What are the main steps involved in product planning ?
June 3, 2018
June 3, 2018
Very often the term product planning and product roadmap are used interchangeably however they serve different levels of product management. To start, let’s lay out definitions of the two terms:
Product Planning: This is the overall initiation, design, development, implementation and potentially exit of a product based team company. This includes the various departments of a company such as marketing, support, technology, operations, human resource, finances and legal needs to build a company around a product. Think of the term of product planning to be the full life cycle of the business that is based on the product.
Product Roadmap: This defines the product features that will be implemented over a defined duration to improve the product acceptance, reduce churn and compete in the marketplace. The process of a product roadmap has a workflow in itself to gain user ideas, identify which will make for best features and then map out releases which you can manage with your team to execute to implement the best changes for your product.
As you can see product roadmap is a subset of product planning in that you need to manage what you are building and how you identify great features to move forward with but at a larger level, there is more planning needed within a product team which is where the term product planning comes in. For a new startup, product planning is key as it helps you identify what the key points of how to turn a product into a business and many of the steps are needed to build out your business plan and investor decks for raising funds.
Here are the key stages of product planning that you should go through when building out a new product:
1. Product Concept: At this stage, you have an idea. It is within your head and you are ready to start writing code to make it happen. Always remember this is the cheapest point within your future business to pivot and better define what you are building. Slow down at this stage and make sure your idea is a real idea. Have you flushed out the concept enough to make sure you understand the problem and the solution? A big part of product planning is making sure you know what you want to build and have a firm grasp of the problem to ensure each decision and future stage is based on your strong understanding of the solve needed.
2. Market Research: Not all great product ideas are great business ideas. Once you have validated in the first step that you have an idea that solves a real problem and you understand the market, now it is time to do some research. Are there already products in the market that do what you are thinking about? If so, how big is your market segment you plan to go after? Can it support another competitor in the same space? How would you differentiate from the tools in the space? Is there a demand for the tool in the space? Will users pay money for the tool if so, how much? During this stage of product planning you need to validate your idea has a market to sell it to. Without this stage, you can have a great idea but you won’t have a great business with out customers to buy it.
3. Product Prototype or Beta Testing: If your product planning has passed step 1 and step 2 and you have baked out your concept and confirmed there is a place in the market for it, the next step is to build out the MVP (Minimum viable product) so that you can put a real product in front of users or subject matter experts in the space for them to look at and provide you feedback on the product. This can have it’s own workflow of interviews, live demos, beta testing or user acceptance to ensure that your MVP really contains the key elements to be viable and that someone would be willing to pay and use your MVP. This is a big step and really the first time in your product planning where the rubber hits the road with your business. Stay in this stage as long as you feel needed to iterate with users to ensure your product meets their needs now that they have something to actually use.
4. Product Maturity: Once you have launched, you need to mature your product. This is where the product roadmap comes into your product planning. What features do you need to add to your MVP to continue to get user adoption or reduce churn? Are there key integrations you need to add to make sure your product fits the market needs? Work with your team and end users to lay out a three or five year vision of where the product will be heading and the smaller releases to get there. In addition to the product roadmap, at this stage you would also be working on building out your product teams, infrastructure, pricing changes as you add more features and overall sales and marketing approaches.
5. Exits: All business owners have different goals in forming a business. Typically there are only a set number of conclusions to a business. You can either go large and shoot for an IPO in the future, you can try to build it up and sell it to a partner, you can go lifestyle business and try to get profitable and work on your product for the long run or based on the market you can merge with tools in your space to make an even more powerful product. Knowing your end goal is also very important to product planning as that should drive what features you add to your product roadmap if it helps align with your business vision.
Product planning is a much larger view of the business side and technical side of a product based business which involves all of the moving parts from inception to exit and within product planning is the function of product roadmap planning to ensure that you are building features that align with your product plan.