From the idea to the production: this article highlights the key phases of product development.

Launching a product on the market is not easy. It’s the result of a long process that starts with brainstorming the idea and continues into finding distributors and selling your final product. Many resources are used to achieve this feat: material, human, and financial.

In order to have a smoother road to success, you first need to focus on the different phases you’ll encounter in your project’s life cycle. Having a global vision of each step will help save you time, money, and stress.

In this article, I introduce the concept of the product life cycle and focus on the first step: development.

What is the Product Life Cycle?

Perhaps you’re wondering what “product life cycle” means. Chances are you’ve heard the term before, and it’ll make sense as soon as we review the steps. There are five main steps in the life cycle of any product:

  1. Development
  2. Introduction
  3. Growth
  4. Maturity
  5. Decline

These five steps create a correlation between where in production the product is and what the product’s earning potential should be during that particular phase.

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Development

At the development stage, your product or service is just an idea. You invest your resources in research and development.

Introduction

Introduction begins when you launch your product. In this step, you spend a lot of time and money on marketing.

Growth

During the growth step, your product becomes established. Sales are increasing and profit margins are good. Now is the time to explore how you can reduce costs accrued during development and introduction.

Maturity

Maturity refers to the step when sales growth has slowed. You reduced production and marketing costs, but competition take prices down even more. Now is probably the best time to invest in a new product.

Decline

Competition is hard. Decline refers to falling sales and decreased profit margins.

We can see these stages in many everyday products. In this article, I’ll focus on the first part, development, and I’ll globally explain each of its substeps. To allow you to understand the general idea of product development, I’ll first describe it without too many details, and give you more details in the next article.

Product Development Steps

Product development involves these crucial steps :

  • Birth of the idea
  • Marketing strategy
  • Design
  • Development
  • Prototyping
  • Production
  • Launch on the market

Birth of the Idea

The first important thing to have is your motivation to develop an idea. The second important thing is to not stay alone with this idea.

Allow yourself to meet people, challenge your concept, participate in events around your subject, and go off the beaten track. All of these activities allow you to shape your strategies by learning more about customer needs, the market, the concurrence, and may even help you find your first partners. Developing an idea is an adventure, who knows what else can happen?

Setting Up a Marketing Strategy

I won’t dive too deeply into this step because it deserves its own complete article to be exhaustive. Know that if marketing strategy is not your domain, you’ll need help from an expert as this is not an easy step. The most important thing you need to do here is define and draw a complete profile of your customer’s needs.

What is a Customer Profile?

The customer profile is a description of the geographic, demographic, and psychographic characteristics of an ideal user, which allows categorical identification when focusing on design and marketing.

Let’s take a short example that depicts a customer profile of a high-end women's clothing store: “women between 35 to 55 years old, single or married, economically independent, with annual incomes above $75,000, who look for style, sophistication, and elegance in their clothes."

This exercise is important because it defines your product’s design and price.

Designing Your Product

A bit of definition would be especially helpful to better understand design and why this concept grew so quickly from the early 20th century with the aid of the Bauhaus school in Germany.

This definition from a more exhaustive article on product design is, in my opinion, one of the most exhaustive:

“Product design as a verb is to create a new product to be sold by a business to its customers. A very broad coefficient and effective generation and development of ideas through a process that leads to new products. Thus, it is a major aspect of new product development. [...] In a systematic approach, product designers conceptualize and evaluate ideas, turning them into tangible inventions and products. The product designer's role is to combine art, science, and technology to create new products that people can use.

The key takeaway we have to understand in this definition is the design will compile and translate all data coming from your two previous steps (ideas, customer profile, customer needs...) into a sellable product.

Technical Documentation and Development

In this step, you’ll need to define the technical specifications of your product in a document. It’s not always the most fun part of the project, but, neglecting it can waste a lot of time incurring mistakes and the loss of credibility in front of your partners.

With the help of a partner or by yourself, define all the technicals requirements in this document.

Then with this document, the engineering production company can analyze your product specifications, its technicals requirements, and the design defined in the previous step to build a CAD drawing of your product.

This CAD drawing will be used to communicate with different industry partners for part production. The development is usually split into subsections depending on the product complexity. For example, if you develop an IoT product you’ll mix mechanical parts, hardware parts, software, electrical, robotics, etc.

You must be careful and purposeful in this step because some decisions or technical choices (material choice, process) can drastically affect the cost of your final product.

Prototyping the Product

You've generated an idea, you've tested the concept, you've (hopefully) proved financial profitability, and you have a design and a mechanical drawing. Now it’s time to create a prototype and test your concept out in the real world.

Use caution and make sure your prototype does not infringe on someone else's intellectual property. Doing this check early in the process will prevent you from realizing it after dedicating precious energy and resources, as you may have to pay an expensive license or modify your product.

In my opinion, the best approach starts by launching an embryonic prototype to the market to get feedback from your testers as quickly as possible. Then use this feedback to upgrade your prototype, submit it to new tests, and so on. Repeat this step as often as necessary. Of course, this method implies that your product still has some weaknesses to be improved, but it will drastically reduce the time to market.

Your first customers/testers are the pillar of your business and they’ll help build a community around your product. So don’t forget to take care of them and be careful about what you first put on the market. As the marketing saying goes: one happy customer will tell two people, but one unhappy customer will tell ten people. This is especially true in this era of social networks which gives fast information.

Production

Production is not an easy step, as it is when you have to take care of your cost and pay close attention to quality and possible delays. Cost is related to internal and external factors, some of which are completely out of your control.

You can decide to produce locally to have more control or in another country to reduce the cost, but, in general, production takes time to fit your needs. A situation of trust must be established between you and your manufacturer.

The Development Phase is Trying but Exciting

Is your product idea ready for all of the steps in the development phase? It’s certainly one of the most difficult parts of the product life cycle, but it’s also the most exciting.

Successful development can absolutely help you with your product ideas down the road.

Vincent Gillibert
Passion and curiosity drive my 10 years of experience in design, engineering, and digital development. I love to create.

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