Creating a product plan involves building your product’s guiding strategy and bringing the new product to life. Your plan shows how the product aligns with business goals, what problem it solves, what market it serves, and how it gets made.
Successful product planning requires support from stakeholders, collaboration across teams, and a deep understanding of your target customers, market trends, competitors, and corporate goals. And you have to handle all that while also controlling resources and prioritizing features to deliver the product on schedule and within budget.
So you have to keep a lot of balls in the air. Managing them all gracefully is not a job you want to do on a spreadsheet (or using pen and paper).
But we’ve got your back. Use this step-by-step guide to create, plan, and develop your product for a successful launch. We’ll show you how to use free Whiteboards templates to make the process easy and fun.
After reading this guide, you’ll be able to:
- Align your product vision with business goals
- Brainstorm how your product meets customer needs
- Discover your target market
- Create and refine feasible product concepts
- Develop and deliver a working product
- Apply different analytical and strategic methodologies to product creation
Let’s get started with an overview of the product planning process.
The 7-step product planning process
The product planning process covers the entire product lifecycle. Although each company has a unique product management process, the general process follows these seven steps:
- Create the product vision and strategy: what the product does and how it helps the business achieve its goals
- Assess customer needs and do market research: who will buy the product, and how does it compare to competing products
- Create a customer journey map: visualize each customer’s interactions with the product
- Build and maintain a product roadmap: illustrate feature prioritization and the product’s progress
- Write the value statement and marketing messaging: how you will promote the product to target customers
- Develop and launch the product: bring the product to life
- Plan for sunsetting: decide when to discontinue the product
In this guide, we’ll use a fictional product planning process for “Cuddle Cases” to illustrate the steps involved. Cuddle Cases are personalized smartphone cases that feature a photo of the owner’s beloved pet.
Step 1: Create the product vision and strategy
The first step is to create your product vision and strategy, aligning both with your company’s mission and goals.
In this step, we’ll show you how to run ideation sessions using the Product Vision Board template. This will help you optimize your product idea and build your strategy.
To begin, set up a free Whiteboards account if you haven’t already. If this is your very first time using Whiteboards, check out the first steps in our Help Center to make the process we’re about to walk through even smoother.
Invite your product team to the board by sending an email invitation or sharing the board URL.
When everyone is on the board, you can start creating your product vision.
What is my product vision?
Your product vision explains why your product exists and how it will help your company achieve its objectives.
To create your product vision, begin by asking questions like:
- How does this product align with our company mission?
- What positive change does the product bring about?
- How does the product help our company achieve its financial goals?
- What are the top challenges our company faces?
- How does this product fit into our existing product line?
The answers to these questions are the raw material for creating your product vision. Write each answer and idea on sticky notes and drag them to the Vision box. Then, select the ones that best express your product vision.
For example, the Cuddle Cases team came up with several ideas for their product vision:
- Cuddle Cases are personalized smartphone cases that feature a photo of your beloved pet.
- Pet owners who miss their pets will be reminded of them when they use their phones.
- Pet photo phone cases fit into and expand our existing line of pet-branded products for pet owners.
To focus these ideas into a product vision, the team asked some strategic questions:
Q: How does this product align with our company mission?
A: “Our company makes pet-branded products that connect pet owners and pets.”
Q: What positive change does the product bring about?
A: “It reminds them of their beloved pet whenever they use their smartphone.”
Q: What are the top challenges our company faces?
A: “We face competitive pressure in our traditional markets and want to expand into new markets.”
Q: How does this product fit into our existing product portfolio?
A: “We have a full portfolio of personalized, pet-branded consumer products for pet owners.”
Through this process, the team refined their ideas until they came up with a product vision for Cuddle Cases:
“Cuddle Cases remind pet owners of their beloved pet every time they use their smartphone. (Working slogan: “Cases so cute you can cuddle them.”)”
Their vision clearly and simply explains:
- What the product is (a pet photo smartphone case)
- What need it meets (it reminds pet owners of their beloved pets)
- How it aligns with the company vision (it connects pets and their people)
- How it meets the need (it connects owners to their pets every time they use their phone)
With their product vision in place, the Cuddle Cases team can move on to building a product strategy.
What is my product strategy?
Your product strategy is a high-level outline of your product’s features and details, its target customers, how it serves their needs, and its business goals.
Continue with the same Product Vision Board you started above to develop your product strategy by gathering ideas into four categories:
- Group: The market or market segment and target customers the product addresses
- Needs: What problem(s) the product solves or what benefit(s) it provides
- Product: Details about the product, what makes it stand out, and if it’s feasible
- Business goals: The product goals and how they’ll benefit the business
Here are some brainstorming questions to get you thinking about your strategy:
- What does our new product do?
- Who could benefit from using our product?
- What customer need(s) does it meet?
- Why is our product the best way to meet this need?
- What are the product’s main features?
- How will the product make money?
- Where will we sell the product?
Again, document your team’s answers on sticky notes and drag them to the appropriate box. Try for three or four ideas per box.
Keep your focus on the product’s overall strategy rather than specific details. The idea is to develop a strong sense of why the product exists. You’ll be able to drill down into the details in later steps of the process.
Here are the strategy ideas for Cuddle Cases:
In the next step, we’ll develop the strategy ideas into product opportunities and customer profiles. To do this, we’ll closely examine our customers, market trends, and competitors.
Step 2: Assess customer needs and do market research
Now that you’ve created the product vision and strategy, you can evaluate the market and develop product opportunities.
This step involves identifying your target audience’s needs, building customer personas, researching market fit and trends, and analyzing your competitors.
We’ll use the data and insights we gather in this step to guide product development in later steps by:
- Linking customer needs to desired product outcomes to develop new features
- Creating customer journey maps to model customer interactions with the product
- Setting product timelines and prioritizing feature development
- Building a data-driven product marketing plan and sales strategy
Let’s start by looking at our target customers’ needs and linking them to business objectives.
What does my audience need?
We identified your target audiences or market segments in Step 1. Now, we’ll dig deeper and look into their motivations for buying your product.
We’ll use the Opportunity Solution Tree template to help you discover what your customers need from your product and identify potential solutions to the opportunities that will meet their needs.
Begin by writing down one of the business goals from your product vision in Box 1. Define a clear outcome for the goal.
Next, brainstorm your discovery process. Using sticky notes, write down ways you can learn which customer needs and metrics will drive your desired outcome.
For example, you may conduct customer interviews, host focus groups, do market research, or look at the success of other similar products in your portfolio.
Gather the notes in Box 2.
After you’ve done product discovery, write the most important customer challenges and opportunities on sticky notes and gather them in Box 3.
Sort related opportunities into three or four groups by copying and pasting their sticky notes from Box 3 to Box 4. Choose one opportunity that best represents each group and make it the group header. Doing this will make it easier to focus on addressing similar opportunities.
Finally, it’s time to draw the Opportunity Solution Tree.
Begin by dragging the desired outcome sticky note to the top, then arrange the opportunities by group. Place the header opportunity at the top of each opportunity group. Then, connect “solution” and “experiment” sticky notes to each opportunity box.
Use the completed opportunity solution tree to help determine solutions to customer needs.
For example, in the tree for Cuddle Cases, glitter cases are one of the market needs identified during discovery. Our solution to meet that need is to find a case supplier that makes glitter cases.
Our experiments are to meet with potential suppliers to see if they can provide glitter cases that meet our specifications (to include pet photos) at a cost that doesn’t impact profitability.
If we find the right supplier, we can move glitter cases into development as a feature. If we don’t find a feasible solution, we can remove glitter cases from our feature list and revisit adding them later in the product life cycle.
Who exactly is my target audience?
Once you have identified your target customers’ needs and key opportunities, the next step is to create customer personas.
Customer personas provide a snapshot of their personality traits, occupations, habits, and needs. This information is valuable for creating messaging that resonates with customers, and developing product features that addresses their pain points.
We’ll use the Customer Persona template to make this process easier.
Start by writing the customer’s name in the top left box. Then include some basic info about them, like their age, where they work, and where they live.
Next, brainstorm ideas for the customer’s bio and personality traits with your team.
Then, add factors that affect their buying behavior and need for your product. These are:
- Pain points: Aspects of their life that are frustrating but the customer can’t address on their own
- Needs: How the customer sees their pain points and how they would like to solve them
- Goals: Specific ways the customer could meet the customer’s needs
Finally, we need to analyze the current and future trends in your target market.
What are the conditions in my target market?
After building your customer personas, refine your product strategy by looking at the factors that can impact your product.
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is a simple and powerful way to understand and address these factors. Each quadrant of the SWOT diagram represents internal or external factors that can positively or negatively affect the success or viability of your product.
We’ll use the SWOT Analysis template for this step.
Begin the SWOT analysis by brainstorming with your team on these factors and what impact each might have on your product:
- Strengths: Positive internal factors (experience with similar products, strong existing brand, excellent project management, technology leadership)
- Weaknesses: Negative internal factors (lack of experience in the new product, budget constraints, limited product development capacity)
- Opportunities: Positive external factors (strong market demand, no or limited competition, multiple high-quality suppliers)
- Weaknesses: Negative external factors (high competition/many similar products, weak market demand, weak supply chain)
As you go, write each idea on a sticky note on the whiteboard, then drag the sticky note to the appropriate quadrant on the SWOT diagram.
Combine similar factors to reduce the number of sticky notes and prioritize and sort the sticky notes in each quadrant. When you finish creating the SWOT diagram, brainstorm with your team on possible ways to address each factor. Use your ideas to refine your product strategy.
After you complete your customer and market research and analysis, you can build a customer journey map to help refine and prioritize your product features.
Step 3: Create a customer journey map
A customer journey map lets you align your product design and features with your user’s needs while interacting with your product. You can use a customer journey map to visualize a customer’s emotions and thoughts at every product touchpoint. By experiencing your product from a customer perspective, you can identify frustrations and missed opportunities and improve the user experience.
You can use the Customer Journey Map template and your customer and market data to create a journey map for each persona. Map out each step of the customer journey, what actions the customer is taking, how they feel, and what they might be thinking.
When you’re finished, you’ll have a complete picture of your customer journey that you can use to prioritize features and build your product roadmap.
Step 4: Build and maintain a product roadmap
Once you’ve completed market research and created customer personas and a journey map, you can begin building the product itself. We begin this step with a product roadmap.
Your product roadmap is the source of truth for your product. It links your product vision and strategy to corporate goals and sets the priorities and direction for the product development process. You can use the product roadmap to visualize the timeline for feature development and releases, set priorities, and communicate your progress to stakeholders.
The product roadmap shares some elements of your product plan but doesn’t go into the same level of detail. A basic roadmap should include:
- Your product goals and priorities
- Current product development progress
- The timeline for upcoming features and releases
We’ll use the Product Roadmap Overview template to build a roadmap for Cuddle Cases. We’ll focus on three initiatives in our example to keep things simple.
Start by writing the timeline across the top of the roadmap, broken into the time intervals you want to use for your roadmap. In our example, we use a one-year timeline broken out by month.
Next, write the product initiatives in the boxes down the left side of the roadmap.
Then, write the product features and releases on sticky notes and drag them onto the roadmap next to the appropriate initiative. Adjust the length of the feature boxes to indicate the start and end dates.
Complete your product roadmap by adding and prioritizing features for each initiative. Once the roadmap is complete, you can easily see how the product will evolve over the next year.
While developing the product roadmap, you can also begin looking at how you will promote your product.
Step 5: Write the value statement and marketing messaging
Your value statement and marketing messaging help raise brand awareness and engage potential customers. Messaging is the foundation of your marketing strategy. It helps you build credibility and trust by showing people how your product can help solve their problems.
Use your product vision, customer persona, journey maps, and market research data to craft a value statement and messaging for your product.
You can create powerful and engaging marketing messages using the Empathy Map template. The empathy map lets you visualize your target customer’s needs by grouping insights and data about your user’s motivations and emotions.
Start by writing down the details for the customer persona you are mapping in the User Persona box.
Then, look at your research findings and insights and add them to the relevant section on the empathy board.
When you finish building the empathy map, you’ll have a complete picture of your customer’s emotional needs. Brainstorm with your team on value statements and messages that could build trust with your customer and show your product can help meet their needs.
Step 6: Development and product launch
Once you finish your product roadmap and customer mapping, it’s time to develop and launch your product.
Depending on your product, you may choose to develop and launch a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — a working prototype of your final product that provides value to customers. Alternatively, you may choose to develop and launch a market-ready product right away.
During development, the focus of product planning shifts from strategy to project management — ensuring high-priority features are delivered on time and on budget. We’ll use the Gantt Chart template to show you one way of keeping things on track.
To start, enter your project timeline along the top of the chart.
Next, break the timeline into whatever time intervals (days, weeks, months, quarters) that work best for your project.
Then, add your product initiatives down the left side of the chart and list the associated tasks under each title box.
In our example, our Gantt chart shows the first three months of development for Cuddle Cases. The first initiative is to select a supplier to manufacture the cases. It involves one task: “Find and onboard a case supplier.”
Our second initiative is to produce colored cases. There are five tasks here.
Next, we add bars to show how long we plan each task to take. For example, we expect to take all four weeks in December to select and onboard the case vendor.
After we’ve added bars for the tasks, we add arrows to show which ones depend on earlier tasks and can’t begin until the previous one is completed. In our example, every task is dependent on supplier selection.
Finally, include a “current progress” bar so stakeholders can check development status at a glance. In our example, we’ve selected our supplier, and we’re beginning to design and produce the first batch of colored cases, which are due to be launched in Week 3 of January.
When the first product prototype is ready and has been vetted internally, it’s time to launch the product.
However, the product planning process doesn’t end at the product launch. Your focus will simply shift from project management to ongoing feature development and customer support.
By approaching product planning as an ongoing process, you’ll ensure your product’s evolution stays closely linked to customer needs and your business goals during its lifetime.
Step 7: Plan for sunsetting
The final step in product development is determining when the product is no longer viable and should be discontinued. Sunsetting the product at the appropriate time frees up company resources you can redeploy to create or develop new, higher-value products.
Determining your product’s estimated lifespan during the planning stage enables your business to forecast revenue and internal resources and make informed investment and marketing decisions.
The Porter’s Five Forces template is a simple and effective way to check your product’s health. Use this template to assess five forces that can impact your product’s viability:
- Supplier Power: number and size of suppliers, cost and difficulty of switching suppliers
- Threat of New Entry: how easy it may be for a new entrant to develop a competing product
- Buyer Power: customer satisfaction, size of the customer base, price sensitivity, differences between competing products
- Threat of Substitution: ease of customers switching products, costs of switching products
- Competitive Rivalry: current competitors, what sets them apart, how their products compare to yours
Do market research and brainstorm with your team on the different forces. Write your ideas and insights on sticky notes and drag them to the appropriate box.
Once you’ve identified all the forces, use the Voting feature to hold a vote on each possible scenario. Mark which scenarios got the most and least votes by adding a note or changing the color of their sticky notes. Take the scenarios with the most votes and analyze how they impact your product’s viability.
Master your product planning process with Whiteboards
An effective product planning process is crucial to the success of your product. By following these steps, you’ll ensure that your product aligns with company goals, meets customers’ needs, and stands out from the competition.
Virtual whiteboards are perfect for facilitating real-time collaboration, keeping your product development on track, and making sure you meet all your deadlines.
Start using Whiteboards for free today to help your product, development, and business teams feel more connected and empowered as they work toward shared goals.