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What is Product Development and What Does it Entail? All You Need to Know About the Entire Process

By gswardman November 2, 2020

Every successful business you see was once an idea, and bringing that vision to fruition is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs. What is product development?

New product development (NPD) involves the entire process that drives a new or recently rebranded software product from an idea to the market. The purpose of the new or existing products is to fill a vacuum in the marketplace and fulfil your customers’ needs and demands for that product.

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Software product development is a process that follows very precise procedures and stringent steps known as the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle).NPD differs depending on the industry, but it can still be broken into six stages, which include ideation, research, planning, prototyping, sourcing, and pricing.

Not all product ideas are attractive to every client base, and the definition of your target audience for your software product is crucial to your product development process. You need to carry out a feasibility study at every design process stage, including before the software is conceived, while the software is in the early stages of product design and after the product launch.

Product Development Models

Your company’s success depends on your ability to formalize the entire innovation process. The estimation is that between 30 to 49% of new products end up in failure. Process models are critical to saving yourself a loss of time and money. There are various innovation models and approaches and the process models are categorized differently. Here are some of the commonly used models:

·         The Scorecard-Markov model

This model is a mathematical one and tackles the probability of incidents happening. These incidents are categorized into past, present, and future. The past is not very relevant like the present, because the present allows us to gauge the probability of an incident happening in the future

This model helps in incidents of transitioning from one stage to another. It also helps in determining the likelihood of their transition from one stage to the other. This model acts as a scorecard for new ideas and includes your marketing strength, customers’ needs, organization’s competence, manufacturing compatibility, and distribution channels.

This model scales to size your concepts from FFE to ideas that make mathematical and business sense. It is an evidence-based and formal process for people who need hard data on why some concepts transition from FFE and others do not.

· The IDEO Process

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This model originates from a consulting and design firm with a similar name. It is unique for its human-centered process, which favors the user. IDEO’s designers watch people in real-life situations, searching for the Form-Fit-Function for their designs. FFF describes and specifies the characteristics and interchangeability of components in the system. If a part is unnecessary for the fit, form, or function, it is discarded.

IDEOS follows these steps:

  1. Observation
  2. Ideation
  3. Prototype quickly
  4. Get user feedback
  5. Refine
  6. Implement

· The Stage-Gate Model

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This stage is also called the Phase-Gate model, which is a project management model that splits up the new product development into a funnel-like system. When each product development stage is done, it goes through a management-approved gate before it moves on to the next stage. This model helps organizations save funds by the filtering of bad ideas and concepts via a funnel by the time the process is done. The following stages were developed to improve your product’s marketability:

·         Idea Generation

Perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. The first two Strengths and weaknesses are internal while the last two, opportunities and threats are not. Analyze marketing trends, ROI (Return on Investment), or costs such as distribution costs.

· Idea screening

Screen to check if it is worth it and it is quickly done so that you can drop any unworthy ideas. Consider competition, market potential, realistic production, and ROI as part of the criterion.

· Concept testing

Test the concept with potential clients. The customers should understand the product and confirm if they want it or not so that you can tweak the product in line with the feedback

· Business case analysis

By now, the idea has already gone through internal and external reviews and you can now develop a sound business case and metrics. The metrics include a development timeline, sales figures, and other data. The business case should display the entire product process, from marketing strategy to the profits you expect.

· Product development

Here, you prepare for consumer tests and the technical developers must finish the design. In this step, you need to finish up the beta versions and software structure.

· Test market

Here, the entire concept development is finished and you can pitch it to the consumer testers as a beta test, and the software has the right functionality  This validates the concept and here, you can fix any technical issues.

· Commercialization

This step drives your product to a marketplace launch. Finish up the last marketing and pricing, giving the final details to the other company members and stakeholders, and set up client support.

· Launch

The launch should be complete and you are now ready to take off. You should have:

  • Market research as to who your customers are
  • Competitive analysis
  • Public relations program
  • A finished product

The four stages of product development are:

1. Ideation

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Ideation is idea generation, also called the Fuzzy Front End (FFE) of innovation approach defines the path that software development teams should follow, but ultimately lets the product team decide the order that makes more sense for the software being developed.

The FFE does not have any formalities since this is the brainstorming phase. The term fuzzy refers to the fuzzy and informal structure of this stage, which has yet to have a definition in the direction it should take. The ideation stage has five elements:

  • Identification of the design criterion: Which involves the brainstorming of potential new software products. Once the idea is identified, a formal development strategy becomes applicable.
  • An Idea Analysis: This involves a more thorough evaluation of the idea. Idea studies and market research are carried out to determine the idea’s feasibility by finding out what the target market thinks of this product, how much they are willing to pay for it, a review of the market size, and whether the pricing justifies the product benefits.
  • Concept genesis: This involves turning the product opportunity into an actual concept.
  • Prototyping: Which involves the creation of a quick mock-up of the new product.
  • Voice of the Customer (VoC): This means conducting a value assessment by the target audience. This helps you to predict the customer response once your product is released.

A new product development process might be very innovative, but it should be able to:

  • Easily fit into your firm’s skillsets
  • Solve problems
  • Be something worth buying
  • Fit with your organization’s interest
  • Be scalable

2.     Research

In as much as research is carried out in the FFE stage, you embark on it in full force. Jumping headlong into production at this stage will be a bad mistake because you need to validate the idea. Product validation is just a way of ensuring you create a product that people are willing to pay for and ensure you do not waste time effort and money on a product line that has no business value.

You can validate the product concept by:

  • Talking the idea over with your family and friends
  • Sending online surveys for feedback and building a business case
  • Initiating a crowd funding campaign
  • requesting for feedback on online forums such as Reddit
  • Researching Google Trends on online demands
  • Creating a landing page to gauge client interest

Whichever method you use for idea validation, it is crucial to get feedback from the target audience, and preferably an unbiased one. Family and friends will largely be biased and might not be very reliable, and they will assure you they will buy the theoretical product such as a mobile app. Until you receive money from someone, you cannot consider him or her as a customer.

Validation research involves a competitive business analysis, which means if your idea has a lot of potential, there is a high likelihood there are competitors already in that niche. Visit the competition’s websites, sign up for their email list, and software such as a mobile app, download it to get a feel of how the competition operates. Look at their customer reviews and note what customers do not like about that product, and what additions they wish were in the product.

Use this information to improve your new product ideas and give yourself an edge against your competition. The data you compile from the market research and product validation allows you to make an educated guess on the demand for your proposed product, and the competition level in the market.

3. Design

The design process is where you formulate your product architecture, which is the foundation of the software system. This system consists of primary elements, data modules, and a hosting network. The customer requirements are broken down further, and engineering specifications are created.

4. Implementation

Here is where the final quality assessments are made, and to make sure the prototype meets the design and specified requirements. These checks are made to confirm that all the deliverables are in place and working seamlessly in the final product. The product is developed according to the specified designs. Continuous checks during the process check and mitigate failure risk for the user and the development project.

5.     Fuzzy Back End Innovation (FBEI)

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While the front end of innovation is considered as fuzzy, the Back End of Innovation is known as the Fuzzy back end or messy background. This is because, without a well-orchestrated pipeline, it can be tricky to ensure that the development of innovations is delivered on time and cost-efficiently. This phase is the commercialization stage where the actual production and launch happen but in a timely and structured manner. Back end innovation needs to center on short-term deliverables and development.

What Is the Product Lifecycle?

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The Product Life Cycle (PLC) is a set of stages in the life of a commercial software product. The stages of product development include development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline, which we shall discuss in depth.

·         Introduction 

The introduction is the stage where the software product is promoted to the public. If the public is ignorant about the product, they cannot buy what they do not know of. You can use either of two strategies to introduce the product to customers. You can either use the skimming or penetration strategies.

In skimming strategy, the prices are initially very high, and then lowered gradually over time. If you have few competitors, you can use this strategy where profits and risks are high. If people reject the high prices, you will lose out.

In penetration strategy, the prices are low during your product launch, and then gradually increase over time. If your competitors hold a large market portion, this is an excellent strategy, which allows your product to be known, and profits will be made later once you have penetrated the market.

· Growth 

The growth stage is the phase where the market share of your software product starts growing. At this stage, a substantial amount of money goes to advertising. Your advertising campaigns are focused on existing customers and the target audience.

There are various advertising channels you can use, which will depend on your product, the target industry, and your operating budget.

You can use channels such as social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or promotion videos on YouTube or more conventional methods such as radio, TV, newspapers, and magazine adverts. The best and cheapest advertising is word of mouth, which is only possible if your clients trust and love your product.

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· Maturity

If your software product makes it past the introduction and growth, then it is likely to spend a lot of time in the maturity phase. In this stage, sales grow at a phenomenal rate and gradually, your product-market will become more stable.

Surviving this stage is a matter of giving your product an edge in comparison to the competition. When your sales stabilize, you have to revert to the development stage, analyze the software product and its sales performance, then add in new features if need be to help keep the product relevant and improve its competitive edge.

An example is Apple, who keeps reinventing and adding new features to their products, keeping their customers always interested in their products. If you fail to restart the cycle at this stage, you will go into the decline stage

· Decline

In the decline stage, your sales begin to drop. This is probably because every interested person has already bought your product or better and more innovative products than yours have come up. To keep the competitive edge and keep your product market share stable, you have to revamp your product and iteration of the product’s features. In between the maturity and decline stage, you need to jumpstart the product development cycle to propel your product’s growth. Some companies at this stage may opt to withdraw their software from the market.

The product development cycle (PDC) is a segment of the product life cycle (PLC). The difference between the two lies in that the PDC concentrates on the planning, development, and evaluation of the product. The PLC focuses on product performance in the market and the

· Software Product Development Process Best Practices

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Based on business requirements, software developers write different software products such as web, desktop, or mobile applications. Each app is built for each business’s specific needs and requirements.

The developers ought to focus on the product’s user experience and usability, as well as business requirements. They must also look for a way to deliver a top-quality product and avoid taking up extra development time or cost. To do this, the developers must adopt some best practices to enable them to build products that are up to par with predefined and specified business requirements, and at the same time, deliver an excellent user experience.

These best practices include:

  1. Collect and Understand the Specifications

An organization cannot make a software product development process a success without being realistic about cost and development time. The projected development time helps the project manager to choose the right development tools and technologies. During planning, the product manager analyzes the business requirements and conveys the same to the software development team for them to meet the deadlines.

  1. Assess the advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Technologies

A programmer can write one software in various programming languages. Developers also have at their disposal several general-purpose programming languages that they can use for different products. The programmers however need to keep in mind that each language has its advantages and disadvantages.

Each language has its in-built capabilities, and the developers have to utilize templates, tools or frameworks that extend the programming language’s capabilities. The programmer has to compare different technologies against each other based on the project’s needs.

  1. Write Simple Code

As mentioned, programmers can write one software in various programming languages, and similarly, they can build software quickly by picking from a wide selection of development tools and frameworks. However, the programmers must keep the source code clean, organized, and readable.

When the code is simple and readable, the developers can quickly resolve any maintenance and development issues that crop up. The simple code makes it easier for programmers to fix bugs and defects found in the product.

  1. Continuously Test the Software

Software testing is a huge part of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Organizations need to make sure the software is tested continuously during every phase of the SDLC. The software testing process needs to be automated to ensure the testers redo the tests under different user conditions to produce reliable results. Regular testing helps the testers detect defects in a product early and the developers can quickly repair the defects.

e) Regularly Review the Code

Every piece of code contains an error, but the programmer may fail to notice the flaws. Enterprises can keep flawless code by reviewing the code regularly. The original code can be validated and verified by another programmer to detect bugs. The programmers should thoroughly review the code before incorporating it into the base code. The frequency of the code reviews ensures you improve on the final code, and reduces the time spent on software testing.

How Fast Can You Get a Product to Market?

The shorter a product development cycle is the better for your business. If it takes too long, the customer’s attention will have shifted, other people will have come up with the same concept. Things might have changed and your software product will no longer be solving the problem it would have, had you expedited your product launch.

To hasten the process from design to launch, you need several things:

· Save on Capital

One mistake most entrepreneurs make is to use money extravagantly on first-time products. The less of your capital you use on research and the minimum viable product, the better. If you spend too much, you may run into cash flow problems when you need to go into actual production, lengthening the time from production to market.

· Capable management

You need a capable project manager who can co-ordinate the development project using the right tools and methodologies.

· Talent

You need the right talent for the job. The development team needs to be capable of working as a team to get the product from FFE to launch in the shortest time possible.

You can also keep your development cycles shorter by using a parallel approach. This might work in two different ways- one is having multiple multifunctional development teams working parallel to each other. In the second approach, the same teams can work on various tasks, striving to finish as many as they can in parallel.

Other features of parallel software product development include:

  • Empowered teams that can make sound decisions
  • Parallel tasks
  • Product definition
  • Assigned project managers for each project
  • Thorough pre-production tests

What Is Product Development in Marketing?

The product development strategy you use helps to stir up interest in your new product. The product-marketing plan integrates your product introduction process that is affected after the design and testing. This is where manufacturing comes in and a prototype is developed, then onwards to sales.

For your test marketing strategy to take effect, you need to:

· Prepare your strategy early on

Your potential customers need to be able to understand your product’s purpose. What compares or distinguishes it from your competitors.

· Use social media platforms

Build your software product’s landing page immediately it leaves the development stage and was already been vetted by consumer market testing groups. Make use of the site’s features to amass more customer data for the product launch. Keep the product’s impetus by starting a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the product.

· Listen to Promotion Ideas

If anyone in the company has an idea of product promotion, listen to the ideas, and choose what will work best.

· Designate Budget and Goals

As your software becomes more tangible, assign a team that will be responsible for the product launch. This team will formulate a budget and set goals.

· Develop Marketing Materials

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Assemble your product’s marketing support and advertisement content. Determine what the product requires for customer warranty and support.

Final Thoughts

Product development refers to all the stages that are involved in moving a product from idea or concept to market launch and further. In simple words, product development maps a product’s journey from inception onwards.

In various organizations, product development may be another name for an implementation team, which comprises mostly of engineers, developers, and QA (quality assurance). In personnel, however, it should be viewed as a process that brings products to the eventual market and involves several teams such as:

  • Project management
  • Product marketing
  • Product management
  • Agile management (product owners, Scrum masters, etc.)
  • Design
  • Architecture and many others

To prevent a promising software product from failing in the face of challenges, you have to have your strategies well put together using the right methodology. When you strategize effectively, the likelihood of a successful product is high.