Product Development Life Cycle: Key Stages Explained

Article by:
Elizabeth Boyarko
11 min
Which stages does a product go through during the development life cycle? Let's find out the specific PDLC steps and their peculiarities.

Throughout its lifespan, a product will go through various stages until it becomes a market hit. These stages typically include introducing the product to the market, growing in popularity, and reaching peak market penetration.

The described product's journey from inception to market release sheds light on its end-to-end trajectory. However, it is missing the nitty-gritty details of the development process. If you want to understand how a product is truly developed, you'll need to dive into the product development life cycle (PDLC) concept.

As an organized approach encompassing straightforward procedures and predefined steps, the product development life cycle becomes a backbone for turning a raw idea into a unique solution. What does this process consist of? How does it help establish efficient collaboration between cross-functional teams? Let's find out.

What Is a Product Development Life Cycle?

We can trace the origins of the product development life cycle back to the 1960s when the software delivery process became more complex and required a structured approach to ensure quality and efficiency. The lifecycle model matured, and different software development methodologies like the Waterfall model, Agile, and DevOps evolved to address new demands of the software industry.

Overall, the product development life cycle has become more dynamic, collaborative, and customer-focused, emphasizing speed and innovation.

Say, a product team has to balance changing requirements, emerging technologies, and collaborating with other departments and stakeholders while developing a unique piece of software. At a certain point, this product is sure to become obsolete and irrelevant to end users.

On the one hand, it might extend the completion time beyond what's viable for the client, resulting in spending extra money and massive overtime for your employees. Moreover, the final project may be abundant with errors, causing it to lose the public's interest.

To avoid such a situation, the team must go through well-defined stages in the product development lifecycle. Enrolling the team in a PMP certification training course can streamline and optimize their efforts. What does the PDLC imply?

What Is a Product Development Life Cycle?

The product development lifecycle is a systematic process that involves the stages of planning, design, development, testing, and deployment of a product. It ensures that the product meets the customer's needs and goes to production within time and budget estimations.

Such an approach enables you to break down the work into individual product development phases, coordinate the efforts of specialists in different areas, and decompose expected deliverables into smaller tasks for each team member. A top priority is to ensure that the software not only meets but exceeds the customer's expectations both during and after production while minimizing any potential risks. 

What Are the Product Development Life Cycle Stages?

The steps involved in the product development life cycle can be classified in several ways. They may vary depending on the size and scale of the envisioned product, its specificity, and any associated industry limitations. 

Here are the seven steps we typically follow to define the product development process: 

  • Ideation
  • Validation
  • Prototyping
  • Marketing
  • Development
  • Launch
  • Improvements

You can use the above phases of product development as a guide to creating your unique business strategy from scratch. Let's explore each step in the PDLC in more detail.

Product Development Life Cycle Stages

Stage 1: Ideation

During the ideation stage of the product development cycle, the focus is on generating and refining ideas for the product. This is a crucial phase in the life cycle of a software product, as it lays the groundwork for the rest of the development process. 

The goal is to come up with feasible ideas that address a specific market need, end-user pain points, and underserved features in products provided by your direct competitors. Another milestone is to ensure alignment of expectations among all involved stakeholders.

How do you generate feasible ideas during the ideation stage of the product development life cycle? It's essential to keep a few key things in mind.

First, having a thorough understanding of the problem you're trying to solve is necessary. This means conducting market research, analyzing user feedback, and gathering input from all stakeholders involved.

Once you have a crystal clear understanding of the problem in a formulated product problem statement, you can begin to brainstorm potential solutions. It's important to encourage creativity and open-mindedness during this phase and remain grounded in reality. Consider the resources and budget available for development, as well as any technical limitations that may occur. 

After gathering all the available assumptions, the product team proceeds to filter them based on essential criteria such as feasibility, volume, competitors, or target customer types. To narrow down the list, there are as many efficient methods as possible, such as SWOT analysis or a SCAMPER method. These techniques help make informed decisions and select the best options.

Finally, it's vital to prioritize ideas based on their feasibility and potential impact and submit them for consecutive validation.

Stage 2: Validation

In the course of the ideation stage, the goal is to generate a multitude of ideas and assumptions. However, during validation, the focus shifts to screening the most promising concepts worth chasing. This approach helps to prevent the unnecessary expenditure of time and business or startup budget. After all, it will be more difficult, expensive, and frustrating to alter the vision of your product in the later stages of the product development life cycle.

Here's how you can sieve generated ideas through a hypothesis validation screen:

  1. Research potential markets
    This activity will involve conducting research on similar offerings in the market and assessing their performance and best practices. Additionally, you should explore specific trends, projected market potential, and customer feedback to understand target audiences' expectations better.
  1. Find ideal buyer personas
    By understanding your target audiences, you can create a product that is in demand and develop a marketing strategy that resonates with your paying customers. You can consider attending digital marketing courses to understand all the details deeply. A series of strategic tactics will come in handy in this regard. For instance, you can survey your current customer base or arrange focus groups while keeping attention to your competitors. 
  1. Start with narrow customer groups
    It's important to focus on a specific group of people who are most likely to have a demand for selected ideas. This could be a specific age segment or a group with shared interests, geographic location, and similar qualities. For example, if you plan to develop an app with TikTok-like functionality, you would target millennials or Gen Zers who don't let go of their iPhones day and night. By narrowing down your target audience, you can even concentrate your idea validation efforts on a specific location with room for success, which will let you create user stories more effectively.

Stage 3: Prototyping

When you've settled on a product idea, it's time to move on to the next logical element of the product development life cycle. You can start building a prototype. It is a preliminary model of your product that showcases the primary solutions you plan to offer without any additional features. As a quick and efficient way to present your idea, the prototype will serve as the foundation of your product-to-be.

To begin, you need to determine the key features and functions that should be included. After that, you can create a mockup of the product via UX wireframing (tools such as Figma may be handy). This will help you visualize how the product looks and which functions it provides. Start by sketching out each interface, then add buttons, call-to-action links, and other UI elements.

Creating a prototype is the best moment to get early feedback from internal and external users. By asking open questions about the product's design and expected functionality, you can gain valuable insights about where to move further with the MVP design.

For instance, if early adopters can easily navigate the prototype and understand how it works, it opens doors to the next steps. However, if some process requires additional explanation and guidance, it may be necessary to return to current mockups and simplify elements of user flow.

As you work on fine-tuning your prototype, it's vital to enhance its complexity continually and fine-tune the user experience until you develop a version that resembles a Minimum Viable Product (more on that below). However, prototyping is one of the commonly used MVP testing methods too.

Stage 4: Marketing Strategy

As you proceed with your refined prototype, you will gradually arrive at the point where you can pitch the offering to the public. Your product team can progress to the next phase of the product development life cycle: marketing strategy development. Your actions for forming a business or startup marketing strategy will involve:

  • developing a compelling value proposition;
  • designing valuable tools and resources for your sales team;
  • creating effective marketing and advertising campaigns that resonate with our target audience.

Next, you need to determine which channels will be most effective for reaching your target audience. Consider advertising on social media, utilizing search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to improve visibility on Google, and attending relevant conferences and events to network with potential customers. As part of your marketing strategy, high-quality content plays a crucial role. AI technology is essential for creating compelling content to convey your message, grab attention, and keep people interested. AI can analyze customer data and provide insights to help marketers create paragraphs and product descriptions for their promotional materials.

It's crucial to keep in mind the potential benefits of a cross-platform and omnichannel approach. This means utilizing various media such as email marketing, push notifications, mobile optimization, and personalized messaging to achieve the most efficient results. Creating clear and effective marketing presentations using marketing PowerPoint templates for your teams will also be beneficial.

At this stage, you can take time to observe the impact of all marketing efforts. Monitor the success of your activities by establishing measurable goals, metrics and key performance indicators. Regularly review your data analytics to see which strategies drive the most traffic and conversions, and iterate further.

Stage 5: Development

The previous product development cycle stages we covered dealt with intangible concepts such as ideas, prototypes, and strategies. Now, you've arrived at a point where you can transform your prototype into an actual Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This transition not only brings your idea to life but also sets a foundational stage to accelerate DORA metrics by implementing practices that enhance deployment frequency, reduce lead times, and improve change failure rates through iterative development and feedback loops.

According to the MVP definition, it is a barebones version of a software product that has all the essential features required to facilitate market launch. For example, an MVP of a house will involve creating basic concepts needed for a habitable space. This might include a foundation, walls, a roof, and a door. You will use inexpensive materials like wood planks and focus on functionality rather than aesthetics. As you gain more resources, you could add features like plumbing or electricity.

The MVP development process is continuous and iterative, enabling you to develop, test, and release product increments to early users. By collecting their feedback and opinions, you can quickly adjust the required functionality and prioritize other features. 

Before proceeding with the later phases of the product development life cycle, your development team will derive requirements from a detailed product development roadmap. In order to adapt to potential changes, product teams should take time to evaluate each released version and prioritize modifications based on user input. With a single source of truth in the system ensure that all team members are aligned with the latest information to prevent miscommunication and discrepancies during development. As teams transition from prototyping to actual development, the use of time clock software becomes crucial. This tool helps in managing and recording the time spent on various tasks by different team members, ensuring that the project stays on schedule and within budget, while also providing valuable insights into labor costs and productivity.

Stage 6: Launch

At this stage, your product journey has finally led you to go live with an MVP. Your product team needs to work hard to create a successful launch plan and choose the most efficient launch timeline. It would be best to polish your strategy to reach our target audience and generate excitement around your new product. Take time to consider every aspect of the launch, from marketing and advertising to distribution and pricing.

Once you've finalized all the decisions, your product development team will begin transitioning an MVP to production. During this step, it is necessary to incorporate QA testing to ensure that your live product functions as intended. 

Another crucial aspect of launching an MVP is to measure market interest. It's essential to track usage patterns and pay attention to feedback from our users to continue providing a valuable and efficient product.

Stage 7: Improvement

The product development life cycle should never come to a complete halt after the initial launch. Conversely, your product teams should always be working to improve and enhance your solutions over time, even after they've hit the market.

As you observe user behavior and engagement with your product, note any emerging trends or patterns. This safe valuable data can help guide your future decisions and actions, ensuring that you are constantly adapting to meet the needs of your users and are moving toward finding product-market fit.

Product Development Team Structure

The discussed stages of the product development life cycle help streamline time-to-market and accelerate product launch. However, this means you will need to involve and unite multidisciplinary teams that will be responsible for your product strategy, marketing, implementation, and improvement.

Such teams will most likely include a combination of different web development team roles. The general rule of thumb is clearly defining duties and responsibilities and establishing a reporting hierarchy. Moreover, it is necessary to match team roles with the talent possessing the required skills and experience levels.

Here's what a typical product team structure looks like:

What's the Product Development Team Structure like?

Product Manager

In this role, a specialist acts as an intermediary between business and technology. Product managers deeply understand market requirements, end-user pain points, and the path a product should take to evolve. Key responsibilities of a product manager include:

  • clarifying the product's vision and roadmap;
  • comprehending the needs of customers;
  • prioritizing product features;
  • maintaining coordination with stakeholders and teams.

Project Manager

Project managers ensure that product teams ship the deliverables on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. Their activities include resource allocation, overseeing project planning, creating a risk management plan, and communicating with team members and stakeholders. Project managers monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to keep and return the project on track. Additionally, they play a critical role in motivating team members and fostering a positive team dynamic.

Product Designer

Product designers are accountable for creating innovative and user-friendly designs that meet current and future business needs. This requires research, brainstorming, and stakeholder collaboration to ensure that the final product meets the outlined specifications and aligns with the company's goals. Product designers should be able to present new ideas to customers and team members with clarity and professionalism.

‚ÄćProduct Developers

Developers take care of the implementation stage of the product development cycle. They work directly with technology and implement designs created by other experts. Additionally, product developers collaborate with product and project managers to ensure that product requirements and vision turn into full-fledged software.

‚ÄćSales and Marketing Specialists

The marketing team works hard to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to promote the product and generate interest among potential customers. Sales professionals cooperate with the product manager to craft a corresponding sales strategy to engage target audiences and drive sales. They will also use tools of the trade to manage their workflows and iron out kinks in key sales processes, often relying on industry-specific solutions to sell products efficiently. For instance, platforms like Ollie provide hassle-free brewery sales management capabilities that sales and marketing specialists serving this niche will appreciate.

Seeking help with building your product?

Upsilon has an extensive talent pool made up of experts who can help bring your ideas to life!

Let's talk

Seeking help with building your product?

Upsilon has an extensive talent pool made up of experts who can help bring your ideas to life!

Let's talk

Embrace a Continuous Journey with Seven Stages of The Product Development Cycle

The product development process is a systematic and cyclical approach that involves stages such as ideation, validation, prototyping, marketing, development, launch, and improvements. When done right, it ensures that your product:

  • meets customer needs and addresses their pain points;
  • goes live within time and budget estimations;
  • exceeds customer expectations while minimizing potential risks;
  • responds to user feedback, reacts to changes in consumer behavior, and adapts continuously to outperform competitors.¬†

Need more direction with product development? Tell us about the challenges you face, and let's start the continuous journey to your success!

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