New Product development (NPD) is critical to business growth and is what makes the role of a Product Manager so exciting and rewarding. Taking an idea and creating a case for why it should be worked on and seeing that idea come to life is why many are attracted to the field.
But new product development can be a daunting task, especially if this is your first Product Management role. How do you go about idea generation? What commercialization and marketing channels should be used? What steps do you need to take to ensure your project is successful?
Let’s break down the new product development process into their key phases, so that you can have confidence in the performance of your shiny new feature.
Phase 1: Research, Research, And More Research
Answer the “why?” behind your product so you’re creating something that hits your goals.
The first new product development stage in any process is the research phase. Having a solid foundation to answer the “why” behind your product or feature is key to its success, and more often than not, its approval for you to work on it in the first place.
Business leaders typically want an air-tight case into how this new product will help them meet their goals, and the research phase is where you gather information to make the case for your feature.
Research can take on multiple forms and modalities. Here are the important components of any new digital product research study:
Your highest priority as a product manager should be ensuring that every feature, tool, and product you develop is built around customer needs. In your research documentation, be sure to include any qualitative data or quantitative data you have in order to make the case that your new product will benefit your customers.
It can be very valuable to partner with your User Research team at this stage if you have access to one, and having a brainstorming session can ensure that your team is aligned on how your product will solve your customer’s problem or improve their outcomes.
Here are some examples of what to ask your group at a brainstorming session around user fit:
How will your new product be different from those already on the market?
How will it succeed where others have failed?
How confident are you that there is available market share for your product?
You’ll also want to ensure that your new product ideas will help your organization achieve their financial goals and commitments outlined in their business plan.
For instance, maybe goals for this quarter have been defined by business leaders are:
Increase subscription revenue by 3%.
Reduce churn by 10%
Reduce customer support contacts by 5%
Your product concept has a much better chance of being prioritized in your company’s roadmap if you have evidence of it impacting one or more of these goals. Be sure to partner with your analytics or finance team closely when conducting this type of business analysis.
You’ll also want to ensure that your product can be competitive in terms of pricing for your consumer, and include that in your business case. Even if your product is the best on the market, it will be an uphill battle to attract new customers if they are used to paying a much lower price for a similar product.
What Gets Better for the User?
What Gets Better for the Business?
The user will have one less step to checkout
Faster checkout = more conversions
The user can more easily navigate the site
The user will be exposed to additional features
User fit and business fit can be documented in a table or chart like the one above.
Defining The MVP
Finally, as part of your research documentation, you’ll want to propose what your “MVP,” or minimal viable product, for your new feature would include. An MVP can be thought of as your product’s early-stage or first draft, as the goal is to create a version that allows for the most learnings with the lowest cost. Launching an MVP prior to a complete end-to-end product is a great way to introduce your feature to customers and observe their behaviors and interactions with it via concept testing.
At this point, you will also want to work on developing the roadmap for the rest of your digital product’s development. Work with your project management, design, and engineering teams to estimate how long the project will take, what the development costs are, and how many resources need to be dedicated to it in order for it to stay on schedule.
Be sure to include time for an innovation process and iterating on your feature after conducting user research, as well as scheduled time for end-to-end testing for you and your QA team.
Phase 2: Wireframing
Create a basic diagram or rendering of your product that allows you to collaborate with others.
Now that you have established that your product will fit the needs of your user and your business goals, you can start transforming your ideations work into a wireframe or a sketch of what the main features of the product will be.
It is important to note that you do not need to be a designer or have design skills to create a useful wireframe. The key is not to focus on the design or look of the product, but rather to outline the product’s user flows, entry and exit points, and key features.
Layout these items in a story board or flow chart that you can later share with your engineering and design teams as you introduce them to your idea for your MVP.
Check out this article on some of the best wireframing tools for UX and Product professionals.
Phase 3: Design
Start bringing your idea to life by working with design experts.
Once you’ve completed your wireframe, sync with your UX/design team and introduce them to the user flows. This is a good time to confirm what the overall vision for the product is, and how you plan to roll out the design to users.
It may be worth your time to have the design team create high fidelity, or realistic, mockups of your product, which you can then give to your User Research team to show to potential users in order to gain their feedback prior to the feature’s release.
Be sure to pay special attention to how the user moves throughout your product. Does it take them a long time to checkout? Do they get confused and not understand how to move to the next step? These are all critical components of a well-thought-out design.
Don’t forget to bring in content specialists for any copy development needs, and be sure to test different copy iterations with your potential customers prior to launch. Different language resonates with different audiences, and you’ll want to ensure that any copy within your product is speaking to your customers effectively.
Phase 4: Engage Marketing
Ensure that your target audience is convinced your product is perfect for their needs.
In order for your product to be successful, you need to ensure that you have a robust marketing plan in place to announce your product to your target market once it is complete. You will want to bring in your marketing team at this stage, particularly a Product Marketing Manager, who can help guide you through the proper channels to consider when advertising your product.
Typically they will create a “GTM” or “Go to Market” plan, which is a marketing strategy that details how they will drive early adoption of your new feature through things like email blasts, advertising campaigns, social media, etc.
Phase 5: Development And Iteration
Watch as your product is built and iterate on it throughout the development cycle.
Here is the exciting part: where your product vision starts to come to life through the work of your engineering team. After finalizing your designs, you’ll hand them off to your engineering team typically by walking them through the designs and user flows.
From here, the development steps will vary by team, but often include creating a backlog of tasks, a review session, and iterations along the way. As your team is developing their backlog, be sure to include tasks for things like instrumenting the product with data capture and analytics, so that you are enabled to measure your product’s success in the future.
As a Product Manager, your primary objective at this stage is to ensure the right work is being prioritized, and to be the resource for your engineering team should they encounter roadblocks or have questions along the way. It can be helpful to have regular meetings with your engineering team, and some teams find daily “standup” or check-in meetings to be helpful.
Phase 6: Robust Testing
Take the time to ensure that your product is ready to go live and catch any mistakes early.
Once your engineering or development team has completed their tasks, your product should be ready for testing. Prior to kicking off testing efforts with your QA team, be sure to have detailed requirements documented for them to review.
For instance, do you need to be signed in to view the new experience, or is it free to access? Do you need to be coming from a particular domain or location? These details will ensure a smooth testing process and can save valuable time leading up to launch.
It is also a good idea to host “dogfooding” sessions with focus groups consisting of both members of your team as well as members from other teams in your organization. At these sessions, participants are given access to the new feature and testing requirements, and are asked to impersonate a user of the product and document any issues they may encounter.
It is always a good idea to have an analyst run data validation as you conduct testing to prevent and gaps in metrics capturing. Dogfooding is a great way to engage your team, catch bugs, and promote your new product to the entire company.
Phase 7: Production Launch
It’s go time! Start diving in to your data and develop reports for leadership.
Congrats on releasing your final product, but the work doesn’t end here! After you push your work of art to production and it starts to be leveraged by your users, it is critical to have dedicated support and maintenance plans in place. You want to make sure that any issues that arise post-launch can be handled smoothly and with as little interruption to your customer as possible.
In this final stage, start looking at the metrics that you are capturing as a result of the instrumentation you completed in step 5. You’ll want to make sure that the trends you are seeing match your expectations and identify any possible issues prior to reporting on your product’s success to leadership.
While these steps are a great first step in planning your next digital product launch, each team will handle feature creation differently. Be sure to tailor each phase to work well with your team’s architecture and processes, and take a moment to enjoy the ride as you launch your next successful product!