How to Build Feedback into Your Product Development Lifecycle

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In broad strokes, a product development lifecycle defines the stages of idea generation, development and post-market launch that all products typically go through.

Each stage forces you to take a step back and think about the big picture: How can this product truly serve my customers and stay relevant to them in the long run?

Last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a judge in the investment round of the University of Washington Business Plan Competition, hosted by the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. During the competition, I spoke with several student groups about their business and product ideas and how they are bringing them to fruition. I was excited to see the number of teams that were applying user feedback to improve their products and businesses.

In this article I will break down the product development process into three stages – idea generation/pre-product development, product development and post-market launch. I offer tips on how to get user feedback in each stage and highlight a company from the competition that is putting these techniques into action.

Idea Generation / Pre-Product Development

In the idea generation/pre-product development phase, you work with a potential idea and begin to build a product and business around it.

At this stage, you need to understand whether your idea meets a market need, how large the potential customer base is, and who your competition will be. Observational research and 1-on-1 interviews in this stage will help you understand marketplace pain points and how current solutions are serving them.

By observing how the problem is currently being addressed, and talking with potential users before product development, you can identify key areas of impact and ensure your efforts yield a higher likelihood of success.

BioPots is an early stage company developing environmentally friendly containers for gardening and farming by re-purposing spent brewer’s grain and recycled wood fiber. Through interviews, BioPots identified a strong desire by farmers to use more environmentally friendly materials, but faced a lack of financially feasible options.

BioPots used these two key insights to develop environmentally friendly pots that can financially compete with plastic options. They are now testing prototypes and adjusting the formula to dial in the biodegradation time based on initial feedback from users.    

Product Development Phase

Once you’ve validated your product idea and developed a business plan, you can move into product development.

At this stage, you already know the problem you are going to solve and how you want to go about solving it. You are ready to start prototyping your solution and testing those prototypes with users.

Starting with low fidelity prototypes, like wireframes of a software interface or 3D printed models of a physical device, users can interact with your product to identify what works well and what doesn’t with minimal investment.

As you progress through the product development process, prototypes can get increasingly interactive and highly functional, but don’t wait until you have high fidelity prototype before getting user input. By using low fidelity prototypes early you can make changes and adapt quickly in response to user feedback, enabling a better product-market fit before you launch.

Novita is another early stage company that is developing a software application to help patients and caregivers navigate dementia care. They started with in-depth interviews to understand the areas where patients and caregivers need more support.

Based on that information, they started product development by creating wireframes of the application, which they plan to test with users. This will allow them to make quick and easy design updates before investing in software programming.  

Post-Market Launch

Once you have a product on the market, it is important to continue listening to your users. Focus groups and customer surveys are a great way to do this. You can update your product or add new products to your offerings in response to user’s needs, engendering customer loyalty.

Seattle Strong Coffee, a cold brew coffee company, is in the post-market stage. They are currently selling their product to large local companies who provide snacks and beverages to their employees. Despite this success, they continue to seek user feedback through tasting and tabling events where they invite customers to provide feedback.

Based on some information they have received through these events, they are preparing to release a new, bolder roast with a darker flavor. This receptiveness and responsiveness to customer feedback has led to an expansion of their product line and will likely enhance their brand name, engendering customer loyalty that will further improve their bottom line.

Feedback is Critical to Success

User input and feedback are critical if you are trying to develop and sustain a business. Understanding and responding to their problems enables you to tailor your product to the market and improves your chances of commercial success. Whether you are just starting out or already have a product on the market, you can benefit from utilizing feedback.