How to create product plans (with steps and best practices)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 22 March 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Launching a product to the market entails a lot of background planning, research and strategy. Product planning includes all the internal steps, decisions and tasks a company undertakes to create a successful product. Understanding the product planning process can help you successfully launch a product to market. In this article, we explain how to create product plans, define a product plan, discuss why it is important and share best practices for product planning.
How to create product plans
Follow these steps to know how to create product plans:
1. Identify a problem and set goals
The first step in creating product plans entails identifying an existing problem and the solution to those the market currently serves. Identifying a problem for which you can provide a solution gives your team an opportunity to come up with ideas on how to meet that need. Brainstorming and open discussions allow every team member to think broadly of a solution to the problem. Key questions to ask at this stage include:
What is the problem that requires solving?
Why is the proposed product the solution to the problem?
How does the product benefit the company's goals?
What features do you require in the product?
Clearly defining the problem is critical, as it enables team members to think from a common standpoint. It also becomes easier to explain the product plan in detail to stakeholders.
2. Product concept development
The second step involves further developing the product concept. Think about the finer details of the product, such as the features and functionalities. Continue sharing ideas and possibilities as you also think of additional problems the product may solve. Collaborating with customer-facing team members, such as the sales and customer representatives, can be beneficial in knowing what the target customer's needs are and what solutions they are looking for in products.
3. Conduct market research
Market research, such as customer surveys and competitor analysis, is a critical pillar of any product plan process. Conducting a customer survey can help identify customer pain points, expectations and commonly asked questions. A customer survey can also reveal significant demographic information, such as the age bracket of people most enthusiastic about the product, gender, income information, spending habits and preferred delivery channels.
Knowing what the typical customer wants in a product can help you create effective buyer personas to bring further clarity to the product development process. Competitor analysis tells you which companies are solving similar problems and this helps you improve your own plan.
4. Product testing
After establishing demand, the next step involves developing product prototypes. Prototypes allow your potential customers to have a hint of the product before the actual launch. You can use focus groups consisting of a mixed demographic for product testing. Their reactions and subsequent modifications create a platform for the next stage. One critical factor to keep in mind is that the focus group participants accurately represent your typical buyer personas.
5. Product launch
After successful product testing and implementing the feedback, the product is now ready for launch. You can launch your product incrementally depending on the company size and budget for the activity. A small-scale launch can be more effective for a small to medium-sized company, as it enables the company to test the product on a wider scale without stretching the budget. You can increase production and scale-up release depending on how the market responds to the product.
6. Develop the product cycle
The product launch is the end of one process and the beginning of another. A product typically goes through several stages in its lifecycle. These are the introductory stage, growth, maturity and decline. After launching the product, it's important to plan for the next stages and create a roadmap that covers all the possibilities the product may face. The product roadmap details how the company plans to monitor its success. The roadmap also includes continuous market research to ensure you capture and respond according to shifting customer needs and preferences.
What is a product plan?
A product plan is a roadmap detailing the timelines, resources, tasks and budget for an upcoming product. Product plans describe at length what the product team plans to create, the reason for creating the product and when the product is likely to be ready for launch. If a product is already in the market, a product plan maps out the future, detailing how to continuously collect customer feedback and add new features to include emerging users' demands.
Product managers are typically responsible for leading the product planning process. The product team may include key individuals, such as project managers, customer representatives, salespersons, marketers, IT people and researchers. Product managers research and update the team with emerging information. They ensure seamless collaboration, open communication and manage expectations about the upcoming product.
Why is product planning important?
Product planning is important to a business for these reasons:
Provides direction: Product planning gives the product team a sense of direction about the problem the company is trying to solve. This ensures everyone involved in the process knows their role in making the product launch successful.
Accountability purpose: A product plan is an essential tool for keeping everyone in the product team accountable. By assigning each member a specific role to play, you're giving them some accountability for the success or failure of the plan.
Justifies resource allocation: Product failure is a tremendous expense to a company. A product plan increases the likelihood of success, which justifies the allocation, as the company is likely to get a return on the investment.
Boosts a company's image: If you get the process right, product planning can positively impact the public's perception of the company. By creating a product that resonates with customers, the company image is likely to improve because of the high customer satisfaction rates.
Revenue stream: A company's products or services are typically the largest contributors to revenues. Getting the product planning right increases the earning potential of the company through sales of products and services.
Forecasts problems: Product planning enables the product team to anticipate problems, such as product limitations or regulatory roadblocks. Forecasting such challenges enables the product team to have in place a contingency plan to enhance the success of the plan.
Visualises success: The end of the product planning process is important in enabling the product development team to visualise success. Anticipating success ensures the team remains focused on the process by avoiding distractions along the way.
A learning process: Whether or not the product planning is successful, the product team learns valuable lessons for the future. By documenting every step, future product teams can duplicate success while avoiding past mistakes.
Best practices for product planning
Here are some best practices to keep in mind for successful product planning:
Ensure open communication
Maintaining open communication within the product team is essential in the product development process. Product team leaders foster an open-door policy where every team member feels free to share their ideas. Open communication also entails the product manager to provide regular updates relevant to the product, such as emerging research or any changes made to the intended product.
Consider product planning as a continuous process
Product planning is likely to be more successful if the team approaches it as an ongoing process. Product teams prepare for emerging concerns which arise both from within the team and outside the organisation. This can entail new information that may affect the product plan such as a change in customer attitudes or strategic moves from a competitor. By approaching product planning as a process, and not a one-time event, the product team prepares itself to consider new perspectives and adapt to new challenges.
Know your target audience
Product development is a customer-driven process, which means the end-user's opinion about the product is more valuable than the opinions of the product team. Keeping this in mind helps the product team to focus on the target audience. Creating effective buyer personas is critical as it enables the product team to align the product with the customer's problem.
Create a timeframe
While product planning is a continuous process, it's also essential for the product manager to assign a timeframe to achieve key milestones. Assigning a timeframe ensures the team has a rough idea of when the company is likely to prototype or launch the product. Taking too much time in the process may defeat the purpose of the plan, as customers may look for an alternative solution to their problems, or the company may lose first-mover advantages to its competitors.
Have a contingency plan
A product plan, like any other plan, may face challenges along the way. It's critical for the product development team to consider all angles of the problem and potential risks to the proposed solution. Identifying risks is the first step to mitigating risks that are likely to derail the product plan.
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