What is the Product Development Life Cycle? Definition & Overview

We love bringing product ideas to life. To do this, we need well-defined processes. Furthermore, we need to break those processes down for you

In every product prototyping project, you’ll often hear the term ‘product development life cycle.’ In this post, you’ll find out exactly what it means, learn the stages of the process, explore examples, and read advice for successful project outcomes.  

Product development happens in steps, which are defined as the product development life cycle (PDLC). The five stages of the PDLC for any product are idea, refinement, prototype, testing, and launch

5 Stages of the Product Development Cycle

We’ve previously covered some of the things you should do before you develop a product, including competitive research, drafting a launch strategy, and talking to others about your product. We also recommend that you speak to your suppliers early in the prototyping process. Now, let’s take a closer look at each stage of the PDLC.      

stages of product development life cycle

1. Develop the Idea

When you create a new product, you’re either breaking new ground or innovating an existing product on the market. Your product idea, if it makes it to production, will solve a problem. During the first stage of the PDLC, thoroughly develop your idea. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How did this idea come to be? 
  • What problem does this idea solve? 
  • What competition exists in the market? 
  • How is this idea different from existing products that solve this problem?
  • Who is the end-user of the idea/product? 
  • Do you have, or will you need a patent? 
  • Do you need to incorporate your business?   
  • Will you need to raise funds to help bring the idea to life? 
  • Who will design and engineer your product? 
  • Who will supply the final product/parts? 
  • What is your launch strategy? 

The answers will help you develop your idea. We recommend you document everything and keep your ideas organized to make things easier as you move into the next stages. Furthermore, continually update your launch strategy based on any new findings. 

development idea


2. Refine the Product 

When you move into the second stage of the process, you start to refine your product. Typically, you will come up with something more practical based on this feedback. Look for diverse points of view. You’ll also want feedback from a potential end-user. Someone who works in the industry you’re getting into can be powerful, so perhaps you can find someone who already uses a competitor’s product. 

Try to anticipate real-world assumptions that people might have about your product/idea. Moreover, check yourself for assumptions that might hinder your success. Note that a tech product will require feasibility feedback, whereas a new business idea will require market validation; ultimately, it's best to have both.    

refining your product


3. Build a Prototype

When you’re ready to move into the prototyping stage, there are considerations you must make. First of all, learn the difference between proof of concept (POC), prototype, and minimum viable product (MVP). Before you go to market, you need to move through these three phases of prototyping.  With this, you need to choose the right prototyping partner. 

A prototyping service will involve a team of designers and engineers who understand your idea and can help you bring it to market. From the idea and refinement stages, you should have enough documentation to clearly present your product/idea to designers and engineers. They can walk you through the process and ensure that your prototype is ready for testing. 


building a prototype


4. Test the Product

Once you have a complete prototype, you can test it. Present your prototype to a sample from your target end-user. If possible, provide a range of options for them to choose from and ask for feedback on each. You may also need to conduct performance testing. Depending on your product, performance testing can vary tremendously and might involve handling, stability, scalability, speed, and durability. Compile the data you receive from all feedback and performance testing to move into the final stage of the PDLC. 


5. Build & Launch 

When testing is complete, you can finally build and launch. Take what you’ve learned, and turn your prototype into an MVP. The final build often requires tweaks to the design and engineering documentation, which should always be based on the real-world data compiled from the testing process. Once you have your MVP, you should be ready to launch. You should have been updating your launch strategy continually based on new data as it was collected. If you were, your product is ready to enter the market.  

Product Development Process Examples 

Every product on the market has gone through the five stages of the PDLC -- thousands fail in the process. However, there are a couple of success stories to note, including:

WeighUp by EBTF

EBTF developed a platform called WeighUp to help bars at risk of losing 20% or more of their liquor inventory to over pouring. Then, they needed a smart scale to perform with the software. Our engineers developed that smart scale to measure the weight of liquor bottles between each pour to then analyze data to track and prevent inventory loss. 

NIVA by Volumetrix

Volumetrix developed a non-invasive way to measure blood pressure and prevent congestive heart failure, NIVA. They needed a team with industrial design, mechanical engineering, and design for manufacturing expertise to help them commercialize their technology and save lives. 

Factors that Influence the Product Development Process

Success in product development is influenced by numerous factors, namely the following: 

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Cost of production
  3. Economic viability
  4. Ergonomics
  5. Functionality
  6. Maintenance 
  7. Market requirements
  8. Material availability
  9. Price & prestige value
  10. Use-case environment

From idea to launch, every stage in the PDLC should take these factors into account. 

Product Development Management  

Product development management involves supervising, or directing, each stage of the PDLC process. In many cases, the product inventor or business owner is the person in charge. In other cases, a software engineer, QA tester, or UX designer may take the lead. It’s important to work with a team that understands the unique needs of the prototyping and production process. This will make the product development process as streamlined as possible. 

Bring the Product Development Life Cycle Full Circle with These Tips

Before you launch any product development project, it’s crucial that you look at common mistakes and try your best to avoid them. Here are the pitfalls we most often see: 

  • The supplier is involved too late.
  • Design, engineering, and supply contacts are disconnected.
  • Performance levels are not specified. 
  • Total landed costs aren’t considered.

Fortunately, with some know-how, you can stay a step ahead in the product development process. Use this advice to increase your probability of a successful outcome. 

Involve Your Suppliers Early in the Design & Engineering Processes

Early in the prototyping process, it’s a good idea to involve your suppliers and manufacturers. This way, you won’t be surprised by any conflicts with your final design and the capabilities of the manufacturing facilities. For example, you might be planning on adding a specific coating to a part of your final product. You might plan to wait until the testing stage to confirm that this part can withstand the type of coating you would like. 

By this stage, if you haven’t involved your coating supplier and something should go wrong, your entire product might need to be redesigned. By involving suppliers very early in the development process, you can mitigate the chances of failure when it comes time to test. 

Be Sure Your Design, Engineering, & Supply Teams are Connected

In addition to speaking with your supplier about your needs before designing and engineering a product, it’s a great idea to connect your teams. Better yet, you might want to work within an existing network of product developers. Most prototyping firms already have connections with suppliers, and vice versa. Teams that are already known to work well together can increase your odds of success.  

When your project falls outside the scope of your prototyping team’s usual supplier network, that’s okay. Just take a few steps to ensure that you’ve connected your teams and that they know who to contact with technical questions that might fall outside the expertise of a given designer, technician, engineer, or yourself.  

Understand & Specify the Needed Performance Levels

Depending on your product’s use case, it will need to meet specific performance levels. For example, kitchen utensils need to be able to handle heat. Keyboards and touch screens need to withstand continuous pecking. Medical tools need a design that facilitates easy sterilization. So, early in the development process, you must learn the performance levels needed, and articulate them to everyone involved in the development process.  

Factor Costs for Transportation, Warehousing, Duties, & Insurance

Aside from the upfront costs of product development like design, engineering, and manufacturing, be sure that you factor in any transportation, warehousing, duties, and insurance you might need to pay. Seemingly small changes can sometimes have a major impact on product development costs. 

To illustrate, MIT Libraries released an interesting total landed costs model earlier this year. Their report showed that GE could have saved up to 17% on total landed costs by purchasing products and parts from other countries. Fortunately, the tips above will help you avoid the most common mistakes that companies make when designing and updating tech products. Ovyl has completed prototype designs for over 200 tech products in the past five years. Our team will align with your strategy, iteratively design your product, and oversee your smooth transition to production.

budget your project

Final Thoughts

The product development life cycle involves idea, refinement, prototype, testing, and launch. Bring your idea to market following the guidance above. Ensure that your supplier is involved in Q&A early in your project, work with a connected team, understand and specify your performance levels, and factor all costs into your budget. 

If you’re ready to work with an expert team of prototypers to help you achieve the highest results in your IoT product development project, start a conversation today



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