30 Aug 2021
A well thought out product development process is key to creating and launching meaningful products.
You’ll certainly be more effective with your process if you involve key team members and stakeholders at the right times.
This way, you can get the right input to shape your product. You’ll also avoid last minute input that could slow you and your team down.
An effective way to do this is to:
Map out your product development process
Share your product development process with your team and stakeholders
I’ll go into each of these steps in more detail. But first, let me explain what I’m talking about when I refer to a product development process!
Your product development process is all the steps your team takes to shape and build a product or feature. It also includes the iteration and optimization that follows launch.
Describing a product development process succinctly can be tough. This is because it can be made up of several steps, and the different steps often involve different people. The steps in a process can also vary from team to team. Some of the typical stages involved include:
Defining a product vision and strategy
Setting objectives and metrics
Prioritizing a backlog
Releasing to users
Methodologies and approaches vary from product to product and team to team. Some teams use frameworks like Basecamp’s Shape up Method or Scrum to help guide how they approach product development. This is usually a matter of preference and what works best for your team.
Product development is a team effort.
The product development process is usually led by a product manager. The product manager drives the process and is accountable for bringing all the steps together.
But your product development process involves many disciplines. Product managers will collaborate with key disciplines like design and engineering, amongst others.
You can think of the product manager as the conductor of the product development process. Sometimes the product manager steps in to drive certain stages.
Other times, they will act as facilitator. The product manager may broker decisions between other disciplines. The product manager’s role is overarching.
They draw together all the stages and learnings and have oversight over the vision and execution.
Some of the typical steps of a product development process are:
conducting research on marketplace competition
visualizing and qualifying an opportunity
conducting a discovery process, including user research
creating a product or feature vision and strategy
setting objectives and metrics
creating a product roadmap
prioritizing a product development backlog, including experiments
releasing to your users
measuring and learning from your experiments
The way your process looks depends on the stage of your product lifecycle. A product development process may look different depending on if you’re in launch mode vs. iteration mode, for example.
Some teams omit the learning and optimization stage when describing their process. Don’t make that mistake! The steps you take to learn from your experiments are important.
The stages of your process may overlap and often do. Often teams will start one stage before completing another to keep development flowing smoothly.
There are some fundamental steps that usually make up most product development processes. These include research, planning, development (with testing) and releasing.
Although many steps are common to any product development process, no process is identical.
Align with your team on key steps that make sense for your product and your team.
A good way to do this can be to map the process out as you know it, using a real or virtual whiteboard (Miro or Mural can help here). Jot down key stages and activities. Be sure to clearly articulate the purpose/ outcome of each step.
Once you’ve mapped out your current process, you can identify points of uncertainty or gaps. You should discuss these with your team and decide how you might approach them. For example, you may want to introduce a Beta programme into your process to test features. There are many ways to test with Beta users, and your approach will depend on your product lifecycle, resources and needs. Come up with some rough solutions to test out.
Once you’ve mapped out your process, share it with your wider team and stakeholders. Spend time explaining the different stages and activities to stakeholders. Also take the time to ask team members about what parts of the process they want to contribute to or get involved with.
For instance, developers on your team might be keen to get involved in user research sessions. A marketing team member might be valuable to give input into your product’s onboarding. Clarify how you’ll communicate with those team members so they can stay in the loop.
Document the process somewhere where team members can easily refer to, provide ongoing feedback and ask questions.
Throughout the development process, communicate with team members what stage you’re at. This helps give context on how activities fit into the wider picture. It can be useful to refer back to your process map where possible. This gives team members context, especially if you’re operating in a complex problem space.
You can open up your process by communicating progress in a number of ways, including:
Asynchronously, using your work messaging tool (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams). If there’s a specific stream of product development that’s relevant to to people, create dedicated channels. For example, you might create a Discovery and Research channel, or a Release channel. Invite interested stakeholder to those channels so they can stay in the loop.
Using standups. Standups aren’t just a status check on your backlog. They are an opportunity to briefly align on a team’s meaningful ongoing work that contributes to your goals. Use this opportunity to briefly raise progress on discovery activities, research, or planning that is going on.
During roadmap presentations or check-ins. Explain how your work relates to the process. You may even want to build your roadmap to roughly align with your development process (e.g. in development, in discovery, in beta, released, etc.).
A product development process is what gets you from idea to product in your user’s hands.
To be effective, make sure you and your team are clear on each step in the process. Also open your process up to your team by identifying the key points where they can add value. Involve them in those stages and communicate progress so that your team understands the big picture.
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