So you’ve got a great product idea and you want to transform that into a tangible, profitable reality.
Welcome to the “in-development” stage of the product lifecycle.
This stage is all about researching your market and user needs, testing and validating your idea with live audiences and crafting a prioritized roadmap for your feature development timeline.
However, your product isn’t yet on the market (and as such, isn’t making any money yet), and you’re still having to spend money on development. That means this is likely going to be the most expensive phase of the product lifecycle. It will probably also be the riskiest.
Which is why you need to get it right.
This blog runs through the four key stages of product development:
- Discovery and market research
- Concept testing
- Features and activities
- Roadmap to release
So, you can hit the nail on the head and go to market with the best chances of success.
NOTE: This is the first article in our new series on the five stages of the product lifecycle, spanning from the in-development, new-to-market and market growth stages to market maturity and decline. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming blogs.
1. Discovery and market research
Your product development phase should always start with discovery and market research.
This is where you’ll focus closely on identifying the market for your product, which user needs it addresses (and whether these challenges are significant enough for users to want to invest in your product) and whether it viably is likely to bring in the profit you expect.
Start by creating a series of user personas that clearly outline your target buyers, their motivations and any barriers that might stop them from investing.
If you aren’t familiar with user personas, they’re essentially fictionalized representations or archetypes of your target audience that embody their characteristics, demographics, needs, behaviors and goals. And they help you and your teams more deeply understand your typical user, how they think and what they want from your product.
To create your personas, start by conducting market research, surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with existing or target users. Then take all the data you’ve collected and run through it with a fine-tooth comb to identify any common themes, characteristics, motivations and needs.
We recommend then using a strong persona template (like the one our product offers) to make sense of your data and populate it into a tangible user persona that you can use.
Your persona should include demographic information (such as age, gender and location) as well as psychographic details, such as interests, values, attitudes and lifestyle. Finish it off with a name and a headshot to really bring your persona to life.
You can then use your personas as a resource to validate new ideas and to make assumptions about how deeply your product idea will resonate with them. They’re also a great resource to help keep stakeholders and teams aligned on exactly who they’re building the product for and how it’s going to help them.
We recommend keeping your personas in an easily accessible document or file and referring back to them as necessary throughout the product lifecycle.
NOTE: Your personas aren’t set in stone. Be sure to regularly check in on and update them as you learn more about your target audience and how they interact with your product after launch.
2. Concept testing
Ideas that make it through validation become “concepts”.
Concepts are essentially a more tangible blueprint of what your idea will look like in reality. They should paint a picture of your product features and the benefits for users.
And once your ideas become concepts, you can start putting them in front of selected users from your target audiences to evaluate engagement and gather feedback on what they like, what they dislike and what you can improve.
As part of this, you should also test that the problem your product is solving is resonating with your target users. Otherwise, they still might not pay for the product, even if they do like the solution.
Here are 5 quick steps to concept test your idea:
- Choose testing methods - Select appropriate testing methods based on your goals and resources. Common methods include surveys, interviews, focus groups, or prototype testing. Come up with a list of questions or areas you want to assess during these tests, including usability, perceived value and desirability.
- Create testing materials - Start by developing visual representations, written descriptions or prototypes of your product that communicate the core elements and features of your product idea and how it works.
- Select participants - Recruit participants from your target audience to ensure representative feedback. Use channels such as online panels, social media, or existing customer databases to find suitable participants.
- Conduct testing and analyze the results - Administer your chosen testing methods to collect feedback. Analyze the data collected from your concept testing. Look for patterns, common feedback themes, and areas of concern or enthusiasm.
- Refine your product idea - Use the insights gained from concept testing to iterate and refine your concept. Address any identified issues or concerns, and consider making improvements based on participant feedback.
3. Features and activities
Once you’ve refined your concept based on user feedback, it’s time to start developing it.
But while coming up with a list of key tasks and activities to get your product fully developed might be easy and straightforward, prioritizing these and keeping track of your progress rarely is.
That’s why you need a good visual workflow to help you see where you are now and what you need to do next, as well as a repeatable and reliable way to prioritize tasks and activities. Let’s run through these in more detail.
A high-quality visual workflow enables you to visually group tasks in various “buckets”, including “not started”, “in progress” or “completed”. You can then drag and drop tasks into the appropriate buckets as they move through the workflow.
That way, you can easily see which tasks are progressing through the workflow and which might need a bit of extra attention to complete.
It’s also worth selecting a prioritization technique to help you rank and prioritize which activities to complete first.
There are lots of great techniques out there, however, our personal favorite is the value-effort matrix.
The value-effort matrix helps you prioritize tasks based on their perceived value and the effort required to implement them. And it helps you sort tasks into four distinct quadrants:
- Quick wins (high value, low effort) - These are often the first priorities as they provide immediate benefits and can boost morale
- Major projects (high value, high effort) - These are important initiatives that may have a transformative impact, but will likely take more time and resources
- Fill-ins (low value, low effort) - While these may not be top priorities, they can be considered as "fill-ins" when higher-priority tasks are completed or during downtime
- Low priority (low value, high effort) - These tasks may be deprioritized or reconsidered unless there are compelling reasons to pursue them
To start creating your value-effort matrix graph, all you need to do is evaluate the perceived value or impact of a given activity (including strategic importance, customer impact, or financial benefits) as well as the effort required to complete it (including time, resources, and any other relevant factors). You can then assign individual values to each and plot them on your graph.
Activities that end up in the top right-hand corner will be your high-value, high-effort tasks, while those in the bottom left will be low-value, low-effort. You can then start to prioritize the tasks that are more likely to bring immediate benefits while de-prioritizing those that won’t make much of an impact on users.
4. Roadmap to release
Finally, you can start to plan your product’s journey to release.
The first thing to note is that your roadmap should be focused on delivering value as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. While timelines and milestones certainly have their place, they shouldn’t serve as its foundation.
Instead, focus on designing your roadmap around the key activities you’ve already prioritized using your value-effort matrix. Once you’ve done this, you can incorporate key milestones and development phases into it. The best and most understandable way to do this is to create a clear and concise graph or chart that showcases all your milestones in order and in relation to the coming dates and months.
The end result should give you a holistic view of your product’s journey, while clearly establishing how each step contributes to delivering value to your users.
Finally, make sure all internal and external stakeholders have an up-to-date copy of your roadmap at all times, and be prepared to make updates to reflect changes, delays, progress and new insights.