The Product Development Life Cycle – How Companies Stay Ahead of the Curve by Listening to Customers

Representative image showing how to collect, analyze and act on user feedback

Every product goes through stages. Like in the Odyssey, there’s a beginning, a middle, and in most cases, an end. However, for products, these stages are related to understanding the problem that you want to solve, how you can approach it, what can be improved and how to stay relevant. We call it the product development life cycle. Knowing where you are, and where you’re going is crucial to setting and achieving goals. It will help you plan and collaborate with your product team.

If ever curious to learn more about how teams go through these stages, we ran a survey with over 200 respondents to find out about teamwork, product development decisions, and how they’re made. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the world of the PDLC, and learn more about its stages, and how product managers, teams, and entrepreneurs wade through them.

What is the Product Development Life Cycle?

As the name suggests, the product development life cycle is

a process that products go through, from their inception, through definition, design, testing, and launching them.

Each stage is characterized by different activities, requirements, understanding and success of the product, and the problem the company is trying to solve for its customers. While the process can be broken down into many more detailed steps and phases, these five milestones represent most cases well.

Even though it may seem obvious which stage your product is in, understanding the stages is important to prepare for the next one. The best way to do this is through a mixture of research, experience, and, crucially customer feedback.

The PDLC Stages

The product development process is made up of

  • Brainstorming
  • Definition
  • Design
  • Development & Testing
  • Launch 🚀

For many companies, particularly those in the SaaS industry, staying relevant, and constantly innovating is key to extending the lifetime of their product. While certain features or aspects may be removed, it’s what comes in their place that keeps the company going, or in other words, adaptability. For this to work, we should focus on the last word of the PDLC – cycle. The process does not suddenly stop at the end. Instead, you start from the beginning and go through the circle again for every new feature and decision you want to make.

The Product Development Life Cycle is similar to the LLBM framework

A similar approach to understanding this process is by looking at the LLBM framework – listen, learn, build, and measure. These steps mirror the cycle that products go through, with an emphasis on listening and learning from users and customers.

Also Read: What is the first step of the perfect customer life cycle?

Your Experiences Throughout the Product Development Life Cycle

Earlier this year, we asked people in product teams (product managers, designers, and developers) to find out how they work, and what are the most important factors that go into making product decisions. After gathering the data from over 200 respondents and sifting through it, we were able to gain several interesting insights from startups, scaleups, and established companies. We’ll present our results while discussing the stages of the product development life cycle.

1. Brainstorming Ideas

Every product, feature, or service starts with an idea. The source of the idea can be anything from sudden inspiration to a gut feeling, experience, or customer research. The question you should be asking at this point is: what problem are we trying to solve, and how can we do that? And this is where brainstorming comes in. Whatever form it takes, from post-its on a wall to lists or mind maps, you want to find a solution that your team thinks will work for your customer’s needs. Finding out what the competitive landscape looks like is also important at this point to avoid investing resources into an already saturated market.

Pie chart about the starting point of the product development life cycle and making decisions

Our research has shown that for most companies, the starting point for making any product decisions is most often (44%) a mixture of competitive analysis, gut feeling, and user research.

Pie chart about the starting point of the product development life cycle and making decisions comparison between startups and scaleups

When we dig in a little deeper, we can see that startups place a higher value on user research (31%) when compared to more experienced scaleups (21%). In both cases, a mixture of comprehensive research is still the preferred approach to making an initial decision.

2. Defining the Product

Once the initial brainstorming has concluded, a new set of questions to investigate starts to crystalize:

  • Who is the product for?
  • What kinds of features will the product need?
  • What will the product do?

Answering these questions will require more in-depth research that will try to understand the potential market of the product, and narrow down who it will be targeting, in order to ensure product-market fit.

Why is it worth taking the time to research this? According to one study, around 35% of startup failures can be attributed to a lack of market demand. To avoid this, it’s worth investigating:

  • How much value will the product offer the customer?
  • How many people will be willing to pay for it?
  • Does it meet their expectations?
The primary factor in making product decisions for startups and scaleups pie chart

We learned from our respondents that, regardless of how mature they are as a company, the primary deciding factor for making product decisions is customer based (35%). What’s more, the more experienced a company is, the more value it places on hearing from its customers.

Focus on the user and all else will follow

Poll template for new customer feature requests

At this point, you may be asking yourself how to gather this kind of data. Usersnap has surveys designed to learn about how well your product meets your market’s needs. Find out which features could be useful, which deserve further exploration, and how to keep developing. 

3. Getting into Design

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to offer, and who needs it, you have to start thinking about the form your product will take. This process requires creating prototypes, step-by-step wireframes of the product, and finding out what works.

For that to happen, you need to understand what resources you’ll need, from the user interface and design (UI/UX) to the pure technical implementation from your development team.

The focus in this stage is to make it clear what the product or feature should do, and find the easiest, most user-friendly approach to accomplish that task.

The design stage usually requires a lot of collaboration between teams across departments, to get all of the necessary input in. 

Pie chart how well teams collaborate with each other in the product development life cycle

A large majority – 66% of the product teams we surveyed reported a positive experience of collaborating. Startups were particularly highly focused on product and customer-led growth, with 71% positive collaboration.

4. Testing & Development

At this point, you have the basic structure of your product. Your teams have figured out its basic functionality and how users will interact with it. It’s time to start seeing how it performs in reality. Often, this stage will start with trying to define the MVP or the version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers. The purpose of this is to gather feedback from early users, which can be used to further refine the product.

Most often, companies will rely on a variety of processes to validate their product. This starts with designing and making prototypes of the product. Once that’s been produced, they will move on to quality assurance (QA), which starts with alpha testing – technical trials that are done internally in the company to make sure that the product functions correctly.

In beta testing, the product is finally unveiled to your users. This is their first opportunity to try it out and the perfect moment to gather their feedback. Based on it, you can further tweak, improve, and remove any issues that have appeared.

Stay Ahead of the Curve with Usersnap at Every Step

Collect feedback from your customers easily with Usersnap's templates for bugs, beta testing, and issues.

A great way to gather information is with the help of Usersnap’s qualitative feedback forms. Plenty of templates are available for reporting bugs, beta testing, and feature requests. With its wide range of feedback collection methods, you’re well-equipped to learn what you’re doing well, and where you can improve.

Understanding exactly what the problem is can save time and resources – and Usersnap’s built-in capability to capture and annotate screenshots and video recordings make things significantly easier and simpler for product teams.

5. Ready to Launch 🚀

Finally, the day has come when you’re ready to release your product to the public. For starters, you can use an SMS marketing campaign to send out the message about launching. The marketing team should have prepared all relevant communication and promotional materials by this point and gotten in touch with any press contacts. However, the journey of your product does not end here.

Internally, this is a good moment to think retrospectively. Ask your team what went well throughout the process, and where you can improve.

Once you start to see how your product is performing in the real world, a further stage of analysis begins. There will be new issues to collect, feature requests to fill, and improvements to make. In other words, plenty of customer feedback to collect and analyze.

Usersnap can continue to help you collect customer feedback in this stage of the product journey. Learn what works with events or URL-triggered CSAT and CES surveys. Keep track of customer satisfaction and loyalty with NPS surveys. Each widget allows you to take screenshots and has audio and video recording tools for users to share in detail what they experience. You can share the positive feedback from your customers with your teams to reward their hard work and keep them motivated! The critical feedback also helps you to grow continuously and iterate your product solutions.

There are so many people that use our product that I can’t and should not assume what they want. We need to learn. We need to understand what life is like in the community to understand what they want, or what they’re gonna want in the future.

Katie Dill, former Head of Design at Lyft

In the end, you’ll find yourself where we started – with an idea for a new solution, feature, or product for your customers, and will use the experience you’ve gained to keep building and improving.

The Value in Evaluating

You may have noticed that a large part of this article has focused on the importance of customer feedback. That’s in no way coincidental. It’s what we’ve been learning from our customers over the years and, most recently, our respondents. Without understanding the voice of your users, the risks of flying blind and without a clear goal grow incredibly, and with it, wasted time and resources.

Pie chart showing how well companies know if they built the right product.

80% of companies monitor the success of their product through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data and by monitoring product usage. It’s astounding that 20% have no idea whether they’ve succeeded. Studies show that companies that invest in user experience have lower support costs, tend to grow in market share, and have higher customer retention.

So, don’t wait, and join the many companies that already take advantage of the benefits of listening to their users, and start collecting customer feedback today with Usersnap.

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