5 Stages of the Product Development Life Cycle

Websites and software products are living entities. But unlike the circle of life, they have a different kind of beginning and end. 

Their life starts with an idea—a germinating concept that inspired you to create the product—and ends when the product retires. This and everything in between is the product life cycle.

This blog discusses that “everything in between”—what does the product development life cycle look like? The cop-out answer is to say it depends (which is true). 

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to consider. So let’s get right into demystifying what goes on under the hood of product development.

The Custom Product Development Life Cycle

Custom software development makes the most of your unique idea, but it must first work its way through the product development life cycle to come to fruition. That’s where product life cycle management (PLM) comes into the picture. PLM is a strategic process that oversees every aspect of product development.

Our team breaks the life cycle into five product development stages: Discovery, design, development, launch, and maintenance. 

Each step builds from the last—our maintenance strategy stretches back to our research surrounding your users. That’s why we take the time to ensure strategy and product are aligned at every stage of the product life cycle.

With that in mind, let’s dive into what each of these five phases entail.

  1. Product Discovery: Blueprinting Success

We can’t make any moves or decisions until we ground ourselves in the vantage point of your audience. Your users should act as the north star for all future decisions surrounding your product development: How it should look and feel, how users will navigate within the system, etc.

Spenser Johnson, our Senior UX designer, puts it best, “In the product discovery phase, we craft the blueprint of success through understanding user needs and expectations.” 

Product discovery reveals what your brand really needs out of your product. Look beyond the bells and whistles that excite you about your product to consider how your customers wish to interact with your business. What features might they look for? What need are you trying to meet? Once you discover that grain of truth, you’ll have a healthy baseline for your product development to be built out of.

  1. Product Design: Creating Immersive Experiences

Now that you’re equipped with an arsenal of user-focused information, it’s time to get to the product design. Tim Abbasov, our design lead, puts it this way, “Product design is the art of balancing aesthetics and functionality, making technology not only powerful but accessible. It’s about creating a scalable solution that empowers users and seamlessly integrates into their digital lives.”

Developers use this phase to plan out an architecture that details every basic, high-level product feature, including UX/UI outlines to test user-centric elements.

Product design should pull from your existing brand design, abiding by the tenets of your branding to deliver a consistent visual and tonal experience. Ideally, your brand’s mission, vision, and values are rooted in the same truths you discovered in the product discovery phase. 

User insights also inform how robust your product needs to be. Do you need a minimum viable product (MVP) or a full build? Your gut may tell you to pick all the bells and whistles, but your audience data may say otherwise.

Both the company and the product developers should have an obvious picture of what the product will look and feel like by the end of the product design phase. Any major changes are much easier to handle before developers start writing code for your product. If feedback is delayed in development, expect major delays for your final deadline.

  1. Product Development: Building Precision

The design from the last phase acts as our developers’ guide as they bring your product to life through code. This starts by building out a functioning prototype—a bare-bones build that offers a glimpse of what’s to be. 

Developers then build out the product until it is the fully-designed product you envisioned. User testing, bug fixes, and code reviews are employed to guarantee the product works as intended.

Collaboration continues throughout product development. Developers will check in with your team to ensure their development remains aligned with the vision we developed for your product. And while most changes should be vetted in the product design phase, small tweaks may be necessary during development. 

  1. Product Launch: Stepping Into the Spotlight

Once the product is vetted, tested, and polished, it’s ready to be introduced to the world. Hurray! Many people worked together to get to this stage of the product development life cycle and it’s certainly worth celebrating. But as Spenser puts it, “Launching is just the beginning. Real success comes from listening and evolving.”

So after the celebration has run its course, it’s now time to introduce feedback loops between you, your users, and your developers. What’s working? What’s not? Is there an opportunity you’re missing entirely?

Your team must be adaptable to any actionable feedback that comes through this product development process. Remember: The product is for your audience, not the other way around. A little bit of a learning curve is fine, but you should still be willing to meet users at their level. Consider their needs and wants. Weigh those desires against what’s feasible for your product.

  1. Product Maintenance: Iterating for Excellence

When you consider the implications of feedback loops, you may wonder, “When am I done developing my product?” Here’s the truth: It’s never over. At least not until you retire your product.

As Dima Korolchuk, our backend lead, puts it, “In the realm of software, improvement isn’t an option. It’s a necessity for sustained success.” 

Launching a product also launches a perpetual journey of refinement to ensure it’s the best service it can be. Most product maintenance falls under four categories:

  • Adaptive: Altering the product in the face of environmental changes (new OS, software dependencies, hardware, etc).
  • Corrective: Addressing errors and bugs reported by users.
  • Perfective: Adding new features to enhance the service your product offers.
  • Preventive: Tweaking your product to give it longevity and reduce security risks.

As your development team maintains your software product, it will naturally evolve. Your service will remain the same, but how you deliver and communicate that service will become more optimized for your audience.

The Secret to User-Focused Product Design

If you paid close enough attention throughout this article, you probably noticed the common through-line: Focus on your users! You must constantly consider and reconsider what will resonate and entice at every stage of the product development life cycle.

Will you get it completely perfect on the first go? Probably not. And that’s fine! That’s what continuous improvement is for. But when you start with robust product research and design blueprints, your product will have plenty of momentum to get started. And if you need a partner to plan that blueprint or develop your product, don’t hesitate to think of your local Chicago digital marketing agency, Mabbly.