Product Planning Fundamentals: Develop a Product Plan in 6 Steps

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to create a product so iconic that the whole world knows about it? Consider the Apple iPhone. How does a company go from making computers in a garage to commanding nearly 50 percent of the global smartphone market? It requires two things: vision and planning.

Vision is something that comes from company leaders and employees who can think outside of the box. It can’t easily be replicated. But product planning is something that anyone can learn. So, let’s break down product planning to show exactly how to do it yourself.

What is Product Planning?

Product planning, as the name implies, is all of the planning and strategy that goes into a product, from market research and design all the way through the product launch. It also includes ongoing improvements and changes to a product, so the process is never really completed.

Product planning utilizes many of the same processes, documents and tools that are used in project management. This includes project management software, which helps you manage all of the moving pieces of the plan. This software can be used to create a product roadmap, which is essentially a timeline of all activities in the product plan.

How To Plan a Product in 6 Simple Steps

There have been a number of frameworks published over the years that explain how to do product planning, many of which are purely theoretical in their approach.

While the technical theory of product planning may interest some, we’ve found it more helpful to use an action-oriented method, which we will outline below. Our product planning methodology uses six steps to guide you through the entire process.

1. Define a High-Level Vision

The product planning process begins with an idea. Most good product ideas are born when a consumer notices a need for a specific tool that will solve their problems. They then realize that they are not alone in this need; there are other people who could benefit from such a product.

An Example of a Feasible Product Idea

Maybe you are working a nine-to-five job doing marketing in a marketing agency, and you find one part of your job to be very tedious and time-consuming. You decide to build a spreadsheet to automate the process to alleviate frustration.

You share this spreadsheet with your co-workers; they also find your new tool to be extremely helpful. If you and your co-workers are now using this new tool every day, then it’s likely that marketers in other companies would find the tool useful too.

You have just developed a product that could potentially be monetized and sold to marketing agencies around the world.

Bring Your Idea into Focus

Once you have your new product idea, the next step is to develop a high-level vision for the product that can be used to pitch it to potential consumers. This high-level vision should outline the following things:

  • What your new product does
  • What problem your new product solves
  • Who specifically could benefit from using your product
  • Why your new product is better than alternative solutions

Once you have defined your product using the points above, you should turn your high-level vision into an elevator pitch⁠—a concise overview about your product idea that can be stated in 30 seconds or less.

2. Execute a Customer Needs Assessment

The next step in the process is to bring your vision to potential customers via a needs assessment. This step is important to make sure your product is viable, meaning it could be helpful to other people. You need to make sure it’s not a wild idea that isn’t useful.

Begin by finding a group of people in your potential target market. You can look for Facebook groups, industry associations and any other area where your target audience spends their time. The key is to contact a large group of people so that you get broad feedback. If your target group is too small, you may get limited feedback, which won’t be representative of the whole market.

Related: Product-Market Fit: What Is It & How Do I Find It?

Gather Feedback

Once you’ve found a group of potential customers, you will share your high-level pitch and ask for general feedback. If you receive positive feedback from certain people, make sure you take down their contact information. This way you can reach them once the product is built.

If you receive some negative feedback from your target audience, don’t be discouraged: you aren’t going to win over every person. However, if all of the feedback you receive is negative, then it may be time to go back to the drawing board for your product.

Take all of the feedback you get and put it into one central document. Here, you can quantify and qualify all of the information and pull out useful insights. Valuable information is buried in that feedback.

3. Do Market Research

Market research is about knowing your competitors and your unique place in the market. A simple way to do this is to search Google for keywords about your product. However, if your new product is complex or niche, then you may need to reach out to people in your target industry to learn more about the competition.

In doing market research, you are trying to identify weak points in the competition, which will create an opportunity for you to come into the market. A SWOT analysis can help.

You should also pay close attention to the following items when sizing up the competition:

  • Who runs the competing company?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • Who are they targeting?
  • How are they marketing to their audience?
  • What are they doing well?
  • What are they doing poorly?

4. Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Once you’ve decided that you want to move forward with your idea, it’s time to build version 1.0 of your product. When you build the first version of your product, aim for a minimum-viable-product (MVP).

An MVP is a version of the product that has all of the core properties and functions, but nothing more. The reason for using an MVP approach is simple: speed to market is important for success, and an MVP keeps you from getting into the weeds and staying there.

Agile Tools Can Help

This is where agile project management software will be a big help for you and your team. You can create a backlog of all of the work that needs to be done to create the MVP. Then, assign each task out to the team with due dates. A Kanban board is a useful way to see all of your team’s tasks in one place, letting you monitor how work is flowing.

kanban board for making an MVP

5. Gather User Testing and Feedback

Once your MVP product is complete, it’s time for another round of user feedback and testing. An easy way to get testers for the new product is to revisit the people you spoke with when doing the needs assessment. Check in to see if they want to try the new product.

The goal of this round of feedback is to identify and iron out any bugs or problems that users find, before you release to the public. Ask a lot of questions and record everything. You can take the recordings and have them transcribed so that you can quantify the results into useful graphs later.

Once you are confident that your product is ready, you can release it to the world. It’s important to note that user testing is never really complete. It should be done on an ongoing basis for the lifetime of your product.

6. Create and Maintain a Product Roadmap

A product roadmap can help you organize all of the work that needs to be done for your product in the form of a helpful timeline structure. This is useful even after your product is launched.

You should plot out all of the major goals you have for product improvements as phases on a Gantt chart. Then, assign each phase a start date and due date, while keeping in mind all of the other work that needs to be completed.

You can add more specific tasks to each project phase that can later be shared with your team members. If a phase on your roadmap needs to move, simply drag and drop the bars on the Gantt chart to adjust.

gantt roadmap for product planning

A product road map can be used to organize and guide internal teams. Every person within your company knows what the company vision is with the help of a roadmap. Some companies also choose to share their product roadmap publicly, so that customers can see what changes and improvements are coming to the product, and when.

Product Planning Tools With ProjectManager.com

As you’ve seen in this guide, product planning is a time-consuming process full of many different pieces. When trying to organize a product plan that will likely last one or more years, it is best to utilize the right product planning tools to ensure you stay organized.

ProjectManager.com is a that project management software that includes all of the tools you could need for product planning. Kanban boards allow teams to collaborate and organize their work so that execution is efficient. These boards are an ideal way to plan agile sprints while developing your MVP product.

kanban board in ProjectManager.com

Gantt Charts for Roadmaps

ProjectManager.com also has industry-leading Gantt charts to create detailed product roadmaps. These Gantt charts are dynamic, so when a change occurs in the development schedule, it only takes a few clicks to update the plan.

Since the entire platform is cloud-based, when you make a change in the product roadmap, the changes are reflected across all team tasks. This keeps the entire team updated and working towards the same goals.

interactive Gantt chart in ProjectManager.com

Whether you are planning a new product from scratch or you’re just looking to improve your existing product, ProjectManager.com has the tools to help you stay on track. Plan, track, collaborate and create reports all in ProjectManager.com. Sign up for a free trial today, and your first 30 days are free!

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