The 7 stages of the product development lifecycle explained
February 08, 2023
We’ve previously written about the importance of having a product strategy framework and a product development strategy. But do you understand how these fit into the broader context of the product development lifecycle?
The product development lifecycle is a set of critical stages that can help guide your team through the creative process from ideation to launch. Let’s look at each in more detail.
What is the product development lifecycle?
The product development lifecycle is essential for any business looking to develop successful products.
The stages of the product development lifecycle include ideation, validation, prototyping, marketing, development, launch, and improvement (we’ll explain what each entails a bit further on).
Having each stage of the creative process set out helps teams tick off each step efficiently while ensuring there’s no confusion about what to do next. And by following this systemized approach to developing new products or services, businesses can stay focused, competitive, and efficient.
Which teams are involved in the product development lifecycle?
The short answer: anyone who’s working on the product. Typically, you’ll include a project manager, designers, engineers, marketers, customer service teams, marketing and sales teams, and senior management.
When it comes to milestone meetings, you’ll want to include a representative from each of these departments. Still, smaller meetings between teams will typically involve all designers, all marketers (and so on), or a mixture, depending on the stage and goals.
Product development lifecycle vs. product development strategy
Two very similar names but two very different functions.
|Product development lifecycle||Product development strategy|
|– Sets out what the individual stages are, from ideation through to launch and improvement. |
– It’s a big-picture view.
|– Refers to how the stages of the product development lifecycle are organized and completed.|
– It’s a task-focused roadmap for development tailored to the organization’s goals and objectives.
Product development lifecycle vs. product lifecycle
The product development lifecycle and the product lifecycle are two completely different concepts (but easy to mix up because of the similar sounding names!)
The product development lifecycle refers to creating a new product, from ideation to launch. On the other hand, the product life cycle analyzes how products change over time as they gain or lose sales volume and market share.
Here are the typical product lifecycle stages:
The product development lifecycle, on the other hand, has seven key stages: ideation, validation, prototyping, marketing, development, launch, and improvement. And we’ll look at each in the next section.
7 key stages of the product development lifecycle
Now that we’re all clear about definitions. Let’s take a look at those stages in a little more detail.
Step 1: Ideation
Ideation is the first stage of the product development life cycle. It’s all about generating ideas and exploring possible solutions to problems. During this stage, teams will brainstorm, research customer needs, develop prototypes, and develop a business plan.
Make sure you’ve done your research to get the most out of it. The more data you have about your users, the better your ideas will be suited to solve their problems. You’ll also have a clearer picture of what your product needs to accomplish—meaning more focus and faster solutions.
Top tip: Hold back from thinking about feasibility at this stage. Brainstorming is all about getting creative, so let your ideas run free!
Step 2: Validation
During this stage, you’ll assess your idea’s feasibility and desirable from a market perspective.
You’ll need to find out what people think of it by conducting surveys and interviews, running user tests, looking at your website data, and so on. Once you have the data, you’ll be better positioned to assess whether people are willing to buy your product and their expectations.
Top tip: Use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Combined, these provide a complete understanding of your product’s potential.
Step 3: Prototyping
Once you’re confident your product has an audience, it’s time to create a prototype.
This involves taking the ideas generated during ideation and turning them into a low-fidelity version your team can test with users. So if you’re working on an app or website, this will be your wireframing stage. If you’re working on a physical product, it’ll be a rough version with only the essential features included.
Use this stage as an opportunity to gather feedback from users and validate your design. If you need to make changes or tweaks, this is the time to do it. If you find people reporting issues or requesting specific changes, you’ll want to go back to stage two and repeat them before moving on.
Top tip: Prototype in stages so you can get feedback on your primary interface and specific features instead of general feedback for the whole thing.
Step 4: Marketing
Once you’ve prototyped your product, it’s time to start thinking about how people will find out about it.
This involves creating a marketing plan that outlines your sales and promotion strategies. It should include press releases, content marketing, social media campaigns, etc. You’ll also want to define some KPIs, so you can measure your marketing efforts as time goes on.
User personas turn all your data into something a bit more personable. Essentially, these fictional characters personify the different types of people using your product. Targeting your message, so it resonates with a ‘typical’ user (or users) is more effective than trying to communicate with a big faceless mass.
Get started with a free user persona template in Cacoo
As part of this stage, you’ll also need to look at what your competitors are doing and figure out where you fit into the broader market. What’s your USP? What are they doing that you can do better? What are they not doing? All important questions to ask!
Step 5: Development
This is the stage where it all comes together—you’ve validated your idea, created a prototype, and planned your marketing strategy. Now it’s time to start building the actual product.
The development phase involves turning your wireframes or prototype models into something more tangible. Depending on the type of product you’re creating, this could include coding, 3D printing, or anything else.
During the development phase, it’s essential to be agile and iterate quickly. This means being open to changes that come from user feedback during testing and making sure your design and engineering teams are communicating with one another. One way to do this? Via an MVP.
An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a version of a product that’s been stripped down to the bare bones and released early. This allows you to test, iterate and build up your product over time as feedback comes in—making it more effective than trying to create everything perfectly from the get-go. Unlike a prototype, it does contain all your key features.
Top tip: Use a diagramming tool for the development stage. With Cacoo, the whole team can create wireframes, leave comments, create user personas, and collaboratively brainstorm via online whiteboards, all from one place.
Step 6: Launch
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the launch stage! All your hard work has paid off, and now it’s time to introduce your product to the world. You’ll want to plan your launch carefully, ensuring everything is in place for a successful start. This includes setting up analytics tools, testing for bugs, updating documentation, etc.
Ideally, you’ll want to ensure a good amount of buzz around your launch. This could involve sending out press releases and doing any type of PR activity to get people talking about your product. Consider sending free samples to influencers, throwing a party, or giving discounts to the first few customers.
You’ll also want to watch closely to see how your product performs. Track usage, read social media comments, watch how users interact with the product, and take notes of any problems they report.
Top tip: don’t forget to enjoy this stage and celebrate all your hard work! Product development is neither easy nor fast—so allow yourself to bask in the glory of a job well done.
Step 7: Improvement
The launch stage marks the end of the product development cycle, but it’s certainly not the end of your work. You’ll want to keep track of user feedback and usage reports, as well as performance metrics like conversion rates and engagement levels. This will help you identify areas of improvement, allowing you to keep iterating and improving your product over time—a must if you want to stay relevant and ahead of the competition.
You’ll also want to explore new features as possible ways to improve your product. This could be anything from redesigning elements of the UI/UX or introducing new tools into the platform. Ultimately, these changes should add value for your users and make their experience more enjoyable and efficient.
Top tip: Use product management software to stay on top of all your changes. With Backlog, you can create interactive Gantt charts and Kanban boards to stay on track, plus stay on top of project housekeeping thanks to version control and archiving features.
The product life cycle is an ongoing process that requires constant learning, testing, and iterating. As long as you keep your users in mind and make decisions based on their feedback, you’ll be able to efficiently move through the different stages and come out of each one with a solution that’s just right.