Product development: tasks, models & phases of product development

Product development definition

In addition to engineering or scientific expertise, product development primarily requires all-rounder qualities. In principle, it is about developing or further developing products and accompanying this process from the idea to the market launch. This includes the creative process as well as the conception and technical implementation. In addition to the technical requirements, the following aspects must also be considered: the market situation, including the economic and ecological framework conditions of product creation, production and the utilization phase, which ultimately ends with disposal.

It is possible to develop completely new products or to optimize existing products. In most cases, the aim is to make them lighter, more efficient, easier to use, more manageable, cheaper or faster. In the course of this process, new functions are often integrated. In this respect, a product does not necessarily have to be something haptic. Digital products are of course also conceivable. If a new product or optimized version of a product has a high degree of novelty, it is considered an innovation.

Common tasks in product development

The tasks that arise in the development and research department are varied. Project-related tasks include the following:

  • Examination of the need
  • Determination of functions
  • Search for solutions or development of ideas
  • Selection and evaluation of solution concepts
  • Product design by means of software
  • Documentation of the product development process
  • Production of prototypes
  • Execution of test series to verify the requirements

In addition, the people involved must also keep an eye on quality and cost management, as well as tasks that are independent of the project, such as basic innovation, knowledge or technology management.

Depending on the size of the operation and the complexity of a product, different spectrums should be covered. These can be all the more detailed and specialized with the appropriate personnel capacities. For example, a large car manufacturer planning to launch a new car model will need many specialists. So in addition to the development engineers, there will also be electrical, mechanical, mechatronic or process engineers. But IT and software specialists, product designers and physicists are also conceivable.

The product development process

Depending on the model, the development of a new product goes through certain phases. During each phase, it is necessary to check whether the necessary fundamentals of economics, mechanics, physics and marketing are compatible with the theoretical product idea.

Although each industry has a different approach to the product development process, the prevailing view is that demand, as the key factor, determines whether the introduction and development of a product is worthwhile. Thus, the end consumer is the driving force behind a company's decision to satisfy the need for something new. A successful product usually goes through the following phases:

  • Planning, development, 
  • Introduction to the market and evaluation
  • change and optimization
  • eventual discontinuation of production

Product development Example: Powerbanks as beneficiaries of the smartphone

Apple releases a new iPhone every year and advertises it with better camera resolution, faster processors and new features. Often, in the course of such innovations, market niches emerge that want to be filled in an economically efficient way. A few years ago, for example, the problem of batteries discharging (too) quickly arose due to increased smartphone use. This market niche was filled by powerbanks that enable mobile phone charging.

Models of product development

The product development phases according to Pahl/Beitz

Due to its simplicity, the Pahl/Beitz model is often used, primarily in smaller companies. It is limited to the design aspects of product development (function, structure, form) and is characterized by the following four phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Conception
  3. Design
  4. Execution

In the planning phase, information is obtained and the task is defined, making the creation of a specification sheet inevitable. In the second phase, the concept phase, the solution is defined. After having sufficiently elaborated and evaluated different solution variants in the previous phase, one decides on individual solution variants for the implementation of the respective requirements and partial functions of the product. 

The design phase serves to fully elaborate the building structure according to economic and technical aspects, whereas the execution phase serves to elaborate design specifications for product manufacturing.

The Cooper Stage-Gate Model

The stage-gate model is characterized by milestones, so-called gates. At each of these gates, an interdisciplinary team decides on the progress of the project. Furthermore, product-specific, cross-functional activities are added to the respective stages in addition to design tasks. Sections can also overlap or be omitted altogether, giving the model more flexibility compared to other variants of product development and placing the focus on interdisciplinary work.

From a product management perspective, the stage-gate model has many advantages. For example, the interdisciplinary way of working enables rapid changes to be made to product requirements, for example in the event of changes to market data. Furthermore, it has a high level of detail for the individual tasks, which visibly simplifies controlling. At the same time, this is one of the points of criticism, because the high level of detail tends to increase bureaucratic effort.

The V-Modell 

Today, the V-Modell and its successors are often used in the field of software development. With the V-model one contrasts the specification and associated test phases. In contrast to the stage-gate model or the steps according to Pahl/Beitz, it only defines activities, results and the test procedures involved. The model does not clearly define how the individual phases are arranged in terms of time. In addition, customer requirements are only checked towards the end, which means that errors may remain undetected throughout the entire process. The goal of this model is to improve the quality of the development, which is achieved through the multiple test cases. A distinction is also made between the requirements definition phase and the system design phase.

The waterfall model

The waterfall model is a predecessor of the V-model. Its main application is also in software development and is characterized by a high degree of planning reliability. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of flexibility. The waterfall model has similarities to the Pahl/Beitz model in that it is not iterative and requires a high level of planning effort at the beginning of the project.

Product development steps

As mentioned, products go through a certain cycle (product life cycle) during their lifetime, which covers different phases - starting with the development of the product up to its withdrawal from the program. Knowing these cycles comprehensively is of great importance for a company, because they form the basis for various strategies, with the help of which new and significantly better products can be developed or marketed.

In our encyclopedia article on product lifecycle management (PLM), we also discuss the product lifecycle, among other things. 

Basically, four phases of product development are assumed:

  1. Product development: identifying and evaluating market potential, developing the idea, testing the product concept, designing and manufacturing;
  2. Market launch: create a marketing and sales plan, logistics and manufacturing, employee qualification, product launch;
  3. Product support: organize product monitoring, conduct product controlling, plan and execute product improvements, product relaunch;
  4. Product elimination: plan successor product in time, adjust sales and marketing communication, withdraw product from market;

However, there is the possibility to break down these steps in even more detail, whereby some models resort to 5, 6 or 7 phases of product development. We will go into this in more detail below.

5, 6 or 7 phases of product development


Whether it's virtual product development or technical product development, planning is a key aspect of the preparation process. It includes both business analysis and market research. At this initial stage, it is useful to think through the product concept and other details in a meaningful way.

Requirements analysis

Once the concept is in place, further requirements for the product can be defined in close cooperation with business analysts. All desired functions must be listed and described. Depending on how clear, unclear, stable or unstable the requirements are, different process models are used. Some models require a precise definition of the requirements, which must not be changed afterwards. Other models trust in more flexibility and permit the change of requirements. Also the addition of new requirements during the development process is possible with some models.


In this phase it concerns to define the architecture, interfaces, programming languages, software and hardware platforms and further characteristics of the product in the context of the requirements.


After each step of the design phase has been completed, the implementation phase begins. Here, the task is to implement the predefined requirements at the technical level. Depending on the process model, the result of this phase is either the final product or only a part of it.

Quality assurance

The quality assurance phase must always be in line with the preceding implementation phase. The tests ensure that the predefined requirements for the individual components and for the product as a whole are met. When and how often the tests take place depends on the product model.

Delivery and maintenance

In this phase, the completed product - digital or not - can be released for use, either by installing the software on specific devices or by producing the product in its physical form.

Delivery marks the beginning of what is arguably the longest phase in the product lifecycle: maintenance and support. This phase is about fixing any bugs that have not yet been found, making improvements, and offering any support possible.

Digital product development

Digital product development focuses on the development of digital products. This includes websites, online stores or apps. In fact, designing digital products is more popular than ever. At the same time, competitive pressure is increasing. Results must be available even faster, for example in the form of prototypes. To meet these challenges, development teams rely on agile, modern project management methods as well as integrated product development. Unlike other practices, it looks at the entire product lifecycle, which means that the interaction between process and product comes into focus all the more.

In the best case, a product developer has internalized a holistic mindset that not only fixates him or her on the product at hand, but also considers processes required to create, maintain, and eliminate it. The goal is to create an optimal product with equally optimal production, use and disposal.

Sustainable product development

Because sustainability is one of the greatest challenges of the current era, ecological strategies are increasingly being integrated into the development process. At the core is an intelligent use of available resources to achieve the greatest possible benefit for all parties involved. It is important not to burden the environment unnecessarily and to ensure fair social conditions, which brings the following criteria to the fore:

  • long life cycles
  • economical use of resources that is appropriate to the materials used
  • low-pollutant materials
  • environmentally friendly logistics
  • low energy consumption in the manufacturing process
  • little or no waste
  • repair and recycling options
  • easy disposal

FAQ on product development

What are the tasks of product development?

Product development involves a wide range of tasks. First of all, the demand on the market has to be examined in order to determine possible solutions and functions. Finally, the product design and the production of a prototype take place. Quality and cost management must also not be lost sight of here.

What is model-based virtual product development?

Model-based virtual product development aims to be innovative and interdisciplinary, taking into account both discipline-specific and cross-discipline design methods. It puts conventional construction and design methods to the test and proves to be an integrative method for building a bridge between the individual engineering disciplines.

How does a product development process work?

A possible product development process example consists of six phases: Market and trend analysis, idea generation, idea evaluation, concept development, implementation, market launch. Depending on the product and the company, these are steps that can be varied as needed.

What are the goals of sustainable product development?

The goal of sustainable product development is to avoid unnecessarily burdening the environment and to support fair social conditions. Relevant in this respect are long life cycles of the product and environmentally friendly manufacturing and logistics.

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