When you have a unique idea for a new product or feature, the temptation can be to dive right in. The idea is that the sooner your product is out there, the sooner you can drive sales and generate revenue.
But this perspective overlooks the crucial product planning steps that are integral to your product’s journey. Without proper product planning, your great idea could fall flat.
So why is product planning essential and what are the fundamentals you should know?
What Does It Mean To Product Plan?
Product planning is the research, development, creation, and market strategy involved with launching a product. It’s also an ongoing process that allows you to continually market a product to your target audience by monitoring customer interaction with it.
Product Planning: The Step-by-Step
Product planning encompasses every stage of a product’s life cycle — the road mapping, Minimum Viable Product (MVP), iterations, and product maturity. It’s a crucial exercise for product teams as it allows them to successfully manage a product throughout its lifecycle and every stage of the customer journey.
Here are the five key steps of product planning for developing a new product or feature:
Step 1: Create your product roadmap.
A product map can be a great tool for product marketers and product developers because it’s high-level, can be easily understood by all, and can be referred to at any growth stage of your product life cycle. It outlines your product vision, short- and long-term goals, and your product life cycle and is intended to help you visually map your product’s direction and how it will reach business objectives.
It will guide various product teams — particularly product managers — through your product’s introduction to the market, its growth, and, eventually, to its maturity. A well-planned roadmap has clear timelines showing when full product maturity is expected.
Think of it as a living, breathing document because you’ll continuously adjust your roadmap throughout the product life cycle.
Step 1a: Conduct market research.
Market research is where you will learn about your competitors. Here, you’ll identify what they do well, where their weak points are, and how you can establish a unique place in the market for your product.
Pay close attention to the following when sizing up your direct competition:
- Who is their target market?
- How are they marketing to their audience?
- What are they doing really well?
- What are they doing poorly?
Step 1b: Define a high-level product vision.
The first crucial step to developing your product roadmap is to define your product vision. It will give concrete shape to the vehicle you’ll be driving down your roadmap and provide a high-level outline you can use to pitch your product idea to potential customers. This high-level outline should detail these points:
- What your new product or feature does.
- What problem your new product or feature solves.
- Who, specifically, could benefit from using your new product or feature.
- Why your new product or feature is better than the competition.
While a product vision describes the nature of your new product, it should be more than just that. It should be aspirational and motivate your teams to see this as not merely another job, but an essential mission that fulfills an important need.
Step 1c: Estimate your timelines.
Your timelines should balance input from the engineering, marketing and sales teams with business objectives to arrive at realistic goals.
Step 2: Plan your MVP
The next step is to plan how you’ll build the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The MVP is important because you want to get a real-life product in the hands of potential customers as quickly as possible so they can look at it, test it, and provide feedback.
Entire books have been written about the process for successful MVP planning. Below, we’ve pared it down for you:
- Identify business and market needs: To understand your business and market needs, ask yourself: Who needs your product, and why do they need it? You may cover some of this when you conduct your market research in Step 1a.
These answers are the key to establishing long-term goals and success criteria for your product. The more clearly you define these, the greater your edge on the competition.
- Map out the customer journey: You’ll need to gain insight into your customer(s) from a buyer standpoint. With this insight, you can identify who they are, the actions they’ll take during their customer journey, and what the outcome should be.
- Decide on your features: With a deeper understanding of your customers, you will be able to discern which features to include in your MVP. The features you decide to have in your MVP should serve your overall product goal.
Tip: Remember, quality product design also utilizes the customer perspective.
Step 3: Plan your product iterations
You won’t know the exact shape future product iterations will take or the features you’ll build and in which order, because these will all depend on the user data you collect. But you can plan for how you’ll determine which features to build and bugs to fix and the order in which to do it. To plan your product iterations, define the metrics you’ll use to measure: user engagement, user adoption, power users and anything else that’ll help you determine what’s working and what isn’t.
Step 4: Flesh out what product maturity looks like.
Product maturity is the final stage of your product’s life cycle, and it happens once the market becomes saturated and product sales peak. Competition at this stage will become fierce and you’ll use your product roadmap to keep you in the ring.
Best Practices in Product Planning
Product planning is a broad concept. Using these best practices can help guide your journey:
Agile Product Planning
The three stages of agile product planning include:
- Vision: This is a common goal that all can work towards but isn’t about any particular product. It reflects how your company views the world and the problem it’s trying to solve.
- Product Strategy: This is all about how the product will enable the objectives and goals of your vision to be reached. It includes identifying the target group, the target group’s demands, the benefits of the product being offered to the target group, and the company itself.
- Product Tactics: This focuses on the basics of functionality, user interaction, design, and sprint goals.
Know Your Audience
You need to be clear from the start on all of your customer’s needs. If you lack the opportunity to speak with them directly, ensure you work closely with your internal stakeholders who speak on their behalf.
Create Multiple Roadmaps and Be Flexible
It might be obvious, but because every internal team has differing priorities, multiple product roadmaps can help you organize various product tasks and nail down timelines that are more realistic.
For example, your Marketing team wants to know the feature set and appearance of your product to more effectively market it, and Sales wants information about when the product will be ready for purchase (i.e., when it will be brought to market). Avoid hard publishing dates and instead, go with time ranges that allow for maximum flexibility.
At the end of the day, you want your product roadmap to be flexible and allow for cross-team collaboration.
What Are the Benefits of Product Planning?
Product planning is a crucial part of every product’s implementation journey. It allows for secure product development as it helps to gauge possible risks as well as threats. Product managers use the assumptions of product planning to achieve best practices and outcomes.
Product planning is beneficial for:
Effective Brand Image
Defining a high-level product vision — the first step in our product planning process — will help to create and maintain an effective brand image. Vision and branding go hand-in-hand because, without a vision for your product, your brand message won’t be clear and effective.
Better Customer Awareness
If you’re doing product planning right, you’re constantly checking in with how the customer is using your product, where they get stuck and what seems to work well. This doesn’t just lead to a better product, it also helps Customer Success teams anticipate issues and provide better support.
Optimum Resource Utilization
When a product is adequately planned, it results in the optimized utilization of available resources. This reduces waste and the overall cost of the product or feature. Product planning also assists in exercising better control over raw-materials — which contributes to more effective purchases.
Better Inventory Control
An effective system of product planning and control helps manage inventory at proper levels so you don’t end up with excess product.
An effective product plan lays the foundation for successful product management. It provides the basis for your marketing team to plan, develop, and introduce your new product into the marketplace. It ensures product managers identify the appropriate target audience and niche market crucial to your new product’s success. And it keeps the engineering and business teams aligned.