Product development is one of those terms that seems straightforward, but ends up getting used in a lot of different ways. 

  • Is it just the actual build of your product? 
  • Is it the entire product development life cycle? 
  • Is it the same as product management? 
  • Does it come into play before or after product strategy? 

In short: Product development goes beyond the straightforward “building it” phase of your product. However, it’s not so broad as to encompass everything related to your product (i.e. product or marketing strategy). 

That said, understanding the actual product development process is crucial for making sure you can develop and launch your product efficiently and scale effectively. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through: 

What is product development?

Product development includes the product’s entire journey — everything from ideation to strategy and planning, building and launching, and more. In short: Product development is the process by which you plan, build, and launch your product into the world. 

Generally, when people talk about product development, they’re referring to the actual software development phases. Keep in mind that there are a lot of tangential steps that lead up to and follow from the actual build. Those can be part of the product development process, too. 

Product development vs. product management 

A key distinction to make right away: Product development is not the same as product management, although these two terms are often used interchangeably. They cover two overlapping, but distinct aspects of your product. 

“Product development is about building the product itself. Product management is creating the strategy and informing what product development should build.” — Becky Mak, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Bubble

Product development and product management also often involve different teams. As the name suggests, product managers oversee the product management process. The product development process is usually most closely managed by development or engineering teams. 

Think of them as concentric circles, where product development sits inside of the larger functions and goals of product strategy and product management. 

To clarify: 

Product management entails all of the product lifecycle stages and encompasses all aspects of managing that product. This includes product strategy and roadmap creation, development and launch, marketing and sales, user retention, and so on. 

Product strategy and product roadmapping involve big-picture planning for your product’s lifecycle. They tend to focus on what you’re planning to do and create with your product and why. 

Product development is narrower in scope and usually focuses on the how. That is, how are we going to develop the features and components needed to meet our goals and achieve our product vision? 

The six stages of the product development process

Although the product development process is narrower in scope, that’s not to say it’s as simple as picking some features and then building them. 

The stages of product development.

Product development has six primary development stages: 

  1. Research 
  2. Ideation 
  3. Validation 
  4. Planning
  5. Development and launch
  6. Analysis

Let’s break down what goes into each of those. 

1. Research 

An effective product development process begins with market research. 

Hopefully, this isn’t the first time you’ve done some research for your product. Market research can be helpful in developing both big-picture ideas as well as solutions for specific features or product components. 

Before you embark on the actual development, it’s important to understand exactly who you’re building for, what the problem is, and how your target audience wants to solve that problem. 

Market research for the product development phase can look like: 

  • Surveying your target market to understand exactly what they need or want from your product
  • Doing market analysis to understand how competitors are solving the problem, or what gaps exist in the target market
  • Asking existing customers or potential customers to rank potential features or solutions 
  • Understanding your target audience. Who are they? What do they want? What are their big goals or tasks they want to accomplish? Who are your biggest potential customers and what solutions are they currently using? 
  • Testing your value proposition to understand if it resonates with your target audience. You want to validate that you’re solving the right problems in the best ways. 

2. Ideation 

Ideation is an important phase of the product development process both before you build your minimum viable product (MVP) and after you launch. After all, hopefully you’ll continue to iterate and grow your product beyond V1. To do so, you’ll need to have a clear process in place for idea generation and creating new product features. 

During the strategy phase, you’ve already created a vision for what your product could become and the problems it could solve for your target market. Now, you need to boil down that vision into concrete product ideas and features that can solve those problems, based on your research. 

The ideation phase can include tasks like: 

  • Defining a unique value proposition (UVP): Based on your research and your product vision, what’s the unique value that your solution will provide compared to other solutions available? This can be high-level — as in, your entire product concept and strategy — or it can be narrower, focused on a single problem or function within your product. 
  • Wireframing design: How do you want your product to look and feel? How can design support your functionality and solutions? Creating some design wireframes or mockups at this stage can help you with concept development and communicating essential features. 
  • Feasibility analysis: A feasibility analysis helps make sure your current and prioritized product ideas are‌ possible with your given resources, time, and budget. You may have a grand vision for your product, but what are you able to actually accomplish? Do you need to reduce the scope or bring on a larger team to make it possible? 

 3. Validation

The next stage in the product development process is validation. It’s a crucial development stage, but one that can be easily overlooked. 

After all, you’ve already done your research, now you know what you need to do — you should just do it, right? 

Almost. Before you jump into the actual development — which can be costly and time-consuming, especially if you’re building with traditional code as opposed to faster, more lightweight no-code tools — you want to validate the product ideas you landed on with your target audience.

Validation can be a humbling step, but ultimately, it’s the old measure twice, cut once principle. As Maria Posa, Bubble Developer, says, 

“Your idea (which can feel like your baby) is wrong, at least to some extent. Be open to feedback and criticism because that’s how you learn and improve your idea. Not only that, but make sure your users know that you’re open to feedback and criticism, so they feel comfortable delivering it to you.” 

So, how do you validate your ideas? 

  • Ask customers for implicit or explicit validation. You can ask your users directly, “Is [x] a good solution to [y] problem? Why?” But sometimes it’s more helpful to let them go first to make sure they aren’t just going along with whatever you present. Try asking, “I assume it’d make things easier if you had [alternate solution to your actual idea], right?” Let them tell you no and explain why. Both can validate your ideas or give you a stronger direction to head in. 
  • Build a prototype or MVP. A prototype or MVP can be a valuable tool in the development process for customer feedback and testing. Creating something with basic but limited functionality lets you do moderated testing to see how users would interact with the design and functionality. Want to move faster? Read our guide to ditching MVPs and launching your V1 with Bubble. 
  • Concept testing. Validate your overall feature or product concepts through user surveys and early feedback from beta testing or mockups. This can give you valuable insights into your bigger ideas, and how you’re planning on executing them. 

Sometimes your assumptions aren’t going to be accurate. Validate before the core build, let your target audience guide your discovery process, and be willing to pivot as needed. 

4. Planning

The planning stage is another one that’s easy to skip over when you’re trying to move fast. You’ve settled on and validated your ideas, but skipping straight to building them can muddy the waters later. 

Instead, first map out a product development roadmap. Having a development roadmap in place can make the development and launch process so much smoother, and can save time and money in the long run.  

You may already have a product roadmap, but a product development roadmap is different. It goes into more granular detail about the actual work to be done, who owns it, what the timeline is, and so on. Your product development roadmap helps streamline communication and collaboration and organize complicated processes to support your product’s success. 

Here’s what you might want to include in your development roadmap: 

  • Product goals and metrics: What is the end goal for your product, or for this phase of development? How will you measure success? 
  • Product features: What specific features or functionality will be built in this phase of the development process? 
  • Tech specifications: What are the technical requirements and needs for your product at this time? 
  • Release plan: What critical tasks, testing, and development needs to happen prior to launch? 
  • Timeline: When will major releases and key features be launched? What is the timeline for work that needs to be completed to meet those goals? 
  • Budget and resources: What are your current resources and budget limitations, and how do they fit within your plans? 
  • Potential risks: What challenges and known risks need to be accounted for, and how are you planning to manage them? 

5. Development and launch

Finally, it’s time to get your product built and out in the world! 

You’ll notice that we didn’t really include prototyping or building and launching an MVP as one of the phases of development. That’s because here at Bubble, we find that MVPs are outdated for modern technology and modern startup needs. 

You need to move faster, more efficiently, and meet customer needs quickly in order to stake your claim in the market. Jumping straight to launching your V1 with no-code tools like Bubble speeds up development, gets you to a real launch faster, and avoids wasting time on work that’s just going to be thrown out. 

With Bubble, ‌you can cut development timelines down from months or years to just weeks. This is true even if you have a super small team, or are doing the development work yourself. Plus: Bubble lets you use no-code to scale your product as you build and iterate, easily growing with you long past the first launch. 

Here’s some key things to keep in mind at this stage: 

  • Launch before you're ready. You may never really feel ready, but to grow and iterate on your product, you need to launch it for real users. The faster you can launch and get real people using your product, the faster you can learn, grow, and continue the development process. 
  • Make it imperfect. It’s so easy to get bogged down in trying to make your initial version of a new product or feature perfect before sending it out to customers. While there’s something to be said for quality, doing something imperfectly is usually better than never doing it at all. Launch it imperfectly and get ready to learn and iterate. 
  • No-code makes development and launching so much faster. You can move quickly, building and launching your product in a matter of weeks or months to real users, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional development. Need more support? Turn to a Certified Bubble agency or developer to help you build your product exactly the way you envision it. 

6. Analysis 

Spoiler alert: The product development process never really ends. 

It’s more of a continuous loop that allows you to learn from what you’ve launched. Then you can incorporate your learnings and iterate for the next development phase. 

At this phase of development, you have a real product out in the world. Now you want to set up ongoing feedback loops of learning and analyzing, then iterating and developing, then launching again, and then back to the learning phase. 

Ongoing user testing and analysis is a key part of iterating and scaling your product. 

When you build on Bubble, you can see how users interact with your real product from day 1, making it so much easier to gather user feedback. Not only can you integrate user feedback tools directly into your product with Bubble plugins and APIs, but you can iterate directly from V1 of your product for faster development and innovation. 

To keep the product development process in motion, consider: 

  • How you’ll integrate user testing into your workflow. User tests like A/B testing, “fake door” tests, heatmap testing, session recordings, card sorting, and more help you continue to learn what users love (and don’t) with your product and iterate to improve product-market fit
  • What type of user testing you need at the current stage. Different types of testing result in different data and serve different goals. Understand what you need to test and when, and then find the right test to fit that purpose. 
  • Create feedback loops to integrate user feedback into future development. Testing and learning doesn’t do much good if you don’t have a process to integrate it into future iterations and development. Find ways to put the customer feedback you’ve gathered to good work. 

Product development process examples

Traditionally, this product development process took months or even years. Building prototypes or MVPs alone is often a months-long project. 

But with newer technology, software companies are moving faster than ever. 

Just take Much as an example. Much founder Carmen Perez built her budgeting and debt coaching app single-handedly in just a few months using Bubble’s no-code tools. After estimating that it would take a small development team a full year to build the first version of her app, she discovered Bubble as an alternate solution. 

With no-code, she learned, built, and launched the beta version of Much in just two months, allowing her to get user feedback immediately. With Bubble, she could continue iterating and developing new features just as quickly, which has allowed her to scale fast and “supercharge” product development. 

Blubinder has a similar story. After raising funding for her app, Liesl Leach realized that it was going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars — and more than six months — for a development team to build even the first version of her product. 

She turned to Bubble for a faster, more cost-effective solution. With a single Bubble-Certified Developer on her team, Blubinder was live in just a few weeks, with plenty of time and runway ahead of them. Now, they’ve been able to scale and grow dramatically in the span of time where they still would have been developing if they had gone the traditional route.  

Start executing your product development plan for free

Today’s founders want and need to move fast. 

Speed up your product development process, not by skipping steps, but by working with a faster development tool. 

Bubble’s full-stack, no-code development tools allow you to speed up the development process from ideation to planning, building, launching, iterating and more. At every stage of the process, Bubble is here to make your product life cycle more streamlined and effortless. 

When you’re ready to execute your product development plan, move fast, and scale quickly, start with Bubble.