The ins and outs of the product development process for SaaS products


There comes a point in the life of a product leader where you will get asked to define “What is our full Product Process”. In generic terms that can be simple because there are no details specific to your company and product. You can put on the professional PM hat and recite “We conduct market research, define product requirements, then create a product roadmap so that we can work with the teams to design, build, and release it for customers”.

A good definition like that is great to have in your back pocket. It provides the driving force in your every day work and really helped me when getting into the product management role. When I was first asked to create a high level, but detailed, Product Process I had helped define features, created roadmaps, written the code, and put on every hat possible to grow multiple products in their first few years of startup growth. However, I was no longer at a startup and had moved to new company where I did not know the exact details of how every team handled each part of every process. So I started asking questions.

What does a documented Product Process look like?

I like to see completed examples of things. When I built a deck for the first time I could easily look at hundreds of detailed pictures, how-to videos, and examples of how not-to-do it with some quick and easy online research. Looking up the “Product Process” provided lots of generic results and a lot of surface level non-examples. Although frustrating I did get a sense of just how varied the deliverable could be.

I had some initial answers on what I was looking to create but I wanted a core idea to focus on. One explanation of a Product Development Process ended with the goal of bringing a product to market. This struck a chord with me and kept me moving forward.

What does it mean to bring a product to market?

Bringing a product to market typically refers to the of product development all the way to getting it in front of customers. It can also include the work after that point when you are working with software. So you could add in the cycles to maintain and improve the product, such as releasing updates and responding to customer feedback. This line of thinking is what I used to hone in on the unique product process of my team. What do we really need to bring the product to market and what other questions does that kick off.

  • Where do ideas start?
  • Where do they go next and get figured out?
  • How do those ideas get tested with the customers who will use them?
  • When does the idea get in front of paying customers to test or use?
  • How do we make updates after release to keep improving?

If we can answer these questions we get a beginning, middle, and end to the process in place right now. By starting with questions you can make the resulting answers more unique to your product and teams. Start reaching out to all of your stakeholders in marketing, customer support, engineering, and anyone who has some time to talk. Use those customer interview skills and document the way everyone does or does not understand the process in place now.

Focusing on the SaaS

Product management for a SaaS (software as a service) product typically involves many of the same steps and activities as for any other product. This includes conducting market research, defining the product requirements, developing a product roadmap, working with cross-functional teams, and launching the product to potential customers. However, there are some key differences when it comes to SaaS products.

One key difference is that SaaS products are typically delivered online, which means that we always need to focus on ensuring that the product is easy to use and access for customers. This means designing user-friendly interfaces and experiences as well as the challenges of ensuring that the product is compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems.

Another key difference is that SaaS products are typically subscription-based, which means that we need to focus on ensuring that customers continue to use and find value in the product over time. This can involve regularly releasing updates and new features, as well as offering support and other services to help customers get the most out of the product.

Overall, the product management process for a SaaS product involves many of the same steps as for any other product, but with a focus on meeting the unique needs and challenges of delivering software as a service.

Get Writing, take a shortcut

A document for an always evolving process is tough to start. This is where a template really shines to start filling things in from all your research and experience. There is no perfect answer here but you can build up a template on your own or get started from this template. The goals is to outline the base steps of the process with small steps then fill out and replace those with the corresponding process. Your audience is your company and the details can be specific but still readable for anyone outside a specific team.

I. Product Goals, Objectives, KPIs

Outline the assumptions that everyone has about the product and the data to back it up or refute it. This is where you start and set the foundation but may not always be in the actual “steps”.

  • Target market and customers
  • Product features and functionality
  • Marketing and Sales Strategies
  • Key Performance Indicators, stickiness points

II. Market Research

Define the ways you conduct and collect market research, customer feature requests, and customer feedback.

  • Research customer needs and preferences
  • Analyze competitors and industry trends
  • Collect and Track customer feature requests
  • NPS surveys, bug reports, reporting and monitoring

III. Product concept and design

How do you take an idea from the previous step make steps forward. This is where you define your process and need to paint the most clear picture possible.

  • Product concepts, prototypes, wireframing
  • Design and Define the UI/UX
  • Customer Testing and Refinement
  • Define and track KPIs

IV. Plan and execute product development

Document how it gets made and what is unique relative to your product. What influences the roadmap, when is it updated, and why.

  • Roadmap updates, timelines, release cycles
  • Development team and resource allocation
  • Development and testing process
  • Alpha/Beta/Release Process

V. Launch and market the product

When does marketing and sales become part of the plan and how much are they part of the process. This will build/overlap with the previous step if you have Beta testing with your SaaS.

  • Marketing and sales strategies
  • Plan and execute product launch activities
  • Monitor market response and customer feedback
  • Soft launch, Full launch

VI. Manage and improve the product

  • Monitor product performance and customer satisfaction
  • Identify and address any issues or problems
  • Continuous improvement strategy

Write a short story

All of the work to create potentially pages of details ends up still needing to be condensed down to a succinct explanation. My favorite way to figure this one out is to try and explain it to my kids. I also want to be able to answer the most common questions in my saas-experience:

  1. How do we decide which features to add?
  2. Why aren’t we adding this other feature?

The product process becomes a framework for everyone to understand those very tough questions. As a company we’ve aligned on this process and what is being released is based on this documented process. We did not work on that other feature because of this data/company goal as part of the process.

When you have a growing team getting these kinds of processes written down is a win for everyone. It takes some extra time but it pays for itself time and time again.