What Stages Make up the Product Development Life Cycle (And Why They Matter!)
Defining each stage of the product development life cycle ensures that your team always has a clear path forward.
We tend to think of a product launch as the end of the development process. But the product development life cycle doesn’t end with the release. Once your new product or feature is on the market, there’s still a lot of work to do. Markets mature and your customers’ needs change — great products evolve alongside to meet the requirements of your audience.
That’s why a solid understanding of the product development life cycle is so important. When you know how to move efficiently through each stage, it ensures you’re always meeting or exceeding customer expectations for your brand.
Let’s be honest: Taking a new product or feature all the way from idea to release and beyond is hard work — work that’s rife with the potential for failure. There are countless stories of botched product launches that ended up causing long-term damage to companies. So, how do you make sure your new product isn’t one of them?
To stop new products from falling flat, define what happens at every stage of the product development life cycle.
When you set a clear path for your team to follow, from idea to release, analysis to iteration, it keeps everyone connected with your business goals. And that connection is what keeps your team focused. When there’s so much work that goes into your product development process, increased focus is the key to building better products.
The 7-Stage Product Development Life Cycle
The product development life cycle is a framework that defines how teams conceptualize, build, release, support, and adapt new products or features. It’s a complex series of steps that help you keep track of the work required to take your idea and turn it into something of real value for your customers.
Depending on who you ask, the product development life cycle can have anywhere from four to seven stages. Why is this important? Because your team needs as much clarity as possible to move forward efficiently with their work. We believe a seven-stage cycle is the best at providing this clarity as it highlights important milestones for your team and connects them back to overarching business goals.
Here are the seven stages of a fully fleshed-out product development life cycle and why they matter:
- Plan: Where your team puts together research and starts talking to customers. The goal of this stage is to validate the existence of a real-world problem in the market and define how your new product or feature will solve it.
- Build: The point where you execute on your product plan. This stage’s goal is to work through the different types of work required to build your new product or feature as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Test: At this stage, your team will have completed most of the work to build your new product or feature. The goal here is to compile customer feedback on functionality and identify painful bugs prior to full market release.
- Launch: One of the most important stages of the product development life cycle, this is where you release the product to all of your customers. The goal is to make the release experience as seamless as possible in order to boost initial engagement.
- Analyze: Once you release the product, it’s time to analyze the impact on the customer experience, as well as your business goals. It’s also a time where you can identify areas of opportunity to improve your product in the future.
- Iterate: After analyzing the impact of your product and identifying areas for improvement, it’s time to work through any product changes based on those findings. The goal is to increase the value for customers with each iteration.
- Support: This stage threads through the analysis and iteration stages after release. Once your product is well-established on the market, your team can actively start thinking about how to move forward with new projects.
Each stage of the product development life cycle reinforces the value your product provides to customers, as well as your business goals. It helps your team stay connected with specific outcomes as they move through the different tasks required at each stage of the product development process.
Product Development Life Cycle vs. Product Life Cycle
Releasing a new product or feature not only has an impact on your customers, but it also changes the landscape of your market as a whole. While the product development life cycle looks at the various stages of work required to bring a product to market, the product life cycle looks at how various products evolve after release. It provides insights into economic drivers, like supply and demand, that can help you understand the business value of your product.
There are four stages to the product life cycle:
- Development: This stage looks at everything that goes into the product development life cycle.
- Growth: At this stage, demand for your product increases and you start seeing adoption rates rise.
- Maturity: This is the stage where demand starts to drop off as you solidify your product’s place in the market.
- Decline: Engagement with your product decreases as market conditions or customer expectations evolve.
Whenever you launch a new product, it’s important to understand how these economic factors impact your business. The analysis, iteration, and support stages of the product development life cycle are dependent on your ability to make smart decisions about what to change.
Why You Need to Define Each Stage of the Product Development Life Cycle
Releasing a new product or feature impacts your relationship with customers, and your company’s reputation in the wider market. With so much riding on your ability to build a valuable and engaging product, your team needs absolute clarity into everything that goes into the product development life cycle. Every release is another step in their customer journey, and providing a winning product experience helps keep them happy longer.
Describing what happens during each stage of the product development life cycle ensures that your team always knows how to move the project forward. You need to outline the work involved, as well as who’s responsible for getting it done — failing to do so opens your team up for confusion, bottlenecks, and other potential issues.
When you visualize the product development life cycle, it also helps you keep track of milestones and timelines as your team executes on their respective tasks. That helps you create more realistic plans for your team and makes them work as efficiently as possible.
Outlining the product development life cycle gives your team a holistic view of the intended outcome of any project as well. When your team knows their responsibilities at each stage, they can move through the process autonomously.
This autonomy is key to keeping every member of the team engaged with your overall product and business goals. It gives you a framework for how to think strategically about project details and make improvements over time. Whether you need to shift the placement of a button in customer accounts or make changes to the onboarding experience, your team should always understand the reason why they’re making a change. And they should be able to see how that change adds value for your customers.
Having a set path forward helps your team internalize that value. It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day responsibilities when you’re not able to see the real-world impact of these incremental changes.
As markets evolve and competitors release more products, defining the product development life cycle gives your team the context they need to create consistently great products for your customers.
Understanding the Product Development Life Cycle Helps You Build Better Products
A seamless product experience is crucial to retain customers and build strong relationships with them. When you define everything that goes into the product development life cycle, that helps your team stay connected with the idea that what they’re building makes a real impact on customers. Being able to feel that impact is the key to creating a better product experience for all stakeholders.