Document. Refine. Repeat! Mastering the Product Process.
“What if?” That’s the thought behind every product innovation, from software platforms to mobile devices, food products, furniture or any consumer product you can imagine. It’s the spark that gives rise to innovative, ground-breaking product development.
But bringing a new product to market involves all departments within an organization. Using a phased approach ensures that critical decisions are made at the appropriate times throughout the product process (also referred to as the product life cycle (PLC), and that requirements for features, quality, cost and schedules are met. Following a phased approach supports clear decision-making, consistency, accountability and transparency, increasing the likelihood of delivering a product that will sell.
In this blog post, we’ll examine the seven phases of the product process and how you can leverage them to make better decisions about marketing and channel strategy, product pricing, and the product portfolio mix.
A Phased Approach to the Product Process
The product process encompasses the entire life of a product, from its conception to its retirement. 280 Group promotes AIPMM’s standard 7-phase model, with each phase consisting of standard tasks to be accomplished by various departments and functions within an organization. The model leverages the concept of “gates” — decisions made based on work completed during each phase.
The “phase-gate” approach was made popular by the “waterfall” development methodology, where products move through a series of handoffs between departments. In the waterfall approach, there are no explicit review processes for catching and reducing mistakes, but continuous reviews occur within each phase and must pass a “gate” prior to proceeding to the next phase. Combining a phased approach with Agile development methodologies can help keep projects on track and aligned with the long-term direction of the product, while allowing for more experimentation and rapid delivery in each phase.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the seven phases and the decisions that must be made before progressing to the next phase.
Phase 1: Conceive
During the Conceive phase, a company generates a new idea and determines whether it’s viable. The Product Manager must articulate the customer’s needs and the problems the product will solve. Ideation exercises and prioritization techniques are helpful during this phase. By the end of the phase, preliminary versions of the business plan and product definition are made available.
Gate: Should the company devote the funds and resources to proceed with product planning?
Phase 2: Plan
During the Plan phase, Product Managers perform detailed market research, customer research and a competitive analysis, to understand the product’s market potential. Market Needs and Product Description documents are created, along with a theoretical product roadmap. All of this effort leads to a Business Case — a summary of how this product will help the company achieve its business goals, such as generating more revenue or selling into a new market. Product development teams, executives, operations teams, and sales all contribute to these documents.
If your organization uses a Waterfall methodology, then this is a very detailed effort. When it comes to setting up an expensive new manufacturing line, be sure you’ve done your due diligence before committing. If your company is using an Agile development methodology, this phase should be much faster and easier, but still focused on developing a high-level business case that proves this is a valuable opportunity to pursue.
Gate: Should the company fund product development to achieve these business goals?
Phase 3: Develop
In the Develop phase, Product Managers must ensure that the product solves the customer problem. Based on the Market Needs, development plans and the features list are finalized, and the beta testing plan is created. Many departments throughout the organization are involved and must provide various deliverables to get everyone ready for the product launch.
Again, in Agile environments, there will be many build-measure-learn cycles here to increase understanding of the customer needs and ultimately deliver the value they need while achieving business objectives.
Gate: Is the product ready for beta testing with customers?
Phase 4: Qualify
Development is well underway, and it must be qualified for release to the public. Engineering, product management, and quality assurance collaborate to ensure the product is ready to ship. Rushing through this phase is common — and a bad idea. Companies can waste a lot of time and money on development if they fail to verify that the end product doesn’t meet customer needs.
In Agile environments, Develop and Qualify happen largely in parallel.
Gate: Does everyone agree that the product is ready to launch?
Phase 5: Launch
Once the product is qualified, it’s ready for prime time. Product Managers work closely with Product Marketers to communicate effectively with every internal and external audience, gather feedback and refine the marketing plan. The launch review document is also a key deliverable of this phase, as it helps teams understand where things went right or wrong, and what to do differently in future product launches.
Gate: What marketing and product changes should be made to maximize product success?
Phase 6: Maximize
The marketing department has a big role during the Maximize phase, because their activities and strategies — demand generation, public relations, sales enablement and more — will have a significant impact on how well the product performs in the marketplace. Product Managers should provide support to sales and marketing, and be ready to initiate product adjustments, if needed. During this phase, the end-of-life plan for the product begins to take shape.
The Maximize phase is unique in that you hope it will last a long time and be successful for years or even decades after launch. To that end, Product Managers should conduct a “Gate Review” periodically to assess whether the product needs to updated, refreshed, or retired.
Gate: Is the product ready to be refreshed or retired from the market?
Phase 7: Retire
Depending on the industry and the product, planning for a product’s end of life can be a critical operation. For example, in financial, government or medical fields, phasing out an enterprise software product can affect other systems and processes, resulting in significant financial losses or even life-threatening scenarios. Even in consumer-oriented businesses, bungling the retirement phase can result in negative customer experiences — and a damaged reputation. Product Managers can help ensure a smooth product retirement by investigating the potential impact on the customer, all parts of the business and ensuring successful execution of the end-of-life plan.
Gate: Usually no gate, but instead a retirement plan is essential!
Make Better, More Informed Decisions
With a thorough understanding of the product process and each of its phases, you’ll be able to make better decisions throughout product development and introduction. Activities performed during each stage can help you:
- Create a winning marketing strategy: Research conducted during Phases 1 (Conceive) and 2 (Plan) will help understand your target audience and their pain points, develop and refine product messaging, and determine how to best reach your customers with your message. Feedback collected during beta testing in Phase 4 (Qualify) can help you refine your product and marketing strategy, and tailor messages to highlight what beta customers love about the product. After launch, key activities in Phase 6 (Maximize) such as measuring and reviewing results can help you further hone your strategy to maximize sales before the product’s end-of-life.
- Determine pricing: Setting your product’s price depends on a number of factors, including how your competitors are pricing their products, the urgency of the customer’s need, and what resources are required for product development. As you gather information and make decisions in each stage leading up to the launch, you will begin to get a clear picture of the best-possible pricing strategy.
- Choose appropriate channels for distribution: Understanding how your customers research and purchase the type of product you’re developing will help you decide on the most appropriate channels. Phase 2 (Plan) will reveal insights that help you determine the best-possible channels. After the product launches, you may collect additional information you can use to refine your channel strategy and optimize your decisions during Phase 6 (Maximize). Finally, once you decide to retire your product, you may shift your channel strategy slightly, eliminating certain channels while focusing more on others.
- Define your product portfolio mix: During the planning and development stages, information gathered during Phase 1 (Conceive) can be used to ideate alternative or complementary product offerings. Or, you may decide to develop companion offerings, particularly if the launch is a huge success. Information gathered during each phase of the product process will shed light on the best way to diversify your product portfolio to better satisfy customer needs.
Document, Refine, Repeat!
Building on the 7-phase model, 280 Group created the Optimal Product Process (OPP), a comprehensive method for successful product management. As part of the OPP, we have defined nine core documents you can use to store and pass on learnings from each phase of the product process and track the thought process behind the various decisions made and activities that took place throughout product development.
If you want to dive deeper into the Optimal Product Process, including roles and responsibilities and asking the critical product questions at the right time, download the eBook today!
About the Author
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We empower Product Professionals with the knowledge and tools to create products that matter.