What is Product Development? Meaning and Process

Product development can mean different things to different people. But a good understanding of what it means or should mean will help in creating successful products.

We discuss in this article what the process entails, including different approaches to it. You will also learn about the different actors in the development process.

Product Development Explained

Some people think of development as the process of manufacturing a product. In this sense, it is what workers in factories do when talking about physical goods. But this is a narrow definition.

Today, product development includes everything you do from idea generation to release, even what follows after. It is the process of transforming a product idea into an offering in the market. Thinking of it as the whole journey of a product to the market may not be wrong.

Teams that manage products play important roles in the process. But it might be important to point out that development and product management are not interchangeable terms. The line between the two seems to have become too blurred for some people.

Product management is just an aspect of the process of developing a product. Development involves several other aspects, including design, product building, and marketing.

Developing Products

Over the years, there has been a significant transformation in the form development takes, especially in the software industry. Releases are less rigid, for want of a better word, than they were decades ago. Things change faster these days.

There was a time when the Waterfall system reigned supreme. Everything was done in a sequential order – one task needed to be done before moving to another. This made it necessary for product professionals to be detailed and meticulous as much as possible, resulting in a slower process.

In later years, especially from the 1990s, more and more alternative approaches for developing products began to appear. These aim at making development less rigid and less cumbersome. In the software industry, they included Rapid Application Development (RAD), Extreme Programming (XP), and Agile Software Development. There is also Lean, an offshoot of Agile.

The processes that most software companies use today are based on the Agile methodology, with slight modifications in some cases. They put more emphasis on people rather than process and adapting to changes more quickly as they occur.

In Agile, you adapt development often compliant with feedback from your customers or users. The methodology is about iterative incremental work and rapid release. After making a release, you gather feedback to form the basis for further work.

Some companies do combine multiple processes or methodologies in their work. For instance, certain bigger companies use a combination of Waterfall and Agile sometimes called “Wagile.”

Roadmap in Product Development

One tool that is practically expected when developing a product, regardless of what methodology or process is used, is the roadmap. The main thing that will differ between companies is the extent to which they stick to the document. In Agile companies, there is no strict adherence to specific dates.

A product roadmap provides a high-level overview of your product objectives and how they tie into business goals. It provides a framework for capturing key themes and for prioritizing development tasks.

Using a roadmap, a product manager makes a more convincing presentation of product plans and goals, in relation to strategy, to stakeholders. The document provides a point of reference for teams when building a product for recalling the major objectives.

Roles in Agile Development

These are three main actors or roles in Agile or Scrum development, which is now a preferred process among software companies. These are:

Team – Comprising members from different teams pertinent to a product, this makes the decision of how to provide a solution. The cross-functional team determines what the development process would be and how long it would run. Preferably, it should comprise between five and eight members.

Product Owner – This is the person that identifies a problem that requires a solution. The Product Owner, usually a product management team member, assesses problems and opportunities through interactions with customers and stakeholders and conveys them back to the team. They gather requirements that describe the bounds of a solution.

Scrum Master – This is the leader of a cross-functional team that develops a solution. He is responsible for ensuring that work is being done efficiently and that best practices are observed. The Scrum Master is the head of the engineering team in many cases, but may also be a Program Manager.

To avoid conflicts and make clear what each role is responsible for, you can turn to the DACI framework. DACI is an acronym for Driver, Approver, Contributor, and Informed. This is in relation to the requirements for a solution.

The Product Owner drives the definition of requirements while team members contribute valuable knowledge pertaining to them. The Scrum team informs the Scrum Master of requirements to enable the latter direct activities more aptly. Someone outside the team, such as a Product lead, should approve the requirements.

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