A product plan is the “why” of product development. It outlines how a product will support business objectives — your company’s mission — and how the product will get made.
Your product plan describes the big picture: what you’ll build, how it’ll support your business goals, who will buy it, and when you’ll build it.
To build and execute a successful product plan, you need to get buy-in from stakeholders. You’ll also need to facilitate collaboration between groups, and gain a deep understanding of your customers, market, and competition. And you need to bring your product to market on time and on budget.
(Hey, nobody said being a product manager was easy.)
But we’ve got you covered with insights about product planning, plus seven steps to plan, develop, and launch a successful product.
What is a product plan?
A product plan is a strategy to get a product made.
It sets out the steps to take a product to market, builds a framework for collaboration, and keeps product development on track. It also provides the framework for product improvements, changes, and sunsetting.
Good product plans:
- Execute the company’s mission
- Create a product that fits a market need
- Use market research to guide product development
- Foster collaboration between departments and stakeholders
- Deliver and launch a working product
Your product plan provides the guiding strategy for product development, so you can ensure the end product is the right one.
Why is a product plan important?
Products and services are how your company achieves its goals.
Your product strategy is to create value for customers and provide revenue for your business. To achieve this, you need a comprehensive plan that ties company objectives to the product development process.
For example, if your company has a goal to increase small business sales by 25%, you may decide to develop project management software that specifically addresses the frustrations of small business owners, like budget constraints and limited personnel.
With the right product plan, you can identify market opportunities and make the right investments in product development to take advantage of them. You’ll stay focused on the highest-value initiatives and build collaboration to achieve company goals.
The result is a product that meets your customers’ needs and maximizes value for your business.
Agile vs. waterfall methodologies: how to approach project planning
Your approach to product planning will depend on your company’s existing workflows and development policies, as well as the type of product you’re developing. For example, the product plan for a passenger jet will differ from one for a mobile app.
Agile teams take an adaptive and iterative approach to product planning. They track customer needs continuously (as user stories), then prioritize development based on business objectives. The Agile approach enables development teams to quickly assess the viability of a product or feature before committing resources. It also lets teams be more responsive to changes in customer requirements. The Agile approach is good for rapidly developing products, like mobile apps.
Other teams may use a waterfall approach. They capture customer needs and gather and define requirements before development begins. They do product planning upfront and follow with serial product development. Ongoing changes to the product plan are minimal once development begins. The waterfall approach is good for products (like passenger jets) where you can’t easily change product design or add new features once work has started.
Get buy-in before you begin
Product managers may cringe at the phrase, but you need buy-in before starting your product plan. Product development will go a lot better if you get stakeholders and senior managers on board.
We’ve included “Tips for building buy-in” throughout this guide to help you get started.
Getting people excited about your plan takes some time, but it pays off. You’ll make better decisions, avoid roadblocks, and deliver more value to your customers.
Tip for building buy-in: If you’re new to product development, try the Super Quick Team Building Template to engage stakeholders early in the process. A fun activity at your first meeting can build rapport and get everyone primed to work together.
How to make a product plan
You can build an effective product plan in seven steps:
- Create the product vision
- Assess customer needs and do market research
- Create customer journey maps
- Build and maintain a product roadmap
- Write a marketing plan
- Development and product launch
- Sunset the product
1. Create the product vision
Explain how the new product will help your company achieve its goals. Starting with product discovery ensures the product will align with your company’s mission and vision.
For example, how does the new product help your company achieve revenue goals? What are your competitors doing? What are the top challenges your company’s facing? How does the new product fit into your existing product line?
By starting your product plan with these goals firmly in mind, you can better understand how the product should evolve.
Next, brainstorm with your team on product ideas. Ask yourself these questions:
- What does the new product do?
- What problem does it solve for customers?
- Why is your product better than other solutions to this problem?
- What are your product’s key features?
- Who could benefit from using this product?
Run brainstorming sessions with the Product Vision Board template to create and refine your product vision. Start by writing the “why” for the product. Then, ask what positive changes it will bring to your customers or your business. Explore your target markets, the problems your product solves, and what makes it stand out from your competitors.
Keep your goals and visions high-level at this stage. Focus on the overall vision for the product rather than details or customer personas.
Tip for building buy-in: Make your product vision aspirational to motivate your team. Use the Impact Mapping Template to show how your product will help achieve your company’s mission.
2. Assess customer needs and do market research
Once you’ve created the vision for your product, evaluate the market and your potential customers. This step involves analyzing market trends, researching competitors, and identifying and assessing your target audience.
Let’s dive in.
Assess customer needs
Start by assessing your target customers’ needs. Don’t skip this step, because it’s the only way to find out whether your product is viable.
Here are some ways you can evaluate your target audience:
- Gather feedback from target customers. Share your high-level product concept and ask for their insights. Note their responses.
- Analyze existing market research or surveys on customer preferences and needs.
- Ask your sales team what customers say about their needs and level of satisfaction with competitors.
- Check competitors’ online reviews to see what customers like and dislike about their products.
Take all the feedback and put it on a digital whiteboard where you can quantify and qualify the information and identify insights and opportunities. The Opportunity Solution Tree template is perfect for collecting, organizing, and visualizing customer stories and opinions. With this template, you can assess your product’s viability and prioritize opportunities to meet customer needs.
Agile product development teams can use the Opportunity Solutions Tree template and the Prune the Product Tree template to organize and prioritize feature requests. The Prune the Product template enables you to use customer feedback to identify high-priority feature requests and unknown requirements. Your team can use this information to prioritize feature development.
Once you’ve identified your target customers and assessed their needs, you can create customer personas. Use the Opportunity Solutions Tree or Customer Persona template to group customers based on their needs, roles, market segments, or other criteria. Then, create fictional personas for each group.
For example, your customer research says product managers need time management tools but are too overwhelmed to learn and use them. A customer persona can describe their role, challenges with finding and using tools, and how a time management tool they can install and use quickly is the ideal solution to their problem.
Analyze market trends
Next, evaluate the current state of the market. Look at factors like the level of competition, how easy it is to enter the market, close substitutes for your product, and how easily customers can switch to a different product from yours. Use the Porter’s Five Forces template to guide and organize your research and prioritize the results.
You can also use a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis to evaluate market conditions. The SWOT Analysis template lets your team gather insights on your product’s viability, prioritize them by importance, and discuss possible responses.
Research your competitors
Next, identify and assess the current and potential competitors for your product. Look at competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, current market penetration, features and pricing, and how they promote and market their products. With this information, you can see what makes your product stand out, what works and doesn’t work for customers, and spot opportunities to differentiate your product and gain market share.
Use the Competitor Analysis Chart template to visualize the competitive landscape for your product. Using this template, you can easily map competitors to see how your product compares to theirs.
Tip for building buy-in: Use collaborative tools to include stakeholders in the market research process and ask for their insights. Including their different perspectives will help you identify threats and opportunities and keep people engaged.
3. Create customer journey maps
Use customer journey maps to visualize your product’s customer experience and create a product that aligns with users’ priorities and needs. A customer journey map is a step-by-step visualization of users’ interactions with your product. It helps you to experience your product from a customer’s perspective.
The customer journey map shows people’s emotions and thoughts at every product touchpoint. It helps you identify frustrations and missed opportunities to improve the user experience. Use the Customer Journey Map template to organize your market research and create journeys for each customer persona.
Tip for building buy-in: Include customer-facing employees in the customer journey map process to get fresh perspectives and insights on users’ pain points and opportunities.
4. Build and maintain a product roadmap
Once you’ve completed your market research, created your customer personas and journey maps, and gotten buy-in from stakeholders, you can start developing the product. Begin by creating your product roadmap.
The product roadmap is the shared source of truth for your product. It outlines and visualizes your product’s vision, direction, priorities, and progress over its lifetime. Use the roadmap to visualize the timeline for specific product releases and features, prioritize development work, and communicate your team’s progress.
Your product roadmap is the guiding document for your project. You need to make it simple and informative for everyone involved. Although it shares elements of your product plan, it doesn’t go into the same level of detail.
A typical product roadmap has the following:
- Measurable goals and objectives. The roadmap outlines what the project is trying to achieve and the metrics it needs to meet to reach those goals. It measures progress against these goals and identifies potential roadblocks.
- Timeframe for development and release. The product roadmap shows the development process and the tasks, milestones, and deliverables leading to launch.
- Outline and prioritize features and functionality. The roadmap sets out the product features and prioritizes them by importance, customer demand, and feasibility.
- Collaboration and communication. The product roadmap facilitates clear communication of project milestones and dependencies to keep everyone on the same page.
- Align with company goals and mission. The roadmap provides a big-picture view of the product and how it aligns with where your company is going.
Tip for building buy-in: Use the GO Product Roadmap template to collaborate with your team on creating a high-level roadmap of your product’s direction and strategy.
5. Write a marketing plan
While you’re developing your product roadmap, you can also start building your marketing plan — the strategy you’ll use to promote your product and drive sales.
To develop your marketing plan, identify your target market segments, determine your product’s value statement and messaging, and decide on marketing channels.
Create powerful and interesting marketing messaging using the Empathy Map template. This template helps you dig deep into your customers’ motivations, emotions, and needs. Use this information to build credibility and trust by showing how your product can help people solve their problems.
Tip for building buy-in: Engage sales, marketing, and communications stakeholders early in your project to give them time to build a marketing campaign.
6. Development and product launch
Once the product roadmap and marketing plan are in place, you can develop and launch your product. At this stage, designers, developers, engineers and others work together to create a viable product. The goal is to develop and launch a high-quality Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and get to market quickly. The MVP isn’t a full-fledged product — it’s a working prototype that provides real value to customers, but gets delivered with the understanding a full product will follow.
Once the product is completed and vetted internally, it’s time to launch. The type of launch depends on your product and market. You might choose a soft or limited launch to a small group of customers so you can iron out bugs and gather customer feedback. Alternatively, you could go with a hard launch and send the product out into the marketplace.
Whichever way you launch your product, your work isn’t over. The focus of the product plan shifts from product development to feature development and customer service. Use templates like the Issue Tree for Product Opportunities, Prune the Product Tree, and Product Roadmap to continuously maintain, improve, and evolve your product throughout its lifecycle.
7. Sunset the product
The last step in your product plan is to decide when your product is no longer needed or viable in the marketplace and can be sunsetted. This would happen when demand for the product drops off or advances in technology make the product obsolete. In other cases, you may design a product with a limited lifespan.
Sunsetting a product can free up resources you can redeploy to create and develop new products. You can use the Value Chain Analysis template to evaluate your product performance and profitability and figure out when (or if) it should be sunsetted.
Tip for building buy-in: Celebrate a successful product lifecycle by acknowledging the efforts of everyone involved in development and thanking customers for their business.
Collaborative product planning with Whiteboards
Creating a solid plan is crucial to your product’s success. By following these steps, you’ll ensure your product aligns with company goals, meets customer needs, and stands out from the competition.
Product planning is challenging, but you can make it easier. A virtual whiteboard is ideal for facilitating real-time collaboration, keeping product development on track, and meeting deadlines.
Using Whiteboards can help your product teams feel more connected and empowered to work toward shared goals. Try it free with your team today.