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Understanding the Product Development Life Cycle Keeps Your Team on Track

Will Lam


Every product and feature rollout starts with a seed of an idea. Ideas come from everywhere. It may be internal or external, analytically-driven, or creatively-fuelled.

So, how do you turn those ideas into full-fledged products for your customers? And how do you sift through all the ideas and prioritize for the most ROI and best customer experience?

Understanding and using the product development life cycle helps teams execute more agile product development, which is increasingly important in an ever-changing economy. Teams can visualize their work, mapping it to different development stages along the way. It makes it easier for product managers to guide the development process and increases visibility into how every individual’s work comes together to create a product. And it helps teams prioritize for the greatest ROI.

You can look at the product development process as a cycle—a continuous, iterative process that you plan, build, and release for a product. The product development life cycle breaks the process into seven different stages.

1. Idea Generation

Idea generation is the first stage of the product development life cycle. This is where you develop your initial product concept. Some ideas may never see the light of day, while the most plausible ideas move into the next stage of the product development life cycle.

Make idea generation more than just an organized meeting or forum where people can share ideas. Create a culture of ideation and collaboration to keep coming up with new and innovative ideas. This includes transparency and regular knowledge-sharing, both about your company and the industry as a whole. You’ll also need to set the team up with collaborative tools—things like Slack and video-conferencing software—to empower people to brainstorm with colleagues on their team and across other departments.

Inspiration and ideas come from everywhere:

  • Your employees. Create a way for staff on your team and in other departments to submit ideas—consider a Google Form so people can do it on their own time, and when ideas strike. Give them the option to remain anonymous should they choose. Hold regular brainstorms: both individual and in organized group settings.
  • Competition. It’s always a good idea to see what your competitors are up to. Note new products and feature launches and share them with your team. This could spark ideas for your own offerings.
  • Market research. Market research encompasses a lot of things, from the state of the economy to consumer behaviour. Staying up to date on market trends will reveal opportunities for new product ideas.
  • Customer feedback. Your customers are one of the most important and valuable data sources at your disposal. At DevCycle, we're paving for the way for this sort of user-driven growth in the feature management space via our Feature Opt-In program. Feature Opt-In allows end users of your product to "opt-in" to different functionalities, and provide critical feedback to your team. This user-driven growth helps your team balance both business and user needs in product development.

2. Idea Screening

While the idea generation stage is all about coming up with as many ideas as possible, idea screening is where you narrow down the options to choose the best ones. This avoids wasted resources.

So, how do you know which ideas are best? According to a survey, 43% of teams prioritize the ideas that were most requested by their users—this is a simple, customer-first approach based on feature requests. The same survey showed that 88% of product managers solicit feedback before they build a product. You could also prioritize based on ROI potential or chronological order—or a combination of more than one.

However you decide to prioritize, share that with your team and allow them to screen ideas as well. Zappos, for example, empowers their whole team during the idea-screening stage of the product development life cycle by allowing each individual to prioritize their ideas and experiments independently. This has mitigated bottlenecks and created an environment where product teams aren’t afraid to own and test ideas.

“The majority of our team can run experiments without even telling me,” says Zappos’ Head of Product, Andrew Nguyen. “They just need to execute and report on their experiments with a high level of integrity.”

3. Concept Development and Testing

Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Focusing on your best product idea(s), this stage of the product development life cycle is where you build out a “blueprint” for bringing it to life. Then you can test it for early feedback.

The best product development strategies incorporate ongoing testing. There are many ways you can test concepts. More than a third of product managers who responded to a survey say they candidly collect feedback, making it the most popular method. Others leverage user research groups (27.4%), analytics (20.4%), beta-testing programs (9.6%), and interviews (7%).

4. Business and Marketing Strategy Development

You’ve adjusted your detailed concept based on early feedback and are now ready to move onto the next stage: business development and marketing strategy. This is where you build a plan to bring the product idea to the masses (or your selected target group).

Take Drift, for example. They coined the phrase “conversational marketing” and used that as a key tenet in their marketing strategy and business plan. They had the idea, developed and validated the product concept, and promoted it through effective marketing, going so far as to write entire books on the subject. This primed their audience for their product and drove user engagement.

And it doesn’t stop there. The product development life cycle is continuous, and Drift rolls out new products and features, namely their revenue acceleration platform, for which they’ve taken a similar content-driven marketing approach.

It’s important to consider a cross-platform approach in your marketing strategy. Email marketing, push notifications, optimizing for mobile, and personalization are all key to effective marketing.

That’s a lot of different pieces to put together. Incorporate marketing automation to set things on auto-pilot and free your team’s time for more important tasks—and the next stage of the product development life cycle.

5. Product Development

Now your new product idea is really going to come to life. This is the stage that puts the “product development” in “product development life cycle.” Use your tested and proven concepts, adjust according to feedback, and build your product based on your business and marketing strategy.

The product development stage includes things like branding and naming. You give new features their official name and put new products in a branded package that’s cohesive with the rest of your offerings.

6. User Testing and Optimization

You might think your work is done when the product is complete, but that’s just stage five of a seven-step product development life cycle. Now it’s time to test and optimize the strategies you’ve built. This is your opportunity to drive user adoption rates and optimize the product experience.

7. Commercialization and Release

According to one Gartner survey, 45% of product launches are delayed at least one month. And one month in today’s environment is a long time. Botched product releases negatively impact the customer experience and overall brand perception.

To mitigate these types of delays during your commercialization and release phase, build a release management plan. This serves as a guide to make it easier to execute phased rollouts. Phased rollouts break the release into smaller steps so it’s easier to execute. A phased release with feature flags also prevents delays by rolling out changes slowly and making it easy to revert when needed.

Feature flags allow you to turn specific functionality on and off without requiring you to write additional code. They make it simple to dynamically change your code without needing full deployments to roll out the changes. You can more easily test features in production before you release them to the public, as well as controlling individual users’ experiences and gaining insight into the effectiveness of your release.

Bring the Product Development Life Cycle Full Circle with Customer Insights

Understanding and using the seven stages of the product development life cycle keeps your team motivated and organized, and projects prioritized and smoothly executed. It helps create a culture of continuous ideation and experimentation so you can get the greatest ROI on new products and features. DevCycle offers a suite of tools that you can use at each stage to help you maximize efficiency and ROI. Create your account today!

Written By

Will Lam