Some businesses never create a product: they sell or distribute products created by others; or they are service businesses that provide advice or specialized skills. There are textbooks and advanced degrees devoted to the topic of product development. In other words, don’t try this at home without lots of practice. Better yet, start by attending a Product Camp nearby. The participants include product managers from big companies, and you’ll learn lots from them.  As an introduction, here are some basic steps in the product development process.

1. Identify a critical need or desire felt by the people who will be your customers

Product development begins with understanding a customer’s needs so well that you can anticipate solutions to the challenges they face or the accomplishments they seek. If there is genuine customer need, begin developing a way to solve it by deconstructing the need into segments. Ask about each one, “Is there a better way?” The end goal in this phase is to devise a product that fulfills an unmet need of your customers. Without a need, there is no product.

2. Recruit and assess help

Once you have an idea, the next step is to determine whether or not the idea has the potential to grow into a successful product. What does success look like? Your sales generate more that it costs to produce and market your product. The wider the margin between what it cost you to produce and how much customers are willing to pay is the metric that will determine whether or not the product is worth developing. At this point, you need to turn to experts in marketing, production, distribution, and a wide array of other factors, depending on how you are making your product and how you plan on selling it. If you don’t have such people working in your business already, it may be a good time to start adding up how much it’s going to cost you to even figure out what all your expenses will be.

3. Develop

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 12

(Image: on Flickr via Iowa Digital Library )

Do the numbers work? Is your product viable? If so, actually developing it is the longest and most important step in product development. Managing a development team in any business can be tricky, but in a small business it can be especially tough as most employees working on the team will already have their own work. Staying flexible and offering incentives are some good way to motivate and support your team as they juggle their duties.

4. ReviewScreen shot 2013-10-04 at 11.12.51 AM

(Image: on Flickr via YoavShapira)

Before the product is launched, getting feedback from customers and distribution partners will ensure that the project plan’s original objectives are still being met. Reviewing your product allows an extra step between its development and release so that your team can address any shortcomings or adjust last-minute details.

5. Launch

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 11.15.34 AM

(Image: on Flickr via lecates)

The launching process focuses mostly on sales and marketing. Or perhaps raising the funds to do those. If so, you may want to add another step in the process and look into the possibility of using a crowd-funding platform like KickStarter. Successful Kickstarter ideas typically have been taken through some stage of prototyping, so potential customers can clearly understand the benefits of your product.

Best chance for success: If you are a small business and have existing relationships with clients and customers, marketing your product through your traditional channels–from concept to delivery–is the best way to ensure success.

(Featured photo: ThinkStock)

Related Articles