborating with your team. This may be the end of the process, but it will be busy. It would be incredibly irresponsible and a huge waste to just sit back and watch your bank account balance moving about because there’s still a ton of hard work to do to launch and be successful.
This is not set it and forget it. It isn’t like your middle child turning 18 and you’re moving them out of the house. This still needs a lot of love and attention.
Example product development process flowchart
Our new product development process example flowchart can be used to visualize your product’s journey from concept to shelf. Once in a while you may find the need to go slightly out of order and you may find it beneficial to repeat steps as needed.
Visualize ideas with diagrams
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Start planning your new product development stages with Slickplan
Alright, so developing a new product systematically and within a defined framework clearly has a lot of moving parts. With the right tools though it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and with Slickplan, you can manage and oversee the entire process. Use Diagram Maker to map user flow and nail down your MVP. Sharpen your UX/UI with our Sitemap Builder and put together your SEO plan and content marketing strategy with Content Planner. Take your website or app from concept to completion with Slickplan. Register for free today and plan your next product with Slickplan.
FAQs on the new product development phases
What are the seven steps of product development??
TL;DR: The seven steps of product development are idea generation, idea screening, concept development, marketing strategy development and business analysis, detailed design and product development, prototyping and testing, and finally launch/commercialization. You don't have to use them in this order, and you may use them more than once.
What is Agile in product development?
Product development in an Agile setting is the process used to systematically break down larger tasks (i.e., developing a product) with proven methods. The purpose is to create smaller and more manageable tasks to work with to get the job done more efficiently and effectively.
What is product development methodology?
Product development methodology is the chosen process used to structure, control and plan a product from the ground up, leading to the highest success with the least resistance and most cost-efficiency. Choosing how to go about developing a product should take into account many things to determine the best route.
The product type can, and should, play a role in deciding the method with which you develop. Considering historical data (if any exists about similar products, their successes and failures) can undoubtedly lend a hand in determining the best methodological route to take.