How to develop a software product: step-by-step guide

13 min read
February 1, 2024

$1.6 trillion – that’s the size of the overall software product market in 2024.

And it’s expected to grow to a staggering $2.5 trillion by 2028.

So, getting in on the action and developing a software product should be a no-brainer.

But, you need to do it right if you want it to be successful.

That’s why we’ve written this step-by-step guide to help you build a great software product.

Let’s dive in!

What is software product development?

Software product development is the process of building software that’s intended to be sold and marketed to customers.

It includes all activities usually done when developing software, from requirements gathering to deployment and maintenance.

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But, it’s not the same thing as software development.

Software product development also includes non-technical activities like:

  • Market research
  • Product strategy and planning
  • Marketing
  • Customer support

So, it’s not just developing software, but about building a product that can succeed in the market.

Now, let’s discuss every step of the software product development process in detail.

How to develop a software product

Validate your idea first

Developing a successful software product is more than just building working software – your product also needs to meet your users’ needs.

That’s why you need to validate your idea first.

It’s a critical step in your product’s development and will maximize its chances of success.

And that’s not just idle talk.

According to a CB Insights report, having no market need is one of the top reasons why startups fail:

Reasons why startups fail

So, how do you validate your software product idea?

The answer is simple – you should do product discovery.

Discovery is the best way to quickly validate your idea and set the foundation for a successful software product.

It includes activities like:

It’s the best way to get a product-market fit and correctly position your product on the market.

On top of that, you’ll connect with your users and find out their needs and pain points.

And that will help you build a successful product.

Key tips

  • Analyze your competitioncompetitive analysis is crucial if you want to position your product correctly and find gaps in the market
  • Talk to your users – you need to get feedback on your product idea from potential users to see if it’s worth pursuing further
  • Be prepared to pivot – you need to be able to pivot to another idea if your initial idea isn’t validated

Create a software requirements specification

Would you start building your house without a blueprint?

Of course you wouldn’t.

And you shouldn’t build a software product without a software requirements specification (SRS) document, either.

The SRS acts exactly like a blueprint – it will guide your software product’s development from start to finish.

So, what does an SRS look like? And what should it cover?

Here’s what a typical table of contents for an SRS looks like:

SRS document table of contents

Of course, every software product’s SRS is unique, and yours might look slightly different.

But, every SRS should cover 2 essential elements – functional and non-functional requirements.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

Functional requirements cover what your app does and non-functional requirements cover how it does it.

Here’s a more detailed explanation:

Functional vs non-functional requirements

In short, your product’s functional requirements cover everything it should do when users interact with it i.e. all of its features and functionalities.

And non-functional requirements cover how it does those things and they’re more focused on performance and security metrics.

But, why is this such an important step in the software product development process?

There’s a very simple reason – a detailed SRS will align your whole team, help you create a clear development timeline, and avoid scope creep.

And that’s the recipe for successful software product development.

Key tips

  • Be clear and concise – you should use simple, easy to understand language in your SRS document to avoid confusion down the line
  • Use visual aids – add diagrams and flowcharts to make your SRS easier to understand and more engaging
  • Regularly review your SRS – make sure you regularly review and update your SRS so it remains relevant throughout your product’s life cycle

Choose the right tech stack 

Choosing the right tech stack is one of the most important steps in the software product development process.

Your choice doesn’t just impact your product’s development but also its future growth and adaptability.

But, what exactly is a tech stack? And how do you make the right choice?

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A tech stack refers to the set of technologies used to develop your software product.

To put it another way, your tech stack is the toolkit your engineering team will use to build your product – and you should want them to have the best tools.

Here’s what a typical web app tech stack looks like:

Web app tech stack

The most important thing that will impact your choice is your product’s platform/operating system (OS).

You’ll have a much different tech stacks if your product is:

  • A mobile app
  • A web app
  • A desktop app

But, other factors will also influence your choice, like:

  • Your requirements
  • The project scope
  • Your team’s expertise

Obviously, your product’s requirements are the most important factor.

But, don’t underestimate the importance of your team’s expertise.

You should always pick tools and technologies they’re familiar with – they’ll be able to build your product faster.

And that’s exactly what you should be looking for.

Key tips

  • Use the SRS as a guide – make sure the tech stack you choose can support building the requirements you’ve set in your SRS
  • Focus on compatibility – all the various elements of your tech stack should be compatible and work well together
  • Use open-source tools and frameworks – using open-source tools and frameworks will help you cut down on development costs

Design and prototype your product

Your software product’s design is one of its most important elements.

And it can be the difference between a failed and a successful product.

A great design will make your product more usable and improve its user experience (UX).

And investing in UX design is definitely worth your while because for every $1 you invest, you get $100 in return.

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That’s a staggering ROI of 9,900% – investing in UX design should be a no-brainer.

But, what should your design process look like, exactly?

Usually, it’s done in 5 stages:

User research is the first and most important step in the design process – your findings will guide the rest of your design process.

Once you’ve researched your users’ needs and pain points, your next step is wireframing your product.

A wireframe is an initial sketch of your product’s UI, and it can even be a rough, hand-drawn sketch:

Low-fidelity wireframe

Wireframing will allow you to quickly test concepts and ideas without much investment.

Once you have your wireframes ready, you should make a mockup.

A mockup is a static representation of what your product’s final design will look like.

Next, once you’ve gotten feedback on your mockup, you should build a prototype.

Here’s what a high-fidelity prototype looks like:

High-fidelity prototype

A prototype is an interactive design validation tool you can use to test your product’s usability – you’re going to need one for the final step, usability testing.

Usability testing is where your users test out your product’s design and UX and will help you catch any design flaws that might have slipped through the cracks.

Once you’ve done usability testing, your product’s design is finished and you can move on to development.

Key tips

  • Map the user journey – a user journey map will help you identify and solve pain points users might have when using your product
  • Start with low-fidelity wireframes – start by drawing low-fidelity wireframes to quickly test out ideas and concepts 
  • Make sure your design is consistent – use style guides and design systems to ensure consistency throughout your product

Develop your software product

This step is where the magic happens, and your software product comes to life.

Your engineering team will take your product’s requirements and design and turn them into a working software product.

Obviously, you need to nail this step if you want a successful product.

So, how can you do that?

The first step is choosing the right development methodology like Scrum or Kanban – Scrum is the more popular methodology with 81% of Agile teams using Scrum or a hybrid variant.

Scrum sprints

In Scrum, your development cycle is divided into smaller (2-4 week-long) iterations called sprints – think of each sprint as a mini development cycle.

This will help your team work and iterate more quickly and efficiently.

Once you have them on board with your preferred methodology, you need to make sure they follow coding best practices like:

  • Writing clean, maintainable code
  • Having frequent code reviews
  • Using version control
  • Building a CI/CD pipeline
  • Writing detailed code documentation

These best practices will help your team work more efficiently and write better code.

They also lower the risk of major bugs and issues derailing your product.

And that’s exactly what you should be looking for.

Key tips

  • Write readable and maintainable code – your product’s code should be easy to read and understand, which will make it easier to update it in the future
  • Regularly refactor your code – regular refactoring will keep your codebase clean and efficient while also improving your product’s performance
  • Use AI coding assistants – your team should use AI coding assistants to increase productivity and get your product to market faster

Thoroughly test your product

Nobody wants to get derailed by bugs.

That’s why thorough testing before you launch your software product is an absolute must.

It can save you a lot of money, too – slow-loading websites cost their owners $2.6 billion in lost revenue every year.

And that’s just lost revenue from a slow-loading website – now imagine the damage a critical bug can do.

That’s exactly why you need to have rigorous quality assurance (QA) and testing protocols in place – you’ll get a lot of benefits from having them, like:

Benefits of software testing

So, how can you thoroughly test your product?

Your QA team should use a number of different testing methods like:

  • Unit testing
  • Performance testing
  • Integration testing
  • Regression testing

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are dozens of other testing metrics they can track.

Also, it’s a good idea to create a testing strategy before you start testing your product – it should list, in detail, what needs to be tested and how.

A well-made, detailed testing strategy will help your QA team work more efficiently and improve the quality of their work.

And your product will improve, too.

Key tips

  • Start testing early – if you start testing your product early on in the development cycle, you’ll catch bugs and issues before turn into costly fixes
  • Automate testing wherever you can – your QA team should use tools like Selenium to automate testing and save time
  • Test on different platforms and devices – make sure your product works well on all platforms and devices

Launch and iterate on your product

The launch is the make-or-break moment for your product.

If it goes poorly, it can ruin its chances of success – that’s why you need to carefully plan your launch.

So, how can you do that?

What you need is a detailed launch plan.

And here’s an overview of the steps you need to take to create one:

Steps to create a launch plan

Having an in-depth launch plan will help your team properly prepare for the launch and reduce the risk of major issues cropping up.

But, the launch is just the start – you also need to be prepared to iterate on your product.

And the best way to do that is by doing continuous product discovery.

Teresa Torres, author of Discovery Habits, defined it like this:

“At a minimum, weekly touchpoints with customers by the team building the product, where they’re conducting small research activities in pursuit of a desired product outcome.”

With continuous discovery, you’ll be able to easily keep up with your users’ evolving needs and market trends.

You’ll also be able to plan new features and updates with the knowledge that they are exactly what your users want.

Key tips

  • Have a detailed launch plan – having a detailed launch plan will help your product’s launch go off without a hitch and minimize the chances of major problems on launch day
  • Keep an eye on market trends – make sure you keep up with emerging trends in your industry so your software product remains competitive
  • Create a feedback loop – having a feedback loop in place will help you better understand your users and improve your product based on their needs

How to develop a software product: FAQs

What is software product development?

Software product development is the process of building software that’s intended to be sold and marketed to customers.

How do I develop a software product?

The steps to develop a software product are:

  • Validate your idea first
  • Create a software requirements specification
  • Choose the right tech stack
  • Design and prototype your product
  • Develop your software product
  • Thoroughly test your product
  • Launch your product
  • Maintain and iterate on your product

How do I choose the right tech stack to build my product?

To pick the right tech stack you need to take into account:

  • Your product’s platform/operating system
  • Your requirements
  • The project scope
  • Your team’s expertise

Need help building your software product?

Do you have a great idea but don’t know how to turn it into reality?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

We can help you build your product from the ground up, from discovery to launch.

If you want to learn more, check out how we work and feel free to get in touch with us.

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Written by

Ante Baus

CDO

Ante is a true expert. Another graduate from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s been a DECODEr from the very beginning. Ante is an experienced software engineer with an admirably wide knowledge of tech. But his superpower lies in iOS development, having gained valuable experience on projects in the fintech and telco industries. Ante is a man of many hobbies, but his top three are fishing, hunting, and again, fishing. He is also the state champ in curling, and represents Croatia on the national team. Impressive, right?

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