Creating a product development strategy that drives results

By UserTesting | January 4, 2024
Several businesspeople sitting around a conference table with laptops open in front of each, listening to the meeting leader.

Product development can be a challenge. With tech evolving fast and people's expectations constantly changing, product designers and developers must always think on their toes. They must keep innovating and churning out top-notch, user-friendly products to keep up in the competitive software market. It's all about staying nimble, adaptable, and ahead of the game.

Enter the product development strategy, which outlines a plan or approach to create, improve, or introduce new products or services into the market. It encompasses various stages, from idea generation to product launch. A good product development strategy focuses on innovation, market research, design, testing, and user-centricity.

Let's dig into why your product team needs an effective product development strategy, its key elements, how to decide on and build such a plan, and some examples of successful product development strategies in the real world.

Why implement a product development strategy?

Your team can create a positive cycle by implementing a robust, well-designed strategy integrating research, innovation, and customer-centric product development. Improved products lead to increased revenue, which, in turn, allows for further investment in product development, creating a continuous loop of growth and success. 

Increased revenue

A well-thought-out product development strategy can directly impact revenue growth. By introducing new products or improving existing ones, your organization can tap into new markets, attract more customers, retain them, and increase sales. You'll positively impact your bottom line by consistently innovating and offering products that meet or exceed customer expectations.

A thoughtful product development strategy can help your team optimize resource allocation and minimize the risks of making digital product mistakes. Saving any amount of development time and money contributes to increased profit.

Competitive advantage

In the competitive digital product market, standing out is imperative. A strong product development strategy focusing on customers enables your brand to differentiate itself from competitors.

Innovation is truly essential to a successful product development strategy. When current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stepped up to the tech juggernaut's helm in 2017, he said in a statement:

"Our industry does not respect tradition—it only respects innovation...Make no mistake, we are headed for greater places—as technology evolves and we evolve with and ahead of it."

By enacting continuous innovation, staying responsive to customer needs, and offering unique or superior products, your organization can carve out a niche or capture more market share to stay ahead. 

Improved customer experience

By building products that enhance the user experience, your team can directly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

James Quincey, current president and COO of Coca-Cola said:

"If we embrace where the consumer is going, our brands will thrive, and our system will continue to grow. This is our way forward."

Understanding customer needs, pain points, and preferences through user feedback means removing the guesswork in product development, enabling your team to create products that align closely with customers' needs and wants. 

Key elements of product development strategy

There are three main elements of a well-crafted product development strategy. Your strategy should integrate these elements cohesively, aligning the team's efforts with the broader business objectives, guiding the product's journey from ideation to market launch, and continuously measuring its success against predefined metrics.

Goals and objectives

Establishing a clear vision of what the product aims to achieve is essential. This involves understanding the problem it solves, its target audience, and the value it adds to the lives of customers. 

Set measurable and achievable goals that align with the organization's overall objectives. These could be related to market share, revenue targets, user acquisition, or customer satisfaction metrics.

Define timelines and milestones to track the project's progress. This will help keep development on track and allow for adjustments if necessary. 

Product roadmap

Break the product development process into manageable phases or iterations by implementing a product roadmap. These phases should include research, product discovery, design, prototyping, user testing, and launch.

Identify and prioritize features or components based on their impact, their feasibility, and user feedback. This will help the team allocate resources effectively and deliver value incrementally.

Maintain flexibility within the roadmap. The team should be prepared to adapt to market changes, technological advancements, and feedback from test users. Agile methodologies often support this flexibility by allowing teams to adjust their priorities based on ongoing evaluation and learning. 

Key metrics

Define metrics that align with the project's goals. These quantifiable indicators could include metrics related to the following:

  • User engagement
  • Conversion rates
  • Customer satisfaction scores
  • Revenue the new product generates

Continuously monitor and evaluate these metrics throughout the development process and after the product launch. This ongoing assessment helps understand the product's performance, identify improvement areas, and make data-informed decisions.

Establishing feedback loops with critical stakeholders in the product development process, including users, is important. You can create these feedback mechanisms through various means, including surveys, user testing, and analytic tools. Incorporating user feedback into the development cycle is critical for refining the product to meet evolving customer needs.

Knowing what product development strategy your business needs

There are various distinct approaches to product development and business planning. Here, we will discuss the two overarching categories of product development strategies—proactive and reactive—and when each type can benefit organizations.

Proactive product development strategies

A proactive product design strategy involves anticipating and preparing for changes, trends, or challenges. It's about taking initiative and preparing to act before events or changes occur.

These strategies, which are instrumental for companies seeking rapid sales growth through either high-volume sales or entry into new markets, include:

  • Getting more customer-centric: Collecting customer feedback is an integral part of the product development process. Product teams shouldn't wait until launch to conduct user research in product development. It should be a continuous, iterative process where you test at every stage of the product life cycle. And ideally, early and often.
  • Deep market research investment: Allocating resources into extensive market research, trend analysis, and thorough market assessments aids in identifying emerging opportunities, new markets, and unexplored niches.
  • Research and development (R&D) investment: Commit to robust R&D initiatives. This introduces new insights that can significantly enhance products, offering a competitive advantage over rivals.
  • Entrepreneurial investment: Empowering internal innovation by supporting idea generation within your team can foster new product concepts.
  • Making strategic alliances: By collaborating with other entities, you'll enable the pooling of resources and technologies, which can enhance potential progress in product development.
  • Making acquisitions: If such actions prove feasible, acquiring other companies to gain expertise, knowledge, and control over competing products can amplify your company's market position and business prowess.
  • Undertaking diversification initiatives: Exploring and investing in diversification across product lines or market segments allows your team to spread risks and investigate new revenue streams.

Reactive product development strategies

A reactive product development strategy involves responding to market changes or competitors' actions after they occur. It focuses on adapting existing products or services based on customer feedback or competitor behavior rather than proactively creating new offerings or innovations. This approach aims to adjust quickly to current market conditions but may lack the foresight and long-term planning inherent in proactive strategies.

Reactive strategies are more accessible and easier to implement. They serve well when an organization has limited resources and lacks control over distribution, patents, or market protection. Some such strategies include:

  • Changing or modifying an existing product: Changing existing products and services in response to customer feedback and preferences allows your company to better align with current market needs. This includes adding additional value to an existing product.
  • Competitive defense: This strategy involves employing price cuts or otherwise outshining competitors to enhance customer attractiveness.
  • Competitor emulation: By observing and copying competitor products, your company can attempt to lure customers from your competition.
  • Creating a second-to-market but superior product: Your company can react to a competitor's product entry by creating an improved version, positioning it as the superior alternative.
  • Using agile development processes: Embracing agile methodologies enables your team to respond swiftly to market changes and deliver products in iterative cycles, enhancing responsiveness and adaptability. 

How to build a product development strategy around design thinking

Introducing design thinking into a product development strategy infuses empathy and innovation into the process, fostering user-centric solutions. Here's how to align your strategy with design thinking.

1. Define your product vision

Start by establishing a clear vision aligning with user needs and market gaps, anchoring your vision with human insights.

2. Conduct market research

Engage in comprehensive research to understand market trends and gain a deep understanding of user behaviors, pain points, and desires. It's crucial to achieve the best possible product-market fit before beginning design.

3. Identify customer needs

The importance of implementing user research in product development can't be understated. By applying techniques like user interviews, personas, and journey mapping, your team can unearth genuine user needs and pain points to shape the product's direction.

4. Develop a roadmap

Create a flexible product roadmap incorporating iterative ideation, prototyping, and feedback loops. This allows for constant refinement based on user insights.

5. Test and launch

Using comprehensive product testing software can allow you to prototype and test solutions iteratively with real users. Your team can gather feedback and refine your product until you achieve a solution that authentically meets user needs before launching the product.

How understanding your market can boost your strategy

Understanding your market is paramount for a successful product development strategy because it provides valuable insights and a competitive edge. To gain a true understanding of your market means conducting market analysis, adapting to trends, and meeting your customers' needs. Here's why.

Conduct in-depth market analysis

Market analysis helps identify untapped niches, emerging trends, and potential gaps in the market that your product can address. This knowledge enables strategic positioning and data-informed product development. Delving into your competitors' strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and market position allows for informed decision-making and differentiation between your company's offerings and the competition's. Finally, this type of analysis helps your team foresee potential risks, market fluctuations, and regulatory changes, enabling you to enact proactive measures to mitigate negative impacts on the business. 

Identify and adapt to market trends

Adapting to market trends lets your team keep your products relevant and aligned with evolving customer preferences, technological advancements, and industry shifts. By identifying and adopting market trends early, you'll gain a competitive advantage because you can capitalize on emerging opportunities before your competitors. You can also proactively position your organization for long-term sustainability, preventing obsolescence and fostering continuous growth.

Meet customer needs

Put simply, without your customers, you'd have no business. Understanding and addressing customer needs enables your team to create products that resonate with your target audience, increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Meeting specific and unmet needs will set your products apart, creating a unique value proposition that attracts and retains customers in a crowded marketplace. If you implement continuous feedback loops, adapting and iterating your product based on customer needs, you'll foster an ongoing innovation and product refinement cycle.

Key takeaways

Coming out on top of the competitive software design market demands a strategic product development strategy. As we've discussed, such a strategy impacts revenue, provides a competitive advantage, and improves the customer experience. A successful product development strategy requires setting goals, creating a roadmap, and defining key metrics. Whether your organization chooses a strategy employing proactive foresight or reactive adaptation, it's essential to emphasize continuous innovation, user-centricity, and adaptability. 

On top of that, understanding market intricacies—be it through comprehensive analysis, trend adaptation, or discovering customer needs—should serve as the foundation of a strategy that will thrive in an evolving ecosystem. 

A robust product development strategy doesn't just respond to market changes; it anticipates and shapes them, fostering continuous growth and innovation.

What's next

If you’re leveraging a platform like UserTesting, there’s a template to test almost anything. Here are a few of our most popular templates created by researchers. 

About the author(s)

With UserTesting’s on-demand platform, you uncover ‘the why’ behind customer interactions. In just a few hours, you can capture the critical human insights you need to confidently deliver what your customers want and expect.