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Digital product development stages: from an idea to a successful product

The experience of a product owner and a team that previously collaborated together are invaluable elements, but the fact remains that digital product development is never the same twice.

Reading Time15 min

The product development process is the method of creating a product, whether digital or physical. In practice, there isn't much of a difference between digital and physical product development - but, as you'll see, the models we will discuss evolved from the internet and software industries and reflect that.

Your choice of development approach will have an impact on the low-level cycle of creating a digital product in general. But the overall workflow is very similar. Because of this, you can modify it to fit your project's needs and complexity. As the saying goes - improvising is good; knowing what lies ahead is even better. 

Stages of digital product development process

Now, we will go through the stages of the digital product development process.

Whatever methodology for digital product development you choose, you’ll find these common themes: 

  1. Ideation 
  2. Strategy 
  3. Design & Development 
  4. Launch

Ideation

An idea is where everything starts. The presumption “perhaps you already have a perfect idea” can be your guide. However, it's essential to know that out of all digital product ideas out there, only 10% turn into successful products and manage to deliver value to end-users. This is the phase of pure ideation, and it is powered by endless potential and inventiveness. The key to this step is to put ourselves in our customers' shoes to think like them and ultimately show the viability of your future digital product. 

Here are some of the things you should go through with your group at a brainstorming session:

  • Analyzing market gaps
  • Internal brainstorming 
  • Analyzing your competitors
  • Feedback and surveys
  • Social media listening 

It's a case of "throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks" in the early phases of brainstorming. We want to come up with as many ideas as we can. Once you’ve learned which features customers value the most, the main aim is to use customer feedback that needs to be gathered, validated, and implemented. 

SCAMPER

SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse) - Bob Eberle, an education administrator and author, popularized it as a way to spark creative ideation. Each letter in the acronym stands for a distinct approach to creating a new product.

For example, by following the SCAMPER method, with the digital product, let's say a software (program), you can:

  • Substitute - replace one part of the program with another
  • Combine - put some different components together to improve it
  • Adapt - update a program to the customers’ preferences 
  • Modify - change how the program looks (appearance and presentation)
  • Put to another use - use a program for something that it was not designed to do
  • Eliminate - remove the parts of the program that are not used by the customers
  • Reverse - deconstruct the program or re-think some of its pillars


SWOT

A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis is another simple but effective tool to avoid wasting time with the wrong product for your target market. It can be used for product development as well as marketing and sales initiatives (or any other aspect of business that requires a strategy). The objective is to assess the current situation and use that information to map the next steps.

To illustrate, we will again use software (program) development and go through the steps:

  • Strengths - find the main things that the program does well, explore the main difference between your and competitors' program, and why customers purchase your program. 
  • Weakness - find the missing resources and discover what your competitors are doing better and at which price.
  • Opportunities - find out if any innovation is possible by using new technologies, whether your program can be used in another niche and the program's prospects.
  • Threats - research the negative trends that present the most significant risk to your program, things your competition is doing that could negatively affect your program and the factors that greatly impact customers to use/purchase your program.

Strategy

When it comes to product strategy, it's a high-level execution plan to put the initial concept into action. You'll know exactly where you're going with your product team as soon as it goes live. The product development team will most likely collaborate with the marketing department at this point. After all, we can't talk about strategy without discussing the customers it serves, and understanding customers is essentially a marketing team’s responsibility.

If you use one of the creative problem-solving methods, it's possible that you've previously analyzed your existing position in a market or industry using the approaches in phase #1 (Ideation). This will come in handy as you move on to developing strategic elements such as: 

  • Pricing strategy - price points are set along with break-even points, and how much of a product is expected to sell. 
  • Positioning strategy - a value proposition and benefits of the product are defined, as well as the tone you will use to market it.
  • Promotion strategy - a launch plan is created and it determines all the activities that will take place during a campaign timeline.  
  • Sales strategy - this element comes to play when a company determines what assets and knowledge sales will require to close a contract (including price points, positioning, pricing, training, demos, and collateral).


With the knowledge of how your product will meet the demands of your users and achieve its business goals, you can start putting those ideas into a wireframe or sketch of the product's primary features. A product's design or appearance is not as important as outlining the product's user flows, entrance and exit points, and major functions.

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to strategy, but a winning strategy rests on a product roadmap (wireframe) with defined goals, success metrics, value proposition, competitive analysis, and other essential data.

Design and development

Let’s say that all previous phases are done and presume that you now have the solution to a problem so now it’s time to design the product

The prototype is the initial layer. The goal is to create the most basic version of the product possible. As a result, it will most likely have limited functionality. It's basically a simple design with a well-thought-out UI and UX. Although prototypes have basic designs and limited functionality, they are essential for convincing investors and getting critiques from early adopters.

With that in mind, there is usually some iterative development. This can be broken down as follows:

  • Pilot testing - it provides an estimate of the product’s development from the end user’s perspective and provides feedback.
  • Alpha testing - the prototype is used for internal testing of design and functionality.
  • Beta testing - it collects feedback on user experience and can be made available to the public.

Launch

The launch is the peak moment. Also called commercialization, this is when your product finally enters the marketplace and your potential users are aware of its existence.

You may or may not choose a soft launch, depending on how polished the product is. A soft launch is when a product is released for a limited audience before it is shown to the general public. Often there are flaws and quirks in digital products that need to be ironed out. 

Defining and launching a minimum viable product (MVP) is a great way to introduce your feature to customers and observe their behaviors and interactions or if you decide to keep the launch semi-private, that may actually assist you in scaling up more effectively. There may be other, larger marketing campaigns after that. Utilize your previous research and testing rounds to determine when and how to promote your products.

For starters, you will need a pre-launch strategy that may include the teasers or landing pages, email marketing, social media campaigns, pre-release reviews, and miscellaneous promotion campaigns but it mostly boils down to three key components: 

  • Timing - make sure you’re not releasing it around the time of competitors or events that could negatively impact your launch. 
  • Awareness - choose your promotional and content strategies. 
  • Product-market fit - the moment of truth. Did you create a great product for a group of customers that would actually have some use of it? 

Since launching a product is just the start, your launch activities should revolve around the personas you identified in your market analysis and you should ensure that your target audience is convinced your product is perfect for their needs.

And something to remember: a product is never really finished!

Common models for digital product process development

Now, when we have gone through the specific themes of the digital product development process, it is time to talk about the common models for digital product process development.

Every product owner is free to alter it based on the development technique or methodology used for his or her project, and the ideal approach varies from a case-to-case basis. However, certain models are frequently used by IT and software companies.

Here are the three of the most common models and methods: 

Waterfall Development - one of the longest-standing approaches offering a logical and linear development life-cycle model. The name waterfall denotes the top-to-bottom progress like the water falling downwards. Stages in a model itself are:

  • Conception
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • System Deployment
  • Maintenance

Agile Development (SCRUM) - it has a rapid and flexible response to change. Agile is organized into “sprints” rather than a single continuous time frame. A sprint is normally a few weeks long, and each sprint has its own set of deliverables. Here is how it looks like:|

  • Plan/Concept
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Review
  • Release

The main difference between Waterfall and Agile models is that Waterfall is visualized as being a linear path, whereas Agile creates a never-ending flywheel. After review, the process can start right over again.

Lean Development - it is mostly and usually characterized by fast product delivery and quality-centered progress. The life cycle of a lean digital product looks like this:

  • Ideation
  • Exploration
  • Validation
  • Growth
  • Sustaining
  • Retire

Conclusion

Every one of the development processes has its specific pros and cons and it’s never the same journey twice so while going through product development, some elements will need to be customized to your company's needs.

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