It can be challenging to gauge a standard product development timeline because of the diversity of products out there. It’s a bit like asking, “how long is a piece of string?” The answer is “as long as it needs to be.” Even though every product is different, there are some similar stages every single item will follow. Understanding those stages will help creators better estimate how long it will take to bring their product to market.
It’s essential to keep in mind that it’s rarely a linear process. Creators may find themselves revising the design and prototyping stage several times—and that’s fine. By using these stages as a guide, creators can structure their work and ensure their budget will support their long-term efforts.
The Five Stages in the Product Development Timeline
There are many takes on the product development timeline, with many different companies creating their own ideas for the ideal stages. For the most part, these stages involve five primary steps.
This stage is where a concept is fleshed out and evaluated for efficacy. Many ideas never make it out of this stage because, after a careful review, the creators determine there is a fatal flaw in their concept that makes it infeasible to complete. Creators will have to consider:
- The problem the product solves
- What the target market will think of the solution
- If the idea is novel and adds something to the process
This stage may include some early patent searches to ensure the concept is new, as well as completing surveys of the target market to see how they’d feel about a unique solution. At the ideation stage, the concept itself must be evaluated for market feasibility. If the target market doesn’t feel they need a new solution or if one already exists, completing this stage will ensure little time and funding goes to waste.
This process can last anywhere from hours to months, depending on the due diligence needed. A basic novelty product, for example, may only take a few hours to evaluate. Creating a complex medical product could take months of patent searches and focus groups.
#2: Design and prototype
At this stage, the creator has a concept in mind, and they believe it has genuine value in the market. However, they may not know if it’s a technically viable option. This stage is where design and prototyping can help iron out these technical details. Options like computer-aided design and 3D printing allow the creator to see a real, working prototype of their concept.
Prototyping is an ever-evolving process that typically takes from one to six weeks. More involved product prototyping, like in the case of sophisticated electronics, could go on for years. It’s not unusual for prototypes to be created and recreated several times to establish the best possible initial concept for testing.
#3: Beta market testing and redesign
At this stage, the creator may release the product for testing to a small group of individuals in their target market. They’ll hold focus groups and complete surveys to evaluate its efficacy and ease of use. The length of beta testing will depend on the regulations involved. In some cases, a beta test takes a matter of days. In others, those tests can go on for years.
Any issues discovered when testing the product will have to be resolved, which usually involves returning to the prototyping stage. Prototyping and beta testing is a cycle that can happen several times in complex products. As such, the timeline is one that’s continually moving depending on the results.
#4: Production planning
If someone is following a design for manufacturing (DFM) approach, then this isn’t a stage so much as it’s something that happens throughout the product development cycle. That’s because they’re considering details like the tooling and supplies needed to reach the market as they design.
DFM strategies help to expedite product development and ensure that the product is affordable to manufacture on a mass-market basis. Leaving it as a single step after the development of the prototype can result in unexpected expenses for tooling and machinery creation, which is why it’s best considered in the beginning.
Marketing for the product may occur throughout the product design process, except in cases where regulations prevent it—like in the development of a Class III medical device. A small initial manufacturing run tests the waters and gauges demand for the new product before mass-market production occurs.
Tips for Accelerating the Product Development Process
Rapid prototyping and rapid tooling are options for creators who want to expedite the process of product development. In this, the developer can create a scale model of parts and products using technology like 3D printers. They may simultaneously create the tooling needed for the product, which further speeds the process.
The typical product development timeline can take anywhere from a few weeks to nine months for standard products, while complex electronics and medical devices will take longer. Working with an experienced developer who takes a design for manufacturing approach offers the opportunity to accelerate the creation of the product without sacrificing quality. They will understand when its best to use rapid prototyping and tooling to get a product to market faster.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.