Research and Product Development: 7 Stages and how to tackle them

Navigating the world of research and product development can be complex, but it's a necessary step to bring any new product to market. It's a structured journey, usually divided into seven key stages ranging from user research to idea generation to building to post-launch evaluation.

Each of these stages serves a particular purpose, like risk mitigation and ensuring that the product meets customer needs. It’s a linear process, but don't underestimate the power of iterative feedback at each phase:

post its with 7 stages of research and product development

Understanding this roadmap not only helps in creating a product but also in making it fit the market needs. You'll conduct ongoing market research and adjust based on customer feedback.

Before we dive in, let's talk about the importance of research in the product development process.

Why Research and Product Development Matter More Than Ever

Today's market is saturated with products and services for nearly every need. However, not all of them succeed. The difference between success and failure often lies in research and product development.

Thorough market research ensures that your product fits a current need or solves a specific problem to attract customers. Skipping this step can result in a product that fails to resonate with your target audience.

"If you don't have time for market research I surely hope you have time to start all over again." - Every Product Manager with 10+ years of experience, always.

In addition, a well-defined product development process ensures that the product goes through rigorous quality checks, functionality tests, and user validations. Cutting corners here can lead to wasted resources and a failed launch.

So, are you ready to explore how these different stages that can make or break your venture?

Stage 1: Ideation – The Starting Point of Any Great Product

Ideation is where it all begins. This stage involves gathering all customer info you can get your hands on, finding more people to talk about their problems and brainstorming. It's crucial to ensure your product idea both aligns with market needs and solves real problems.

Speaking about problems: The best (and only) starting point for any good business is an unsolved problem. The bigger, the better. Only when you solve a pressing problem for a customer, they will be willing to not only interact with a new company or product but also pay for it.

Let's have a look on how to do that best:

Group of people brainstorming on researching and product development

Idea Generation: How to Get the Ball Rolling ⚽

You might want to start with techniques like the "6-3-5 Brainwriting" method. In this approach, 6 people jot down 3 ideas on a specific topic within 5 minutes. It's quick, it's efficient, and it stimulates rapid brainstorming. Try using a digital board so remote teams can participate.

Next up, consider "SCAMPER" (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse). Use it to evaluate an an idea screening an existing product or a preliminary idea from multiple angles. For instance, "Combine" helps you think about merging different product features together to create a more comprehensive solution.

Finally, don't neglect the "Problem-Solution fit" canvas. Lay down the problem you're solving, the existing possible solutions, and the pros and cons of these. This way, you’ll identify the market gap more clearly.

Value Proposition Canvas by Strategyzer More info about the Value Proposition Canvas can be found here.

Let's continue by understanding some key Do's and Don'ts in the ideation process.

The Do's and Don'ts of Ideation: Lessons from Successful Products 🤓

Firstly, do use Affinity Diagrams for concept testing. Gather all your ideas and categorize them based on their affinity or similarity. This makes it easier to identify themes or focus areas that deserve further exploration.

Do Brainstorming right: There are no bad ideas, the wilder the better. Especially in Europe, ideas are shot down before they even unfolded their power. One idea leads to the next leads to the next, the goal of Brainstorming is not crafting the perfect solution, but creating a new perspective on how to solve a problem.

Now, for the Don'ts: Don't keep the ideation limited to your immediate team. Include members from customer support, sales, and even customers themselves. The more diverse the input, the more holistic the output.

Incorporate these hands-on tips and techniques to make your ideation process as efficient and effective as possible.

42% of startups fail because there is no market and they didnt do market research in the product development phase

Stage 2: Market Research – Do People Really Need This?

You think you know your potential customers well enough? Even businesses with existing products make the mistake of neglecting market research. Missing out on market research is essentially navigating a ship without a compass—you’re likely to hit an iceberg.

Speaking of icebergs, ever heard of the "Iceberg Model"? It shows that what customers say they want is just the tip; their latent needs are hidden beneath. Qualitative methods like in-depth interviews can help unearth these.

Lastly, overlooking market research can create catastrophic communication gaps between your product manager, marketing team and potential customers. You risk misaligned marketing efforts that resonate with nobody.

Let's have a look on how to tackle this best 👇

3 Proven Methods to Do Market Research Right 🔍

Here are three proven methods to kick-off your research:

  • The "Five Forces Analysis" can offer comprehensive insights into your industry competition. Knowing the competitive landscape can determine if your idea stands a chance. Here is an in-depth guide on how to run it well.

  • For customer needs, the "Jobs-to-be-Done" framework can be a revelation. Instead of focusing on demographic data, you dig into the task that the customer needs your product to solve. It’s a perspective shift, but a valuable one. This approach has been hugely popular in the startup world. Find more information here.

  • Enter "SWOT Analysis," a method to uncover not just your potential but also the hidden pitfalls. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. By analyzing these four aspects, you can make informed decisions and have a balanced view of the market landscape. Here’s how to perform a SWOT analysis effectively.

Getting started with Job-To-Be-Done is usually a good idea 👍

Jobs to be Done in Product Research and Development

Bonus: Target Market vs. Target Audience (Know the Difference)

Your target market is the broader segment of people who could use your product, think every smartphone user. Your target audience, however, is a subset target customers with specific traits or pain points, like professionals who need high-quality cameras for their jobs.

Surveys work well for target market assessment and loyalty research; they are broad and gather general data. For zeroing in on a target audience, employ loyalty research. Pinpoint existing customers likely to refer your product and identify what makes them tick.

The Audience Persona method can make the distinction clearer. Create detailed personas for both your target market and audience. These are not just informative but serve as a constant reference for product development efforts.

Persona in Marketing Team for Research Product Development

Stage 3: Concept Development – Turning Ideas into Blueprints

Once you've done your market research, it's time to flesh out your ideas into something more tangible. This is where concept development comes into play. It's like going from a sketch to a detailed blueprint.

How to Move from Ideas to a Solid Concept 🧠

There are a few tools you can employ to go from idea to concept:

  1. Concept Requirements: Start with listing all the core requirements of the product or service. Which problems need to be tackled?

  2. User Personas: Knowing who you're building for isn't just fluff; it's strategy. Data-backed personas can provide laser focus, steering you away from features that don't actually serve your target audience. The specificity of user personas can guide every department, from development to marketing, ensuring alignment.

  3. The Value Proposition: It pinpoints exactly what makes your product unique and why consumers should choose it.

  4. Mood Boards: These aren't just for designers or artists. A mood board can be a collection of anything that helps encapsulate the emotion, texture, and functionality you envision for your product. They help align your team creatively and conceptually before you dive into the nitty-gritty of development.

The Role of Customer Needs in Concept Development 🤫

Ignoring customer needs in the concept stage of product development research is akin to building a house on sand; it won't stand the test of time. Keep these pro tips in mind when developing your concept:

  • Alignment Across Teams: Keeping customer needs in mind isn't a task solely for your marketing team; it's a multi-departmental mission. From your product managers to your developers, everyone should have a clear understanding of what the customer needs and wants.

  • Iterative Approach: Adopt an agile, iterative approach to your product concept and its development process. As you gather more data on customer needs, be prepared to pivot or refine your product's concept to better align with what your audience is actually looking for.

With our brand new concept at hand, lets dive into the business analysis: Can we make money with this?

Coins to symbolize that the product research needs business model

Stage 4: Business Analysis – Is This Really a Money-Maker?

To avoid building a pipe dream, analyze your product's potential revenue streams. Break down all costs and predict a feasible ROI. Remember, the product development process isn't just about innovation; it's also about profitability.

How to make a complete Business Analysis is out of the scope of this article, but you should keep three aspects in mind:

  • Competitive Landscape: Consider how your product fits into the current market. Will it take a bite out of an existing product's market share or create a new market altogether?

  • Market Dynamics: Is the market growing or shrinking? It is significantly easier to build a business in a growing market, because your cost for marketing and sales will be a lot lower.

  • Feasibility Assessment: Use tools like SWOT analysis or PESTLE analysis to evaluate not just your product but also the environment it will operate in. These analyses offer comprehensive views that can make or break your product development efforts.

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Don't just think about the costs; focus on what you stand to gain. Run a detailed cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the projected ROI and the value proposition of your product. This will give you a clearer picture of the financial prospects and help guide your product development cycle.

  • Stakeholder Alignment: Ensure that senior management is on board with the vision. Their approval often comes down to numbers, so make your business analysis compelling.

With this outline at hand, let's have a brief chat about market share.

PM working on laptop in the process of developing a product

Market Share and Why It Should Keep You Up At Night 📊

Even in the earliest stages of your product development research process, don't underestimate the importance of market share. It's the oxygen your product will breathe once it hits the market. At this preliminary stage, start by looking at competitors and their market share. Knowing your potential slice of the pie will help shape your value proposition and influence the product development research and process itself. Basic tools like Google Trends can offer initial insights.

Stage 5: Product Development Process Begins – From Paper to Reality

At this stage, the rubber meets the road. You've got your product concept down, your business analysis is sound, now it's time for actual product development. Think of this phase as the crux of your product life cycle.

Now comes selecting technologies and tools. Whether it's a physical or digital development process, the choices you make here are pivotal.

With your tooling at hand, begin the prototyping and development phase. Create a minimum viable product (MVP) to test your concept's feasibility. This MVP doesn't have to be perfect, but it should adequately reflect your idea screening the final product's core functionalities.

Why the Development Process is Like Cooking a Great Meal 🧑‍🍳

Your product roadmap is the recipe. Each milestone is akin to adding a new ingredient. If you miss one, the end result—your finished product—may fall short.

  • So, set clear, achievable milestones and stick to them, much like a chef follows each step of a recipe to the letter.

  • Ingredient quality matters. Using outdated tech or inadequate tools can ruin your product, just like bad ingredients ruin a dish. Therefore, always vet your third-party libraries, frameworks, and any other dependencies before incorporating them into your development process.

  • Timing is crucial. In cooking, you wouldn't fry garlic for 20 minutes or boil pasta for an hour. Similarly, know how much time to allocate to each phase of your development process. Use project management techniques like Agile or Scrum to keep your schedule tight and adaptive.

With these tips at hand, let's have a look at the team:

Chef with a tablet because following a rigid framework for product development and reserach is like cooking

Choosing the Right Product Development Team: A Make-or-Break Decision 💔

At the initial stage, product teams are small. Keeping them small keeps them nimble enough to react to changing information and environments. Direct communication is easy and efficient. But how to compose your team:

  1. Skillset audits aren't just HR fluff; they're your blueprint. Use tools like Trello or Asana to map out each team member's skills, categorizing them into 'Must-have,' 'Good-to-have,' and 'Can-learn.' This way, you can quickly identify and fill any skill gaps.

  2. "Buy-in" is more than a buzzword. Have regular vision alignment meetings, where the team can openly discuss challenges and recalibrate the product roadmap based on real-time data and feedback.

If your team believes in the product, they'll work more passionately to bring it to life.

And don't forget: Communication isn't just talking; it's a series of coordinated actions. Use Slack for quick, real-time conversations but stick to email for significant project updates that need a paper trail. For tracking team progress, Jira or are more effective than endless status update meetings.

The team is setup? Let's get to the actual work of building something 💪

Stage 6: Prototyping and Testing – Almost There, But Not Quite

Think of prototyping as your product's dress rehearsal. It helps you iron out the kinks and understand your product in a three-dimensional space. Using platforms like Sketch or Figma can offer a virtual environment to create, modify, and test your prototypes.

User testing is the litmus test of your product's viability. Platforms like UserTesting can help gather real-world usage data that can be gold dust for further refinements. Conduct A/B tests to compare different versions and validate if the new features genuinely address customer pain points.

Don't just focus on the functionality; test the end user experience too. Incorporate feedback loops at various stages of prototyping to ensure you're not just solving a problem but also delivering a pleasurable experience. Use heatmaps and click-through rates to get tangible data on user interactions.

Designer developing a product

Most People Think Prototypes Are the Final Product. But…

Prototypes are rarely early versions of final product; they're like the sketch before the painting. People often mistake them for the finished product because a well-made prototype can look and feel similar. However, it's meant to be a cost-effective way to test ideas before committing to full production.

Time and money spent on a prototype are not sunk costs; they're investments. The insights you gain here can save you from costly errors in the following product development phases. For instance, 3D printing can offer a rapid, affordable way to test physical product dimensions and aesthetics before mass production.

Prototypes give stakeholders a tangible object to discuss and improve upon. It's easier to make changes at this stage than during mass production, so encourage stakeholder feedback now. Use tools like InVision to create interactive prototypes that stakeholders can comment on directly.

Prototyping for Product Development, Glasses on a table

The Importance of Concept Testing: Getting Real Feedback ❗

Concept testing isn't optional; it's compulsory. Take for instance product development examples of companies like Dropbox or Airbnb that used MVP (Minimum Viable Product) versions to gather valuable customer feedback before going full-scale. Their success stories are examples of concept testing done right.

Leverage analytics tools like Google Analytics or Formbricks to dig deep into user interactions. Look beyond just the “what” and explore the “why” behind user behavior. For instance, if users are dropping off at a particular point, you must identify and address the underlying issue. Weave in user research into the user experiences you build right from the start. Setting the system up early is the best way to always stay in touch with your user base.

And always keep in mind: Your end users are your best critics. Use survey tools like Formbricks to ask open-ended questions post-usage or invite users to an interview. Encourage them to be candid about what they like or dislike. Such direct customer feedback can yield qualitative data that analytics tools might miss. The versatility of Formbricks allows teams to run several Best Practices within the same tool - and look at the data combined. Run Onboarding Surveys, Learn from Churn, Feature Follow Ups and much more both in app and via link surveys.

Team reviewing kanban in product development and research process

Stage 7: Commercialization – Ready, Set, Launch!

So, you've made it through the gauntlet of product development. Now comes the moment of truth—getting your product to the market. To make this transition smooth, a well-detailed roadmap is essential.

An often overlooked part of this first stage, is pricing structure. Before hitting the launch button, do competitor price analysis and test different price points with a small customer group. You want to find that sweet spot where value meets affordability.

Don't underestimate the power of a strong marketing strategy. Be it influencer partnerships, targeted ads, or a killer social media campaign, your promotional efforts need to make a splash for a successful product launch. Digital products are often launched on Product Hunt, here is a great guide on how to do it right.

Launch Ribbon in Development Process

The Final Product: How to Avoid Last-Minute Pitfalls 🤦

It's the final countdown, and the temptation to rush can be overwhelming. Resist it. Last-minute changes can have a ripple effect throughout your entire product. Triple-check every detail to avoid hiccups post-launch.

Just before launch, conduct a pilot test with a smaller audience to unearth any hidden issues. This can be your safety net, ensuring that your finished product actually meets the needs and expectations of your target customers. Make sure to have enough time to fix bugs which come up during testing before the launch.

Involve your senior management and stakeholders in the final reviews. These folks often provide a macro perspective that can catch things you may have missed. A tool like Slack can be useful for quick consultations and real-time decisions.

Launch Checklist for product launches

3, 2 , 1... Launch! Your Gateway to the Market 🚀

Launching a product is akin to opening night for a Broadway show; the reviews will set the tone for its future. To ensure a standing ovation, perfect your value proposition and communicate it clearly in your launch materials.

Press coverage can provide a valuable credibility boost. Use platforms like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to connect with journalists interested in your field. A well-timed press release can give you a competitive edge in your initial market penetration.

Lastly, keep the post-launch momentum going. Monitor KPIs, track customer reviews, and be prepared to make swift changes if required. Tools like Google Analytics and SEMrush can help you keep tabs on how your product is received and where improvements are needed.

Post-Launch: The Cycle Never Stops

You’ve launched your product—congrats! Pop the champagne, you deserve it 🍾 🥂

But be aware that the journey is only just starting! Here is what your days will be filled with from now on:

  • Continuously monitor customer feedback and usage metrics to identify areas for improvement. With tools like Formbricks you can setup continuous discovery flows to stay in the know.

  • Your customers are the ultimate judges of your product's success. Create avenues for them to easily provide feedback. Simple online surveys or more in-depth customer interviews can provide invaluable insights.

  • Set up sprints focused on specific enhancements or fixes. Use tools like, Linear or Jira to manage these cycles efficiently. Involve not just your product development team but also customer service and sales teams—they’re your eyes and ears in the marketplace.

  • Closing the loop is crucial. Once you've made changes based on feedback, inform your customers. This not only shows that you listen but also fosters a sense of community and loyalty around your product.

  • Don't forget A/B testing to validate new features. Validate before you roll out widely.

  • Also, keep taps on **regulatory changes **and market shifts which can affect your product. Stay informed through resources like industry journals and competitor analyses to adapt swiftly. A tool like Feedly can help you keep track of multiple sources easily.

Scrum Board for Iterative User Research

Conclusion: The End is Just the Beginning

Think of your product as a living entity; it has a life cycle, from earliest stage of birth to decline. Understanding these stages can help you stay ahead of the curve.

Products move from introduction to growth, maturity, and eventually, decline. Your marketing strategy and product development and process should adapt at each stage.

For example, during the growth phase, your focus may be on scaling. Once maturity hits, think innovation and feature expansion to sustain interest. And always be ready for the next iteration or a pivot when decline starts to sink in.

Product Development and Research is an endless walk

Outlook: How to Build a Sustainable Product Development Strategy

Firstly, always start with a flexibility audit. Evaluate your current development process to identify rigidity that might hinder adaptability. Are your timelines flexible? Is your tech stack future-proof? Can your team adapt to new tools or methodologies?

Next, consider building an agile framework into your operations. Agility isn't just for software development; it's a mindset. It allows for iterative changes and pivots based on real-time data and feedback. Adopt Scrum or Kanban boards to prioritize and track development tasks transparently.

Lastly, leverage data analytics for decision-making. A/B testing, customer surveys, and engagement metrics can be your best friends. Use these insights to make informed decisions, whether you’re tweaking an existing product feature or contemplating a more significant pivot. Data analytics can be the steering wheel that guides your product development ship through uncertain waters.

By implementing these actionable steps, you not only build a product but also a sustainable strategy that can weather market storms and adapt to ever-changing customer needs.

Building products is like chess: Strategic