5 Stages of Product Development You Need to Know

I’d like to break down the 5 Stages of Product Development for you. I’ve covered many components of this in other posts, but haven’t covered the entire process as a whole picture. What is product development as a process? This is here to answer that question. By breaking down the process into 5 stages of product development, it will make it easier to understand and follow. It isn’t mysterious when you make it bite size. When most people have an idea, they think it’s completely out of reach for them to bring their idea to life. It’s not. It just takes finding the right partner and resources. Ones who can navigate you through the process of developing an idea into a product that will help people and make you money. What could be a better result of your hard work?

Here I’d like to lay out the overall process in 5 stages of product development. This example is generic to make sure you learn about each area of the process. Understanding the stages of product development will ensure you can communicate easily with your designer. You’ll be able to better vet them and ask better questions.

Stage 1 – Invent

  • The very, very first step in Product Development is having an idea. Millions of ideas are generated every day by people all over the world. This is probably the “easiest” part. Everything after this point takes making decisions and taking timely action. While you have the first idea, you also need a Product Developer who can contribute more ideas. They need to generate new ones that will help support your idea on its path to becoming a successful product.
  • Once you have an idea, whether you do this first or with your Product Developer, you should validate the idea and determine its market. Is there a need for the product and does it solve a problem are two very important questions. Then, who would use this product? Does it help seniors, children, cubical workers, sports teams, or someone else? This helps you and your developer to understand what needs to be designed into the product. It also guides what shouldn’t be in the product to appeal to your best market.
  • If you can, make a mock-up of the product. Get the hot-glue out and make some models. Or sketch, even if you think it’s the worst sketch in the world. In some cases, your idea is so far out there it’s hard to communicate, or easy enough that you can grab a couple images from the internet and say, combine these three things and make it orange! This is your first prototype, and it’s just a concept one. Take your idea to your Product Developer and have them create concept artwork. If budget and time allows, get a physical conceptual prototype.

Stage 2 – Develop

  • You should get an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) if you are going to ever think about getting a patent. Protecting your idea is important, even if you don’t patent. After you’ve gotten some concept artwork from your Product Developer you should think about involving a patent attorney. At the very least, consider getting a provisional patent and decide if it makes sense. Either way, a free consultation with a lawyer who’s signed an NDA will let you know what you should do. Your Product Developer should have at least one referral for you on this. It’s also worth your time for your developer to do a patent search now so you know if there are going to be hurdles that could stop your project.
  • Now it’s time to design your product. Your starting concepts will be expanded upon and further developed. The idea should become a product that meets your needs, follows your scope, and can be prototyped. This takes it from a rough idea (with possibly some pretty renderings that have no grounding in reality) to (usually) a 3D CAD model or other models closer to a tangible state. Some things, like soft-goods, usually don’t go into 3D. With those, you should still get more accurate 2D renderings created that show what the product will look like.
  • Once the design has been solidified to meet the requirements of the product, it’s time to get the first real prototype. Initial prototypes may not work completely the first time. In fact, they rarely do! This is where the idea becomes tangible and closer to its final form and is one of the best parts.

Stage 3 – Validate

  • Using the first prototype, and others after it, we begin to validate the design. Does it work, how well does it work, where does it break, what do we like and not like about it? All of these questions are asked, the prototype is reviewed, and revisions are made. This can be the longest part of product development.
  • Hiring outside testing companies is one option for testing. You can also test yourself using the right equipment. This also gives the opportunity to get certain stamps or approval markings, such as the UL rating for electronics. Those companies should be involved early on so changes are made earlier in the process. Certifications and the tests required can take a long time, especially in the medical and food industries.
  • The last thing your Product Developer can put together is a panel test or survey. Paying people to review your product, under NDA of course, can give you some great outside feedback. When done right, they are biased in the right way. There is no such thing as unbiased, you just want your actual target market to review. Because they haven’t watched the entire process and aren’t involved, they will be the most unbiased you can get. This is why companies sometimes hire people to find problems with a product, because they want to actually incentivize people into finding what’s wrong, not just saying it’s great because that’s the easy answer. This type of input can be made at any stage of the process, though better results are usually had when there is a tangible and working prototype.

Stage 4 – Produce

  • At this point you have a final design. Your product has been prototyped, validated, and patented; the whole 9 yards. Now, the final design stage is here. One of the most important parts is design for manufacturability. This process takes your final design and makes the tweaks and adjustments to make your product ready for full production. Often prototypes start out as  things that would be hard to mass manufacture. Costing is an important part of prototyping. Your product developer will be looking for ways to make parts lighter, stronger, or use off the shelf components if that’s what is desired.
  • The next step here, once you have something that can be produced, is to develop the packaging for the product. This can really start at any point in the process, but by now you must have a solid packaging option, even if it’s just for shipping the product, not for store shelves. The packaging is an important opportunity to create a great customer experience and should never be skipped. Packaging of course goes through it’s on design and development process.
  • You have two options now. Getting funded is your first option and one many people think of first. This is usually the next step as full manufacturing can be very expensive. Prototyping has the advantage of using advanced technologies such as 3D printing to accelerate and decrease costs. Full manufacturing usually costs thousands to millions of dollars. Of course, this depends on how many units you need for a first run and how complicated your product is. A fidget spinner didn’t take much to manufacture the first thousand units. On the other hand, the iPhone cost millions of dollars and needed to have tens of thousands of units made in its first run.
  • The second option is licensing. Instead of trying to get an investor, or putting your own money into producing a product, you can look to sell your IP (Intellectual Property). These could be an established business in your chosen market or a company who buys IP to resell. Often, it’s a company who would rather buy the idea from you than spend the R&D budget and time to develop their own version. You will be able to develop the product quicker and cheaper than a big company. They can have massive overhead, just to keep lights on.

Stage 5 – Profit

  • Did you choose the licensing option? If so, you are done, you’ve profited! You can now set off on thinking of your next great idea! If you don’t license, the next big step to making money is marketing. Product developers usually don’t help from here on. Marketers, branding agencies, and advertising firms are the experts here. The good product developers and firms out there at least have partners or referrals that they can send you to for developing your marketing strategy. Then there are Design Management firms who can do the entire thing for you. They manage all the resources in product development through to launch and after. Website, branding, logos, names, advertising, it all falls under this. Everything you brought to your Product Developer to bring the product to life you should bring to your marketers too. They’ll need to know the who, what, and why to provide you the best resources and chance of success.
  • There are lots of options for selling your product. From Amazon, to selling at shows and conventions, or a local Saturday market, and more. Between your marketer and Product Developer, you should have some options of who to talk to about which direction you should take.
  • Now it’s time to ship your product and have the money come in. Good job!

It is impossible to guarantee that your product will be a wild success. I can, however, promise that every successful product followed a path similar, if not exact, to what I’ve outlined here. These stages of product development are universal and even apply to digital products. Meeting with a good Product Developer is key to navigating these steps. With the right product developer, the stages of product development become bite-sized and easier to tackle. Even without one, this will serve as your guide. Now make your product a reality.

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