Do you have an idea that feels like “the next big thing?” Or maybe you’d like to build on an existing idea to tweak or enhance it. When it comes to the product development process, there are plenty of use cases where it can be applied. And for the entrepreneurs and businesses that apply it well, the outcomes can be incredible.
But there’s a big obstacle: for many, the product development cycle can be wildly intimidating and even mysterious. It can be hard to know what applies where and which steps to take at the right time.
In this article, we’ll go over the basics of the process, some examples, and six key steps to product development, including:
Product and market research
Product and business planning
Sourcing and manufacturing
What is product development?
Product development refers to the overall process of taking a product from concept to market. This includes conceptualizing the item, identifying audience needs, collecting feedback, building the product roadmap, and launching the item. For some companies, product development covers revamping an existing product and introducing an old product in a new market.
In any company, no one role is responsible for product development. Whether you are an established corporation or an early stage startup, product development will span every department, including engineering, manufacturing, UI/UX, product marketing, and more. Each unit plays a key role in building, defining, managing, testing, and releasing the product.
What is new product development (NPD)?
New product development is an essential aspect of product design. Until the product’s life cycle comes to an end, you can continue to iterate on new versions of the product by adding new features or enhancing existing ones. Plus, stakeholders can continue to collect user feedback to help improve future products. With evolving customer preferences, the product design process makes new product development all the more important.
The product development process in 6 steps
Every product roadmap will be different, but there are six key steps that every product development team should run through to ensure they’re covering the bases. Let’s go over each one.
1. Idea generation
Many aspiring entrepreneurs get stuck on the very first step. They think that they need to be inspired by a massive aha moment—something that’s never been done before. But the truth is, innovation can happen in small ways.
Remember the acronym SCAMPER as you think of all the ways you can approach product concept development:
Substitute: replacing one material or element for another
Combine: putting two pre-existing products or processes together
Adapt: changing one element of an existing product or process
Modify: changing the design or functionality of an existing product or process
Put to another use: finding new ways to implement existing products or processes
Eliminate: getting rid of one element or step in an existing product or process
Reverse/rearrange: changing-up the outcomes of an existing product or process
2. Product and market research
Research is an absolutely critical part of the product development process. Without it, you might find later down the road that you’ve made some critical mistakes. Or worse: without market research, you might find that you’ve spent tons of time and resources developing a product that your target market doesn’t actually want to buy!
You’ll need to gather significant product validation before you move forward with building your final product. But you can’t just ask a few people if they like the idea. You’ll need to do some deeper digging, like:
Creating surveys to gather opinions and suggestions
Engaging other experts and potential end users through online forums
Using market research tools like Google Trends and the Pew Research Center
Test marketing, which is testing your idea on a small group of people
Creating a crowdfunding campaign to see how the market reacts to your idea
3. Product and business planning
Once you’ve successfully validated your idea, it’s time to plan. For product planning purposes, you’ll want to create detailed product sketches and 3D models that will help you when it’s time to start prototyping and building. The more detailed your blueprints, the easier it will be for you to bring your idea to life.
You’ll also need to consider other planning elements for your product roadmap, like:
The specific materials you’ll want to build your product from
How you’ll want your packaging and labeling to look
Costing, or calculating how much each unit will cost to produce (like COGS, or cost of goods sold), then figuring out how much you need to price the item at to ensure you’re making a profit
General business planning, like how you plan to run the business and stay afloat in the long term
Now it’s time to bring your masterpiece to life. During the prototyping process, you’ll create a final product that will be your model for mass manufacturing.
Depending on the type of product you’re prototyping, it’s likely that you won’t get it right on your first try. It’s common to create multiple versions of your product, then narrow it down to your favorite once you’ve had a chance to actually feel it and test it in the real world.
Your goal is to come up with a minimum viable product (MVP), or a product that gets the basic job done sufficiently, but doesn’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles you’d like to add in the long run.
In some cases, you’ll be able to prototype yourself, like if you’re a clothing designer making your own items. But if you’re developing items like electronics, toys, or accessories, you’ll likely need to start by sourcing a partner or manufacturer to help.
5. Sourcing and manufacturing
Once you’re satisfied with your product prototype, the next step is gathering the materials and finding manufacturing partners. Your product supply chain will be powered by vendors, resources, and activities needed to make the product and get it to your audience. Project management becomes crucial during this stage of product development.
When searching for producers, take advantage of both in-person and online resources. You can attend trade shows dedicated to sourcing, for instance. Trade shows like Magic offer the opportunity to meet hundreds of suppliers at once to see and discuss materials. Face-to-face interaction with vendors can be valuable when it comes time to negotiate.
You can also go through Alibaba, the most popular sourcing platform for manufacturers. You can browse the Alibaba marketplace listings for raw materials or finished products. One tip is to search for listings of products similar to your own and then contact the factory to ask if they can make your preferred design.
6. Product launch and commercialization
The time has come! The world deserves to meet your product. In this step, you’ll release your product into the world and listen closely to the initial feedback.
Here are some ways to generate attention and get sales in the early stages of your product launch:
Create a beautiful, eye-catching website that explains your product well and gives users an opportunity to buy smoothly and easily.
Host a pre-launch giveaway or contest to generate an email list, then use email marketing to nurture those contacts indefinitely.
Find the right marketing and distribution channels to make sure the right people are seeing your product.
Develop a social media marketing strategy to build engagement on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and SnapChat.
Work with relevant players in your industry, like partnering with influencers and other brands.
Attend industry events, conferences, and networking opportunities to build relationships and get the word out.
Product development examples
Food and beverage
One of the easiest products to start developing is food and beverage items. You can manage their development from the comfort of your own home, and at a low cost. It’s as simple as buying ingredients for specific food and tweaking the recipe in your kitchen.
But to transition from recipe to packaged food you can sell online and in stores, you will need to find a commercial kitchen licensed to produce food. A co-manufacturer might be an even better option if you’re considering mass production.
With food product development, you’ll also need to consider the following:
Expiry dates. You will need to consider your product’s lifetime and how you will package and stock the item to accommodate this.
Labels and warnings. Many countries have laws around allergen warnings, dietary labels, and health claims you must comply with.
Cosmetics and beauty
Self-care and wellness trends have created a thriving market for a range of cosmetics and beauty products. From skin care to bath products to makeup, many brands are focusing on organic ingredients, making it easier to prototype a product using everyday materials.
You can also look into white labeling, where you find an existing manufacturer and then package and brand the products they produce. Note that cosmetic manufacturing requires working with a chemist and lab to ensure the quality remains consistent at scale.
Other factors to consider:
Shelf life. Test products and add necessary expiry labels to them.
Regulations. See what FDA regulations apply to your product and packaging. Then ensure your product design complies with them. Most countries require cosmetics manufacturers to warn about any potential reactions of their products.
Pave your own product development roadmap
No two product roadmaps will look the same, but the product development process should always be covering the same types of bases. Follow this six-step guide, from idea generation to planning to launch, and you’ll be on the right path. As you get more familiar with your industry, the pieces of your unique product development cycle will continue to unfold.
The main things to keep in mind are to be diligent, well-researched, and well-prepared as you enter into the process. Make sure you’re keeping an open mind and ready to pivot whenever new information suggests that it’s needed.
Product development FAQ
What is the difference between product development and product management?
Product development refers to the ideation and creation of a new item. It incorporates a specific product strategy into the product lifecycle to turn a concept into reality. Product management involves guiding all teams toward building a usable product people will buy. The two departments work together to develop the product roadmap to bring the item to market.
How can I come up with product ideas?
Online consumer trend publications
B2B wholesale marketplaces