A Guide to the Product Development Cycle

The product development cycle is not to be confused with the concept of the product life cycle. Whilst the latter applies to how a product performs once it is on the market, the former describes the process that a product goes through in its design stages.

What is the product development cycle?

The product development cycle is the process that an original product goes through from conception to being put on the market. Every stage of the cycle ensures that a product has been tested, refined and optimised to perform as well as possible after its launch, and each step must be completed before the product moves on in its development.

A systematic approach to product development may sometimes seem unnecessary, but having a development framework in place is vital in preventing mistakes from being made and helping potential issues get identified early. Following tried and tested systems improves productivity, streamlines production and gives a more accurate estimate of how long a product will take to be completed, all of which are beneficial for a business.

Product Development Life Cycle Stages

The exact stages of new product development differ between industries, as certain types of product may require more rigid testing or less market research. However, the most important steps of product development can be summarised in seven different phases.

1. Ideation

The objective of this stage of the product development cycle is to identify a problem that needs solving, and then identify how your new product is going to do this.

Whilst inventing an entirely new product is brilliant, the majority of ideas come from analysing existing products and building on their properties to create something better. This can be done through team brainstorming, market research, or simply questioning existing products to deduce whether they can be improved upon.

Questions that can be helpful in this process:

  • Can I combine this product’s features with another?
  • Can I substitute a part or material for something better?
  • Can I use this product for a different purpose?
  • Can I adapt this design in some way?
  • Are there any modifications that will improve this design?
  • Can I eliminate an aspect of this product to bring more benefits to consumers?

Another key part of the ideation stage is market research and consumer feedback, which helps to identify gaps in the market where a new product may be needed. Many product ideas come from data that is collected from surveys, focus groups, previous product launches and competitor analysis, all of which can be analysed and used to spark ideas.

A target audience or consumer persona can be identified at this stage of the process, which helps to refine ideas and get a better idea of the pain points that a new product could target.

This element of product development does not need to end with a polished idea; you just need a concept or rough product that can be carried forward to the research and refinement stage.

2. Research and Refine

The objective of this cycle of the development stage is to research and gather responses to your initial product concept, then refine the idea.

In the very early stages, this could simply involve reviewing reactions to the product concept and gathering suggestions as to what works and what doesn’t. This could take place on a large scale through surveys and focus groups, or involve discussion and direct feedback with certain leaders or businesses if your product is more niche or serves a specific purpose.

It’s important to gather a wide range of feedback, both positive and negative, to ensure that you have an unbiased review of the product at this stage. It might take several iterations of a design before you start getting consistently positive feedback, but the purpose of this stage is to iron out any issues and remove undesirable aspects early so you don’t run into problems later on in the cycle of development.

In many cases, this phase of new product development ends with the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP) which is then presented to a range of different consumers. This process allows you to identify the most desirable features of your product and may take place several times as the MVP is refined.

This stage of product development may also involve competitor analysis, to ensure that any changes you are making to your design are not producing a product similar to something already on the market.

3. Design

The objective of this product development phase is to define the final product and start the technical process of designing it. Here, you will bring in engineers and developers to draw up plans and specifications for the product’s final design, as well as starting to consider who will manufacture it and the cost of materials and parts.

Product designs will be drawn up, and potentially tested in a consumer environment to refine aesthetic features and confirm certain aspects of the design.

As well as drawing up plans for the design and manufacture of the product, this stage of product development will also include the creation of quality and safety checks that the product will go through once a design has been agreed on. These are essential in ensuring that the product continues to meet standards through the development cycle, and need to be decided on early so that these checks can be planned into the process.

4. Testing

The objective of this stage of product development is to produce a product that meets the requirements identified in the last three stages and passes all necessary tests and verifications.

This is another stage that brings in product developers, testers and engineers, as the functionality of the product is tested against what has actually been produced. Here, the initial consumer requirements must be identified in the finished product prototype, and the overall performance of the product should be tested to ensure that it can effectively serve its purpose.

The tests run in this stage of the cycle of development could include safety-based checks, performance assessments and more general tests that confirm software or components work. If any issues are identified, the product may have to return to the design stage to solve the problem.

5. Sourcing and Marketing

The objective of this development cycle stage is to prepare for the mass manufacturing and production of the product.

Once a final design has been agreed on and passed all the necessary checks, you will need to source the materials to mass-produce your production, and potentially find a manufacturer if this can’t be done within your company. A supply chain will need to be built, and documents will need to be prepared for distribution to the manufacturer if needed.

The other aspect of this step of product development is to begin marketing your product and building interest in it before the release. The scale of this will vastly depend on the type of product that has been created and the industry or consumer that it is for, so the length of this stage will differ greatly.

The earlier, research stages of product planning and development will have already identified who precisely your product is for, which will help to define marketing and sales goals as well as giving you guidance on what aspects of it in particular you should lead with in marketing materials.

Products designed for the general public and everyday use will have much larger marketing campaigns than those that are for industry use, with more research and consumer involvement on the best promotional methods to use. However, if your product is for the medical industry for example, a very different marketing approach will be required that targets companies or distributors who specialize in similar products.

6. Manufacture and Launch

The objective of this phase of new product development is simple; mass produce the product and distribute it to buyers and consumers.

Once all necessary specifications have been drawn up and final designs have been confirmed, your product is ready to be manufactured and released. Along with the marketing material that will have been agreed on on the previous stage, you will also need to create any necessary instruction manuals or installation guides to be released alongside your product.

Again, the nature of your product will dictate what is involved in its launch. Certain products or brands may include events in their launch process to generate interest and reach a wider audience through consumer involvement, or there may be online elements of a product launch such as discounts or competitions.

Whilst it is important to celebrate the launch of a successful product and reward yourself with a break, there is one more stage to the product development cycle that is arguably one of the most important.

7. Improve

The final objective of the product development life cycle is to maintain the success of a product by monitoring its progress and use in the market, and making necessary improvements based on performance.

Software and electrical products in particular are usually subject to updates which maintain the effective running of internal systems and add new features that keep a product relevant and useful. But in order to complete the cycle of product development, you need to respond to changing needs of consumers and feedback by continually addressing problems that need solving, and deciding how a product can do this.

Whether it’s an update or addition to your existing product or an entirely new version, improvements tend to take you right back around the product development cycle. But, as this breakdown of the cycle has shown, every stage is essential in the design, development and production of a new product if you want to produce something that is going to be successful.

Summary

Stages of product development are put in place as a way to forecast what will be necessary in the creation of a new product, allowing business or entrepreneurs to estimate the length and cost of development and ensure they do not miss out on an important part of the cycle.

Having defined stages in product development also creates checkpoints to review the project and check that every aspect of development is running on schedule. If every task has to be completed before moving onto the next stage of product development, you won’t end up falling behind because of a single delay or miss out on any important checks that could impact later stages.

The process of developing a new product can take anything from a couple of weeks to years of hard work, and what is involved in each of the stages we have outlined will greatly differ depending on the product itself, its target market and the size and industry of the business producing it. No matter the scale or the impact of a new product, what matters is the level of attention and care put into its development to ensure each stage flows smoothly into the next to ensure only the best products continue to be developed.

If you’re looking for support in the embedded software and electronics sector then get in touch and we can help you find the right people for all stages of the product cycle.

Chris Oddy

About the Author

Chris is an award-winning recruitment consultant who has specialised in the electronics and embedded systems sector since 2008. Chris is passionate about technology and customer service.

 

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