The 7-Step New Product Development (NPD) Process
Phones that read UPC codes. Ultraviolet fridge water-dispenser disinfectants. Bluetooth speakers for your...glasses? We are living in a time when no idea is too outlandish to bring to life. In the era of startups and unicorns, your next big product concept could change the world—or at least your revenue stream.
The hard part is getting from idea to execution. Roughly 30,000 new consumer products launch every year, and 95% of them fail. In addition, only 40% of product ideas ever actually make it to market. Without a solid new product development process, or NPD for short, products flounder in the conceptual stage or, worse, entrepreneurs spend a lot of money trying to bring new products to market and never quite get there. The innovative mindset it takes to dream up the next earth-shattering gadget or app is very different than the mindset you need to actually make, market, and sell the thing.
In this article, learn what NPD (or new product development) is, how it differs from product management, who is typically involved in the process, and the seven stages that make up the product development process.
Product development is the end-to-end process of bringing a new product to market—conducting initial research, creating a prototype, building a team, launching a marketing plan, testing the product, and many more steps in between. The process of product development ultimately determines whether a new product is successful on the market.
You may hear the terms product development and product management used interchangeably. While these two functions overlap in many ways, they are fundamentally different. The focus of product managers is to provide vision and ambition around what a product could be. They take the input of all kinds of stakeholders and create a product roadmap that’s ambitious and award-worthy.
Product developers, on the other hand, do the real work of bringing a product to market. They’re the pragmatic feet on the ground, constantly prioritizing development tasks and refining the product to be realistically achievable.
If you’re suddenly realizing that you’re in the wrong article, we invite you to read What is a Product Roadmap? Guide & Examples.
Unless you’re a solo entrepreneur pulling all-nighters to get your first app out the door all by your lonesome, the process of bringing a new product to market usually involves multiple people. These “stakeholders” each have their own specific areas of expertise and interest, and weigh in on various parts of the product development process.
Some of these stakeholders come from areas of expertise such as:
In addition to internal stakeholders, startups and entrepreneurs often rely on external support in the form of mentors, freelancers, and investors, especially in the beginning stages of getting a new product to market. All of these people become stakeholders in the process.
While the development team is often at the center of new product development, in a startup, it is typically owned and led by a company leader—the CEO, president, founder, or another top-level executive. Within more established companies that already have products on the market, the product development process is owned within specific departments tasked with creating new products.
The top three reasons most startups fail? They run out of cash, discover there is no market need for their product, or get outcompeted. The fourth reason is a flawed business model. While a business model is not the same thing as a product development strategy, the two are certainly dependent on each other.
So while the most obvious benefit of creating a product development strategy is to get a new product to market, there are other important reasons to invest deeply in this area. Companies with strong product development strategies are more likely to:
Win business from competitors
Increase revenue and popularity
Reduce product development costs
Get to market faster
Create a culture of innovation among your teams
Stay attuned to what customers want
Achieve other specific business goals, such as entering a new market or grabbing a new target audience
Increase sales to existing customers and improve the success and popularity of the product in its current market
WIthing the software world, seven stages of product development have emerged as the gold standard in getting a new product to market.
Whether a lightbulb went off as you were sleeping, or you’ve arrived at a new product concept as a result of much research and reconnaissance work, every product development project starts with the genesis of an idea.
But is it a good idea? Before you launch into full-scale product development, conduct the due diligence to ensure your idea has legs. You may have more than one idea for the direction a new product could take. You may even have multiple product ideas in the first place. In this stage of product development, analyze your ideas for viability. This often involves some preliminary market research.
During this stage, put your idea to the test to see how it holds up. Typically, this means finding a focus group to present ideas to, then gathering feedback. Throughout this process, you may present multiple ideas and various features, iterating on those ideas and features until you’ve arrived at a plan that feels solid.
Before you even begin to build, another essential component of your research should be market research. Who do you envision as the audience for your product? Does this audience exist? How many people fall into the category? The answers to these questions will ultimately inform a business analysis, where you determine whether there is a market to make this a viable product idea that can actually be successful.
The very first usable iteration of a product is the prototype. This is a significant step in the process because it’s the first time potential users can hold your product “in their hands” and try it. Whether your product is a digital app or a physical device, the prototype represents the first opportunity to try it in action.
Once you have a prototype, you can conduct more comprehensive market testing. This is a trial run of your product to evaluate its performance and catch any bugs and errors. Often, product developers will send new products through at least one round of beta testing — a stage at which real users are able to use the product before it’s officially available to the public at large. The users get a first look at a new product in exchange for offering their feedback and data in order to improve the final release.
And finally we are at the final stage: commercialization of the product. The product is released into the wild, with marketing strategy in place to give it the best possible shot at success.
This is, of course, a very high-level overview of how to get a new product to market, but with these guidelines, you can get started putting a product development framework in place.
Above, we outlined the seven steps that make up a best-practice process for product development. It’s always helpful to understand how product development might work in practice.
Consider a new rideshare app (and no, we probably don’t need another one at this point...but bear with us).
In this example
|Idea generation||A rideshare app to connect riders and drivers in rural communities that don’t have Uber or Lyft|
|Idea screening||A few key questions to ask: Is there a need for this app? Would there be enough drivers and riders to support a basic business plan? How would one market and position it?|
|Concept development and testing||Meet with a few key people who might have insight or opinions — town leadership, advocates for the underserved, prospective customers|
|Marketing strategy||Here’s where idea screening gets a deeper dive: conduct research into the market for both riders and drivers, and begin to create an initial marketing plan|
|Prototyping||Build a ridesharing app to test out|
|Market testing||With that prototype working, recruit a small group of people in a town or two to test it out|
|Commercialization||Release the product into the public market with a thoughtful plan for how to measure its success|
At some point in this process—hopefully early on—you may deduce that your idea is not as brilliant as you may have thought. If that happens, it’s time to abort or pivot. If your product makes it all the way through the development process, congratulations...and good luck!
You’ve got a grasp on the system. You get the general approach. But what if your idea doesn’t make it past the initial idea screening? What if you don’t have an idea at all?
This is the plight of the would-be entrepreneur. But never fear.
Within existing organizations, product and feature ideas often come from customers themselves. Over time, feedback reveals what customers want and what potential customers could be persuaded to use or buy. This information comes from casually crowdsourced ideas as well as quantitative data.
Teams themselves are also a great resource for ideas, because they’re intimately familiar with your products and brand, and know what else is possible.
But if you’re starting from scratch, you’re in a position to “blue-sky” it. In other words, anything is really possible. An idea management process might begin with a brainstorm.
As you collect ideas, eventually your idea management process will turn into a legitimate product development process. If you track your ideas and research in a tool like Airtable, you can later feed your ideas directly into a product development process—while keeping a record of the idea’s first seeds. An idea input as a record into your idea base can be pulled directly into a product development base without having to duplicate or rebuild any of your work.
Throughout the process of developing a new product, strong collaboration is one of your most important tools. In order to be effective, teams must be able to communicate under all kinds of circumstances. It’s no longer a given—if it ever even was—that teams will meet regularly in person. Cloud-based tools like Airtable exist to enable remote and hybrid teams bringing their own perspectives and priorities to collaborative documents.
The right tools can help teams stay on track and improve workflow through the various stages of new product development.
Real-time communication is critical to getting a new product launched, even if teams are working remotely. But asynchronous communication is equally valuable: enabling people to communicate on their own time, with the ability to work in tandem on documents in the cloud without creating version-control issues, and to insert comments in order to communicate on fine points.
With Airtable, you can build out a process that is shareable, secure, and flexible. You can capture all your ideas, research, market share information, user input, and actual product development progress in bases designed for each particular use, with the ability to view all your work in various ways and filter quickly down to just the information you need. A relational database like Airtable ensures that your entire greater product team is referring to a single source of truth in the cloud as you work your way to a successful final product.
Use Airtable’s Product Planning Template to create a single source of truth for your entire extended team to keep track of product ideas, launch information, marketing campaigns, customer feedback, and more.
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