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What Is The Product Development Life Cycle? 7 Stages And Why They Matter

Finding long-term product traction can be difficult. 35% of start-ups fail because their product doesn’t meet an actual need. Your products get customers coming to your store or website and keep them returning for more. But the process of getting a new product idea from inception to launch can be a significant undertaking. This is where the product development life cycle comes in.

Understanding and using this process helps your teams visualize their work and map it to several development stages. Product managers can also use it to guide the development process and increase their understanding of how every team member’s work comes together to create a product.

What Is the Product Development Life Cycle?

The product development life cycle (PDLC) provides an in-depth description of all activities your teams perform to deliver an idea to the market and your target audience. This includes recognizing market needs, conceptualizing the product, creating a product roadmap, releasing the product, and gathering feedback. Each stage of your PDLC helps your company create products that can survive several market changes and bring value to your customers.

7 Stages of the Product Development Life Cycle 

Ideation/Brainstorming 

Ideation or brainstorming is where you develop your first product concept. Some of your team’s ideas might never see the light of day, but their most plausible ideas move forward to the next stage of your PDLC. This stage aims to brainstorm a list of problems to solve or opportunities you can seize. There are many tried-and-true methods to develop creative product ideas and validate them.

  • SCAMPER: This is an idea-creating method where you and your team need to Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Eliminate, and Reverse solutions already out there. You don’t have to create a drastic innovation, but you can improve the available ones to help you create better options.
  • Mind-mapping: When using the mind-mapping method, you write out ideas and concepts you like and determine ways to combine them. Using a visual map of everything you and your teams come up with can sometimes help you find unexpected solutions.
  • Scientific materials: It’s unnecessary to rely on your life experiences and insights, which can be limited to your local area and vision. Exploring the latest publications can help you find difficulties you didn’t notice before.
  • Crowdsourcing: Sometimes, discovering new ideas requires the experiences of several creators from various backgrounds. Brands often use crowdsourcing companies to help them contact creators and use their insights to develop new ideas.

After getting all your ideas from these sources, you can use idea management software to collate these ideas when planning your product.

Product Scope 

During this stage, you, the product manager, and the designers work together to create the features that are going to be in your product. The upcoming steps in the PDLC are where you work to implement these features. The end result of this stage is a specific, if-we-could-do-it-all version of the feature. After designing these features, you can take time to identify the minimum lovable version of it.

Wireframing/Prototyping 

After settling on your product and its features, it’s time to build a prototype. This is where you will create a mockup or working version of the product using wireframing tools. There are various prototyping tools you can use to get an idea of how your product will look, feel, and work. This information can also give you an idea of the final cost and determine whether you’re within your budget.

First Iteration 

With your prototype ready, you can now get early feedback from your target audience. It’s better to get feedback as soon as possible from your audience. So, you can release your “Alpha” version of your product. This is because the product isn’t finished yet, and it’s a good idea to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction before a full launch in the future.

Product Testing

Now you’re ready to test and optimize your product. If you’re working with quality assurance (QA) specialists early on in your PDLC, they probably already established standards and tracked mistakes. You can use various tests, such as field, market, compliance, or regression tests, to determine whether there’s room for improvement or if you overlooked anything. Using feedback software can help you collect customer feedback and use this information to enhance your product.

Second Iteration 

During this stage, you’re going to present the product, or its basic version, to your first customers. The information they provide you can help you improve the functionality of your product and prepare it for the actual launch. Your development team might also present better ways to build your product. The goal here is to increase your product’s value for your customers.

Public Launch

Even when your product is ready to go, if you don’t launch it strategically, it’s not going to reach your target audience accordingly. There are many products in the marketplace that aren’t successful simply because people don’t know they exist. Your customers don’t have the energy to evaluate which products are worth their time. It’s your job to market your product effectively. An excellent delivery plan can contribute as much towards your product’s success as its quality.

The Cycle Continues.

Your product development life cycle is an ongoing process in your product development strategy and doesn’t reach a final destination. But, if your public launch went well, you should be able to collect the best feedback yet. As your customers interact with your product, take as many notes as possible of their behavior and use the information to tweak existing features, add new ones, or make improvements to increase customer lifetime value.

By taking a close look at what happens during each stage of the PDLC, you can ensure that consumer, market, competition, or environmental factors won’t jeopardize your time to market. With shared data, unified teams, and visualizations about how disruptions or changes might affect your processes, you can design a successful approach to developing PDLCs that ensure your products reach the market quickly.

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager.

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