Product planning, by definition, is the strategizing process that spans from idea conception to product market launch. Strong product planning is crucial for the company – if any step fails, then the entire initiative might be doomed.
This guide aims to summarize the stages of product planning and identify the best ways to ensure that it is done successfully. Whether you are starting out in business for the first time or are about to undergo a new product development, this is what you need to know.
The Stages Of Product Planning
As with any business process, there can be many variables for each company and each product, but these are the main stages of product planning and what they entail.
Arguably the most important part of product planning is the conceptualization. While it’s possible for a good concept to fail because of bad planning, it’s impossible for a bad concept to succeed, regardless of the execution.
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Developing a new product usually requires identifying a specific audience and finding which one of their needs is to be fulfilled by the product. Concept stage is the process of creating a solution to that problem.
There are two parts of this stage: The first is to look at what competition is already out there in the market, what their share of the market is and where their strengths and weaknesses are, to ascertain where the best opportunities might be to gain an advantage or unique selling point.
Then a more detailed and involved form of market research needs to take place, bringing in focus groups and surveys to gather quantitative and qualitative data, providing a wide-ranging and deep-diving background for analysis that will guide everything that happens from this point on.
Introducing The Product
This can be best summed up as a trial run. With data acquired from market research, the company creates the product and releases it in a limited marketplace. Initially, it’s limited to either a specific region or a number of cities.
The next step is marketing and advertising. The company runs several campaigns, measures their performance and the popularity of the product.
This usually ends up as a great learning experience for the company, giving the management enough insight to plan out further actions: either launching for a wider audience or calling it quits.
Product Life Cycle
Once the product has been released widely, it’s part of a life cycle, which is still a stage of the product planning. There are four main stages of the product lifecycle, which are:
- Introduction: As mentioned above, it’s about bringing a new product to the market and making people aware of it.
- Growth: This is where the product has had a successful introduction and feedback from customers is being used to refine the product and its marketing, enabling its sales to grow.
- Maturity: At this stage, the product is well-established in the marketplace and is close to its peak, with a lot of competition and the need for successful marketing campaigns and special offers to keep things on track.
- Decline: At this point in the cycle, the product is no longer thriving. It may have been surpassed in the market or there may be no need for its existence anymore, so the company has to remove it from the market and focus on developing a replacement product to keep moving forward.
Best Practices In Product Planning
As product planning is a very broad concept, there are a lot of ways as to how it can happen.
The Four Gates
A theory put forward by Jonathan Cagan of Carnegie Mellon University is The Four Gates, which identifies the four key stages in a successful product planning process.
The first of these gates is identifying the needs and wants of the consumer; the second is doing the research and refining the product based on the findings; the third is working on the concept design; the fourth is adding the detail and doing a stress analysis.
Cagan insists that the second stage is the most critical and the difference between a great concept and a great product.
Project Roadmapping Software
Utilizing software to map out the product planning processes is an excellent way to ensure that they flow in the right way.
In the past, road mapping would be done on paper or on some generic software such as Excel.
Today, however, there are a number of different options for visual strategy mapping. This allows for a lot more customization, putting the product roadmap right at the heart of the business, as opposed to some distant, bygone document.
Agile Product Planning
Agile project management methodologies can be applied to product planning and again there are tools available online to assist any company looking to go in this direction. There are three levels of agile product planning:
- Vision: This vision is what the company will achieve, a shared goal that all can work towards, and isn’t specifically about any particular product.
- Product Strategy: This is about how the goal will be achieved, including identifying the target group, their needs and the benefits of the product to the target group and for the business itself.
- Product Tactics: This level focuses on the nitty-gritty of functionality, user interaction, design and sprint goals.
Reasons Why Product Planning Can Fail
Product planning is just any other process, and it is only ever as good as what is put into it.
Planning provides a framework for the activity, and software provides the tools.
There are, however, a lot of things that can go wrong at every stage. The product concept, for example, might turn out to be completely wrong. In such a case, the team either has enough foresight to change direction, or the product ends up failing.
Or, marketing and advertising might be at fault – it could have been done too poorly, or they hadn’t invested enough money into raising awareness for the product. Sometimes, it might even be pure bad luck or timing that causes the product to fail, despite everyone’s best efforts.
If you get the execution right, however, you’ll be maximizing your chances of success.