PRODUCTHEAD: Is there a standard product development life cycle?

PRODUCTHEAD: Is there a standard product development life cycle?

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

how to product completely #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Success at every lifecycle stage hinges on the same challenge: being able to solve problems for your users

Early on, focus on learning about your users and their context and the constraints that affect your problem

Maturity is the most difficult stage for a product, so you have to make the absolute best out of what you have


Have you ever looked out of the window of an aeroplane when you’re coming into land? On a clear day, from high altitude, you can see a patchwork of fields, roads and towns, but it all looks flat, like a map. Only as you descend, do you start to see the detail and relief (the relative heights of things).

This is how it feels for me when people ask me whether there’s such a thing as a standard product development process. As always, it depends. If you zoom out far enough, then you can see an abstract process that broadly applies in all situations. But if you zoom into the detail of that process, then you start to see the nuance and difference needed to adapt what you’re doing to the given context.

For example, a typical product development process might have the following high-level stages:

Where are the sparks? #

In this stage, we’re happening on ideas to investigate by seeking trends in problems / opportunities in our market space from customer feedback, user and market research.

We want lots of ‘sparks’ to be continually flowing into the organisation because we will be whittling down the list as we examine them more closely for practicality and strategic fit.

Is it a thing? #

At this point, we need to conduct more targeted research to determine urgency, pervasiveness and value to relevant users, and to validate our understanding of the problem / opportunity and the people affected by it.

We dismiss the ideas that aren’t urgent, widespread or valuable enough to users to be worthwhile pursuing.

Can we solve it? #

Then we create quick, cheap, easy experiments, mock-ups and prototypes (as needed) to assess with users our ability to solve their problem in parts and as a whole, in a way that meets their and our needs, and which is technically possible, commercially viable and ethical.

We rule out the options that just aren’t going to work for our users or be practical for us to deliver and support. If we end up dismissing an idea completely, we can dip back into our accumulated pool of ideas for the next most promising one.

Can we build and support it? #

For the best solution identified so far, we then form a team with the skills needed to deliver and ship the product incrementally and iteratively, while testing with and learning from users continuously, and supporting users before, during and after product deployment. This may mean we need to bring in new skill sets from outside the organisation.

This is also when we can really start to determine what kind of business model, pricing strategy and operational processes we’re going to need. So if you’re wondering when it makes sense to put together a business case, it’s now.

At this stage you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be involved because of all the research and experimentation we’ve done to get to this point. (Which of course you don’t have at the outset when you don’t know anything yet.)

Where’s the detail? #

The detailed steps that need to happen at each stage will almost certainly differ depending on the nature of the problem / opportunity, the users, market, product, delivery team and so on.

You have a myriad of different research techniques available to uncover the answers to the questions you’ll have at each stage. What you need to find out depends on where your knowledge gaps are. Unsurprisingly, these are going to be different at different organisations.

Likewise, the way you go about validating your assumptions, building your prototypes to learn more from users, and eventually delivering and supporting the product or feature, are all going to be specific to your organisation.

Sure, there are some common approaches and techniques you can borrow from elsewhere and apply, and there’s certainly more than one way of achieving the desired result. But how you go about it with your organisation’s particular mix of people and skill sets is going to be unique.

This week’s edition of PRODUCTHEAD #

This week I’ve shared with you a couple of articles from CEO of ProdPad Janna Bastow, who takes you through the history and stages of product life cycle management.

An alternative take on the product life cycle is GOV.UK’s discovery – alpha – beta – live stages, which I describe in the blog posts linked below. You can read more about these in the GOV.UK Service Manual, which I’ve also included.

I’d also recommend you grab a copy of the most recent edition of Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore. In it, he describes the different characteristics of users at subsequent stages of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, and how your product strategy needs to change because of the differing needs of each group.

Moore is also one of the first to describe the concept of the “chasm” between the early market of Innovators and Early Adopters and the mainstream market of the Early and Late Majority, then Laggards. Bridging this chasm is what we now more commonly refer to as finding product-market fit. So still very relevant, even today.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Product life cycle management – the 4 stages and how to manage them

Every product has a natural life cycle baked in, and people will expect different things from them at each stage.

So how do you manage those shifting expectations as a product manager? And how can you adapt your product strategy to ensure that your product isn’t the SaaS equivalent of an octogenarian taking up skateboarding?

People evolve. And so do products.

[Janna Bastow / ProdPad]

How the discovery phase works

Before you commit to building a service, you need to understand the problem that needs to be solved.


A how-to guide for your team


How to manage a product in the maturity stage of product life cycle

How to sustain a steady business once your growth chart flattens out? There’s hardly any guidance for this, yet the maturity stage is arguably the most important one for any product – especially in tech, where innovation never stops.

With this post, we’ve set out to fill the knowledge gap.

What to do when your product reaches the mass market

[Janna Bastow / ProdPad]

recent posts

Find the tipping point in your user research

Discovery is where you set out to understand the problem, who has it, the causes of the problem, and why solving the problem matters. You can think of the first part of discovery as being divergent – each question you ask uncovers several more questions to answer.

For every question you try to answer, several more arise

[I Manage Products]

How UK government digital services gather and use evidence

I gave a talk recently about how I’ve been using data and analytics to guide my decisions in product management. I’ve edited the transcript a little and split it into bite-size parts for your entertainment. This bit is about how UK government digital services gather and use evidence.

Put your users first

[I Manage Products]

5 product leadership lessons learnt from the UK’s Ministry of Justice Digital team

Between 2014 and 2015, I was head of product for the UK’s Ministry of Justice Digital team. Just after I gave a talk on a converted cinema stage with an absolutely massive screen in Zurich, Switzerland.

I talked about the 5 product leadership lessons I’d learnt about digital transformation and working with autonomous, empowered delivery teams. It’s called Digital Justice and you can watch it below after the break. There are also slides and a full transcript under the video.

Build products so good, people will prefer to use them

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

Product People Limited logo

Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from random bits of sweet chestnut, lime and yew.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *