“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin. Well, that quote sums it all up doesn’t it. Planning a product into the market is what you do to ensure everything is covered from your side as far as sustaining the product in the market is concerned.
Product planning is a crucial stage in a product’s life cycle, from ideation to launch to growth and then sunset. A misconception that is generally prevalent due to the inherent meaning of the term ‘planning”, is that Product Planning is a one-time activity done at the early stage of a product’s life cycle. Very little time and thought are poured into Product Planning, and instead, stress is on getting a working product as quickly as possible. A couple of discussions on target customers, pricing structure and that is it, It is straight to execution mode from there, and more often than not the product fails to sustain in the market for long.
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First and foremost remember that Product Planning is an ongoing process and not a one-time activity for any new product or service. It is an ongoing process of identifying and effectively communicating the market requirements and consumer needs to develop a robust product feature set. Product planning is also the foundation on which crucial decisions of pricing, promotion, and distribution are based on. It is not only planning the initial phases of the product, up until launch, but it also entails managing the product through its life based on market conditions. In some cases, there is an exit strategy, too, in case the product fails to make its mark.
Product planning also includes strategic changes that must be made to the product or service depending on how good the market is and how well the product is selling or even how the competition is positioning its own products in the market. Depending on what product the competition is planning on or has already introduced in the market, you might have to make changes to the way your product is presented. You might have to add improvements, delete unprofitable or marginal products from your portfolio or cut down on features no longer deemed profitable to sustain in the market.
Product planning involves all teams concerned with the product, from design and development teams to marketing and distribution teams to customer satisfaction champions.
An important benefit of Product Planning is that it brings out possible risks and threats in the product life cycle well. A well-rounded product planning should be able to reap benefits as listed below.
Product Planning lays the foundation for better consumer-oriented products. Products with better planning start out with what a consumer or end-user wants and not what a design or development team wants. With a focus on the consumer, the product ends up packing in features that are better suited to customer needs, priced adequately, of reasonable quality and meeting delivery timelines. When those customer-centric basic requirements are met, you lay the foundation for customer delight with additional features and offers. When any one of the core features fail, the product loses trust and loyalty.
A good product plan bakes in demand well enough to ensure inventory levels are not overflowing or understocked and maintained at optimum levels almost throughout.
Product planning can also result in strategies that are focused on the efficient use of raw materials or input resources.
Product Planning encompasses all aspects of a product from ideation to exit strategy. Some of the key planning phases that a product goes through are enlisted below.
From the ideation phase to how a product should start building up around the original idea, is the objective of this phase. It is a detailed description of the idea, describing it from a customer perspective. This could be for an entirely new product or could be for an existing product. This phase is crucial and can be the deciding factor between successful ones and the not so successful ones. A product concept also helps in anticipating problems in design or manufacturing or development.
This phase helps you determine if your product is saleable in the market you intend to do business in, after ensuring that your idea or concept is a solution for problems in the real world. Here is where you do a detailed study of your competition, getting familiar with their products and figuring out any gaps in their products that your product can plug and eventually take over the market. This usually involves surveys and interviews with customers who are willing to share their experiences. Secondary Research also throws up a lot of data, including the product-wise market share of competitors.
Turning from concept to a Minimum Viable Product, helps you to test and get feedback. You might have to get back to the previous phases in case the feedback is not favorable. Product design and development teams are involved in creating an MVP. It is a phase where you get to assess if your product will be able to fill in the gaps in the marketplace.
After a successful MVP and any course correction required after feedback, products should start flowing to the market. At this stage, marketing takes over from product planning.
A product once stable in the market acquires maturity and the product life cycle management part of product planning kicks in. An ongoing study of the products sales, competition, features that are not in your product but are offered on competitor products, pricing deliberations, all take place through the life of the product. A time-bound strategy should be put in place to review such market conditions apart from sales and get a buy-in from design and development teams to innovate further or create an entirely new line of product, sunsetting any non-performing ones.
Best practices in Product Management can be adapted to Product Planning.
To be able to come up with an Agile product planning strategy, you need to have the below.
Vision: Everybody involved in the product planning from idea to concept to design and development should have a general vision, a common goal that all can work towards and is really not about a particular product.
Product Strategy: A clear strategy that outlines what the product is, what solution it offers and the problem it solves and who are the beneficiaries of the solution. The detail on how it will be a viable and preferred solution might be a good idea to add.
Product Tactics: Sprints designed to meet the individual objectives outline by-product strategy, design, prototyping, constant feedback, and repeat is a quick way to get a viable product out to the market.
There is a multitude of ways that customers speak about the products that they use, more often to vent out against a product that has not met their expectations. If your product is in the public domain, your product is subject to reviews on the internet. This can be a great way to read into what your customers were looking for and where your product is failing. Customers usually take the support route before they vent out on social media. So if the support group has failed in any way, social media is a safety net for the customers.
There is much-advanced analytics software available on the market that sums up the sentiment on the internet about your product and gives you the real pain areas, that you need to work on.
If your product is not in the public domain, you have to keep an open channel with your customers to understand the problems they are facing in adjusting or using your product, the gaps that are open as far as product features are concerned and more. It is vital to keep a tab on the customer sentiments.
In today’s tech-savvy world, it helps the Product Manager, and all others involved to have a tool that helps to keep track of product planning processes rather than use the traditional method of using productivity tools like spreadsheets and presentations.
Product Planning is like the 16 yrs of education that you undergo for life ahead. If the education has been holistic, well planned, then in all probability, you have a successful product. You!
Interested to learn all about Product Management from the best minds in the industry? Check out our Product Management Course. This 6-month-long program takes place online through live instructor-led sessions. It is the only program in India that offers the ‘Bring Your Own Product (BYOP)’ feature so that learners can build their product idea into a full-blown product, and go through an entire Product Development lifecycle.
Not only this, but this is the only program in India with a curriculum that conforms to the 5i Framework. Post completion, learners receive a joint certification from the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, and Jigsaw Academy.