Concept development in the product development process (plus examples)

The best products somehow seem to perfectly solve a problem. Where every feature feels like it’s tailor-made to make whatever you’re working on easier. Those aren’t accidents. Concept development in product development is the process of pinpointing issues and meticulously building solutions to elevate your customer’s or user’s experience.

Great products aren’t born, they’re grown and developed from strong concepts.

What is concept development in product development?

Our concept development definition looks like this; it’s the customer-focused process of identifying needs, then generating, structuring and refining ideas to resolve them. In product development that means shaping a solution into a new product or improving an existing one to clearly address those needs or issues.

Another way to understand concept development meaning is that it’s a way to advance and expand ideas into useful tools or services for your market.

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The concept development process

Even the best ideas aren’t ready for primetime the second they’re thought up, there’s a process that takes something from a new concept to a product or service that’s ready for the market.

Next, we’ll break down all of the steps in concept development:

1. Understand your customer

Knowing your customer or user is a critical piece of the new product development process.

Understanding who you’re solving for should guide all of your business decisions, not just concept development.

If you’ve been in the game for a while, you may already have user or buyer personas that you’ve developed or historic analytics to look at.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to develop those personas and lean more heavily on market research in the beginning.

2. Identify customer needs and define the problem

Know your customer

The better you know your customer, the more easily you can pinpoint their needs, pain points and desires which will become your benchmark throughout the development phase.

The way to ID all of this is to keep your ears peeled to the feedback you’re getting from users or customers.

You can also go deeper and do market research to gather insights and data about consumer preferences.

From there you can define the problem your product aims to solve and the requirements your users have.

Your customer drives your purpose in that sense.

3. Define your market and competition

Product development has cost both in terms of time and internal resources. If your addressable market is small, building something out may not be worth the cost.

It’s better to learn that earlier rather than later.

Once you’ve established that there’s a monetizable market above your costs, it’s time to look wider and check out the competitive landscape.

Is someone else already doing this?

Is there room for an alternative?

Is the barrier to entry too high?

Is there a gap in the market?

It’s not necessarily a deal breaker if the problem you aim to solve or the customer’s need has been met by another company, you’ll just have to differentiate your solution.
Cell phones already existed before Apple dropped the iPhone, for example, and that worked out pretty well.

4. Brainstorm and generate concepts

Team brainstorming

This is the fun part.

The previous steps are meant to bring clarity and sharpen your objective on this step.

Once you’ve narrowed your scope and are looking through the lens of a specific problem that addresses a specific customer, the concepts you outline should fall within those bounds.

How do you come up with the concepts though?

  • Workshops
  • Mind mapping
  • Customer feedback
  • Talking to stakeholders
  • Brainstorm with your team
  • Random ideas that pop up in the shower

There’s no set way to build a concept, idea generation is about getting creative and there’s not a one size fits all approach to that.

In general, you’ll want to involve your team or some other people. When you can discuss freely, bounce ideas around and get different perspectives, it allows your concepts to grow wings and take flight.

The more diverse the voices, the more varied and interesting the concepts will be, which increases the likelihood of there being a gem among them.

There isn’t a set rule on how many concepts to come up with, it should be more than one though. Aiming for a nice round number like 10 that you agree on is a good goal.

Again, remember to ideate and define from the customer’s perspective. Just because you think something is cool, doesn’t mean your users need or want it.

At this stage, you’ll want to include things like;

  • Benefits
  • Features
  • Usability
  • Price point
  • Functionality
  • Implementation
  • Value proposition
  • Where it fits on the user journey
  • Resources required for development

5. Visualize the concepts

Mindmap diagram

Ok, maybe this is the fun part actually.

Seeing is believing as they say and visualizing the concepts you came up with in the ideation phase is the key to understanding their viability and if they’re likely to work as you envisioned.

Sure, you can put pen to paper and draw them all out but with multiple concepts, that can be a pain. 10 napkin sketches that are tough to share and even tougher to edit.
Not exactly the ideal method.

Software is the solution here.

With tools like our Diagram Maker, you can save time and use a drag-and-drop editor to quickly create concept maps out the relevant details of each idea.

We’ve put together a handy guide on how to make a concept map, so give it a look if you’re feeling stuck.

Slickplan diagrams are easily shareable, so collaboration with key players and stakeholders is only a couple of clicks away.

Taking it a step further, you can even go as far as prototyping something if your budget allows for it.

6. Concept screening

Screening your concepts requires considering your concepts against the problem you pinpointed earlier and the user’s needs.

For the sake of consistency, you’ll want to assess and interpret each concept using a set of predefined criteria, metrics and a way to rank them.

The following are pretty standard:

  • Convenience
  • Usability
  • Quality
  • Functionality
  • Performance
  • Price
  • Value
  • Experience

Whatever you decide to use as your criteria though, keep it consistent. Perhaps even develop a scoresheet.

And remember, not all concepts are going to be winners. In fact, nearly all of them won’t be but the very process of ideation is the basis of innovative solutions.

A nugget of a good idea in one concept can be incorporated into something else down the road.

7. Test the concepts

Testing here doesn’t mean going into full production, it means getting some real customer feedback and analysis on your ideas for a possible product or service.

This can be done with surveys, polls on your social channels or any other method by which you can get initial input from your ideal users.

The goal is simple: qualify the concepts as something that customers will genuinely want.

You should use this testing phase to gain numerous insights and come away with answers to questions like these:

  • Are the features useful?
  • Does the price work?
  • How to differentiate from a similar alternative?
  • Is there interest at all?
  • Is something missing?

You can further screen your concepts by factoring in the assessment and information they’ve provided.

8. Refine the concepts

With a solid foundation of feedback, it’s time to get back to the drawing board to refine, enhance and iterate the concepts.

Nothing fancy here, just take what you’ve learned and integrate it into the ideas that you’ve determined to have real promise.

9. Development decision

Development decision concept
After going through this entire operation, you’ve reached the moment of truth.

Is there an option among your concepts that warrants development?

Look back at the problem you defined and your customer or user’s needs. Go through your criteria of screening concepts again.

Check your refined concept against your business strategy and again take into account the addressable market size, your target audience, competition, pricing and commercial viability.

Be thorough and ensure you leave no stone unturned.

Consider all of these and more:

  • Profit potential
  • Market potential
  • Is it intuitive to use
  • Cost and time to implement
  • Level of importance to users
  • Alignment with business strategy
  • Will customers or users find it valuable
  • Skills and capabilities necessary to bring in

It’s better to spend some extra time on this concept development process than rush through only to realize you’re developing a product or service that isn’t quite right.

Building a prototype to further validate your decision is a good call at this point. Testing it internally and with a batch of users is a cost-effective way to get priceless feedback.

Pro-tip: throughout your concept development journey, use a "fail-fast" approach.

Fail-fast means that once you’ve identified that something isn’t going to work through the many feedback points and tests throughout concept development, you immediately stop developing that concept.

If you and your team determine an idea isn’t going to generate value or solve a problem adequately, it’s best to cut bait rather than sink more time, money and effort into it.

Concept development examples

The finished and polished version of anything that’s on the market started out as merely a concept at some point. Only after going through refinement and iteration and after iteration were they ready for primetime.

Here are a couple of examples.


Uber driver

In this first concept development example, we’ll take a look at Uber, the company that revolutionized how we get around and has become a verb in the process.

The concept is deceptively simple; push a button, get a ride.

The idea was born when the co-founders just couldn’t find a taxi one snowy night in Paris. A problem in need of a solution.

They thought, "what if you could hail a ride from wherever you are from your cell phone?"

After workshopping the idea, was born offering one thing, a black luxury car, which they tested in New York.

With the concept being proven, they changed the name to just Uber. It wasn’t until a few years later that they launched UberX, another concept, the affordable option we all know today.

Now offering additional services that started as concepts, like food delivery and split fare, and it’s a far cry from where it started.

Super Soaker

Super Soaker

Concept development stretches across all categories of products and businesses, toys are no exception.

In this example of concept of development, we’ll take a look at how the Super Soaker came to be and show that ideas can come from anywhere.

Dr. Lonnie Johnson is a literal rocket scientist who worked on the Galileo spacecraft…and came up with the concept for an epic squirt gun while working on an idea for a heat pump.

The aha moment came entirely by accident when the pump he was working on sprang a leak and shot a stream of water clear across the room.

He quickly got to work on producing a prototype from PVC pipes, a soda bottle for holding the water, etc (a prototype he still has).

This was in 1982.

He applied for a patent in 1983, which he received in 1986, and the Super Soaker finally hit the shelves in 1990 as the lame-sounding "Power Drencher" before rebranding in 1991.

Nearly a decade.

That teaches us that ideas take time to develop and that when it comes to product development, patience is very much a virtue.

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Get started with product concept development now!

Great products and services don’t come about by accident, the seed of an idea has to be nurtured and developed before it’s ready. Concept development in product development is the process that converts the initial spark into something that solves a problem for your users and customers

Get started with our concept map template and use Slickplan’s Diagram Maker on your development journey to bring clarity to concepts.

Steve Tsentserensky

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