Product Management Process: The 7 Stages Explained

What does the product management process involve? What are its stages? Why is it important for product managers to follow them?

These are just a couple of the questions that we are going to tackle in this article, so grab a beverage of your choice, find a comfy spot, and let’s dive in!

TL;DR

  • Product managers lead interdisciplinary product teams to deliver products that bring value to customers
  • The product management process is a set of steps taking the project from the initial concept to the final product
  • Product managers monitor and control the product lifecycle while ensuring there is the right corporate environment for its development
  • Generally, the product manager is responsible for the product strategy while the project manager — for its implementation
  • The product development process is one aspect of the product management process
  • Following the product management process results in continuous product discovery, design, and development; overall, it improves the chances of success
  • The product management life cycle consists of seven main stages:
  1. You start with Market Research to assess the external business environment and identify the needs of the users
  2. During the Idea Management stage, continue with need discovery and start brainstorming solutions
  3. Next, you define Technical Specifications and design product prototypes
  4. Roadmapping should focus on product vision and delivering key business objectives
  5. During the Prioritization stage, concentrate on the features and functionalities that directly support the product strategy and provide the most value to users
  6. Product Development is when most of the code is written and tested
  7. MVP/MLP release is the final stage but it’s not the end of the journey; it allows you to collect user feedback to guide further iterations

What is product management?

The product management role focuses on managing interdisciplinary teams in order to design, develop and launch products that meet customer demands.

Apart from technical awareness and being able to gather user requirements, product managers need great business acumen, UI and UX design understanding, and sound marketing knowledge.

What is the product management process?

The product management process consists of a number of steps needed to take a product from the initial concept to the final market launch:

The 7 stages of the product management process
The 7 stages of the product management process

Are product managers responsible for the product management process?

The responsibilities involved in product management vary across organizations and sectors and are very much dependent on the size of the organization.

In smaller businesses, the product manager may be responsible for each step of the process and be involved in the development in a more granular way. This means breaking the development work down into epics, user stories, and tasks, and then overseeing their completion in an iterative fashion.

Larger organizations, with more products in development, may have dedicated teams dealing with each step of the process, so the product manager leads it from a higher level and coordinates the collaboration between various teams.

Big organizations usually have more complex landscapes, with various conflicting interests, and product managers need to navigate them in order to get the buy-in of the various stakeholders and meet the needs of the customers.

Bart Jaworski, the Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, draws a very accurate analogy between product management and playing poker.

Intrigued? Check it out below.

Regardless of the context, product managers have the overall responsibility for building successful products, and they need intimate knowledge of the market and the product to achieve that.

Product Manager vs Project Manager

The roles of the product and project managers are often confused because there is a bit of overlap in their responsibilities.

In fact, in smaller organizations, the product manager may be doing the work of the project manager, while in larger ones the project manager may have a wider range of responsibilities.

However, there are a few clear distinctions between the two.

Generally speaking, product managers are accountable for the product throughout its lifecycle.

During the concept stage, they conduct the market research, come up with the initial product idea, and promote the idea within the organization. They need to secure the backing of the key decision-makers and the funding for the development.

They also orchestrate the product marketing, launch, and further product discovery and development to deliver the ultimate user experience.

In comparison, project managers are responsible for the actual development work.

They work to define the scope, break down the work into tasks, create a roadmap, and oversee its implementation. Product managers oversee the process and get involved only to deal with the issues escalated by the project manager.

Traditionally, a project manager’s job would be done when the product is ready. At that stage, other teams like marketing and sales would take over to realize the benefits.

Except that in SaaS, the product is never ready.

Getting the MVP (or MLP as we prefer to call it) out is only the first stage, and the work on the product continues in an iterative fashion, so the project manager, or more often the Scrum master, stays relevant for much longer.

Is product development the same as product management?

Product development and product management sound the same but there’s actually a clear distinction between the two.

In short, product managers oversee the work of the development teams who are responsible for creating the product. So, management of product development is a part of the product management process.

Why is a product management process important?

Terms like ‘management process’ could be associated with rigid and fossilized practices that are unfit for the current reality of disruptive change. However, they don’t need to be like that.

You can tailor your processes to fit your organization’s needs but refrain from ditching them entirely as they offer some solid benefits.

Breaking up product development into stages allows you to prioritize and use your resources better. It helps you ensure that you focus your resources on the tasks critical for that stage. In other words, it helps you do the right things at the right time.

What’s perhaps more important, it allows you to make sure that you don’t skip any of the crucial stages. That means identifying target customer groups, designing solutions to their problems, testing those solutions, and ultimately delivering a product that meets their needs.

Overall, following the product management process increases your chances of success.

What are the steps in the product management process a product manager should follow?

Product management processes may vary from organization to organization.

We’ve identified seven stages around which you can organize your product management process.

Let’s have a look at each of them individually!

Step #1: Market research & user research

Market research is essential for the success of your product and your organization.

What are the benefits of market research?

First, it allows you to identify the situation on the market, what your competitors are doing, industry trends, and the potential void that your product could fill.

It also helps you identify threats and work out ways to mitigate them, as well as opportunities and how you can exploit them.

More importantly, it gives you an understanding of your potential users and their needs. After all, satisfying customers’ needs is the basis for product-led growth.

Market Research. Source: Product Coaliiton
Market Research. Source: Product Coaliiton

Primary research involves collecting the data from scratch to get the answers you need. It can come from quantitative sources, like surveys or questionnaires, or qualitative ones, like in-depth interviews or focus groups.

You can use it to get information on your potential customers, the best ways to reach them, what they’re interested in, or how much they’re ready to pay. You also need to find out who you’re competing against, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Secondary research relies on data that is already available, like statistics, benchmarks, or academic research.

Step #2: Idea management

Once you have an idea of what the market situation is like and what your customers’ needs are, you can start working on the solutions.

It is, however, much more than just brainstorming. You need to approach it in a structured way.

Use the opportunity solution tree and work your way methodically through the opportunities and solutions for each of them. Plan how you are going to test each of them. At each stage, prioritize the ideas that will deliver the most value.

Continuous Product Discovery is a part of the Product Management Process. Source: Product Talk
Continuous Product Discovery is a part of the Product Management Process. Source: Product Talk

Idea management is an ongoing process. Product discovery should never stop. Use your user feedback to further develop your product and help it stay relevant.

Step #3: Technical specifications

The ideas collected during market research and product discovery need to be translated into technical specifications.

The product manager, along with a product owner and the project manager or Scrum master (who could be one and the same person in some smaller organizations) work to produce a list of requirements and convert them into user stories.

This is normally done in close cooperation with the UX team, who develop a mockup design and build first prototypes.

Step #4: Roadmapping

Which stories are you going to bring to life first? In other words what features should be implemented first? This is where a roadmap comes in.

When building a roadmap don’t make it too detailed.

Instead of focusing on specific features, use it to outline the product vision and describe your strategic and business objectives. Such an approach gives you more flexibility in the future.

By concentrating on the overall objectives and your North Star metrics, you demonstrate that you know where the product is heading but also acknowledge that there could be different ways of achieving them.

These are dependent on the information that you obtain in the process of continuous product discovery. The more data emerges the more detailed and accurate your planning could be.

It’s a good idea to have two roadmaps.

The internal roadmap with a full backlog guides the work of the development team, while the external one is for the benefit of the users and shows them what features are in the pipeline.

If you want to see a good example of an external roadmap, check Buffer’s one made in Trello.

Buffer’s external product roadmap made in Trello
Buffer’s external product roadmap made in Trello

Step #5: Prioritization

Now, that you have set the high-level goals and built a backlog of possible solutions, it’s time to prioritize them.

Which prioritization tools and techniques you choose, will depend on the stage of product development and the lifecycle you follow.

Some of the techniques, like MoSCoW, are probably more useful early on when the technical requirements are collected and are typically used in the waterfall approach.

During iterative development, agile techniques like Opportunity Scoring or Priority Poker will be more suitable.

Whichever approach you choose, make sure you involve the key stakeholders and their voices are heard.

At the same time, be aware you won’t be able to make everyone happy. So apart from experience with prioritization techniques, you will need your soft skills like empathy and listening skills, and the ability to influence and bring people on board.

Overall, the aim is prioritizing solutions that will bring the most value to the user and bring your team closer to achieving the business objectives.

Step #6: Product development

This is the stage when the core of the product is produced — the code.

The developers, who may have been involved in the process of defining tech specifications, become the key players.

In agile teams, the development and testing are done by members of the same interdisciplinary team. This helps them avoid delays resulting from handovers, and enables quicker release cycles.

While the devs are working on the code, the product manager is busy planning the product launch.

Step #7: MVP release and customer feedback collection and iterations

Getting your MVP ready and releasing it is the priority for the team. When the product is out, you can use user behavior data and its feedback to inform further feature prioritization and development.

This is often where the best ideas come from.

However, don’t rush with the release. While it may be tempting to release as quickly as you can, make sure your minimum viable product is really viable and deliver some value (and not just the minimum).

Better yet, aim to deliver a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP).

What’s more, plan your product launch carefully. Your marketing team should use launch communications, like emails and in-app notifications, to build the anticipation for the product (or feature) and inform users of the value that is coming to them.

While documentation is not as important as the actual product, ensure you prepare solid release notes to keep your users informed and avoid potential disappointments.

How Userpilot helps product managers develop better products

As we’ve mentioned above, user feedback can offer massive insights into customer needs and should drive product development if we are really serious about product-led growth.

Userpilot can help you set and automate your feedback collection mechanism to make your roadmap more appealing to users.

Product and feature announcement

In-app communications are the most effective way to announce new feature releases to your existing customers.

In-app experiences like banners, modals, and tooltips can be used not only to inform users about new features but also to drive feature discovery and adoption.

Would you like to see how it works in practice? Have a look at this banner announcing a feature improvement.

A banner made in Userpilot announcing a new feature release.
A banner made in Userpilot announcing a new feature release

The modal below announces a major product improvement.

New product announcement with a modal made in Userpilot
New product announcement with a modal made in Userpilot

Collecting feedback with in-app surveys

Userpilot allows you to build fully customized micro surveys to collect feedback. You can use them to get your NPS or ask some more in-depth questions.

You can use Userpilot to build custom microsurveys.
You can use Userpilot to build custom micro surveys

Userpilot offers advanced segmentation functionalities that help you target the right user segments with your surveys.

Userpilot allows segmentation to target specific user groups
Userpilot allows segmentation to target specific user groups

Analyzing product usage data

A lot of insights come from how users engage with your new features. In Userpilot, you can track that with Feature tagging. It is easy to set up without any coding.

Feature tagging allows you to track their usage<- Get a Userpilot Demo

Product management process templates

As mentioned above, no product or organization is the same, and each team needs to develop its own processes.

That’s why the examples below are just that rather than templates. Use them for inspiration rather than copy them step by step.

Userpilot’s feature planning process example

Userpilot is a complex product so we have a separate process for feature development but this pretty much goes through the same steps.

Here’s a sneak peek of the process, which was made in Miro for easy visibility across all teams.

Product Management Process in Userpilot.
Product Management Process in Userpilot made in Miro

Amazon’s unique backward process example

Amazon has turned the product management process upside down.

Amazon’s teams start with a clear idea of what the product should look like. This is summarised in a well-written press release, which serves as an initial roadmap.

The press release not only sets the product strategy but also tests the waters.

If the idea gets enthusiastic feedback from stakeholders, it may be an indication that they are onto something. If the reception is lukewarm, it shows that further refinement is necessary.

Amazon’s Working Backward Product Management Process
Amazon’s Working Backward Product Management Process

Conclusion

The product management process takes the product team from the initial concept stage to the product launch. Following the process helps the product manager stay on track and make sure that no steps are omitted.

If you would like to learn how Userpilot can help you during the product management process, hit the link and get a free demo!

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Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com

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Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com

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