This is a big ol’ list of terms related to Product Development.

Other glossaries exist, but this one is funnier, contains links, is easily navigated via the table of contents, and terms are listed in the general order of the actual product development process.

Is this the greatest product development glossary in the world? Maybe. Probably not. But Maybe.

It’s also a work in progress. Don’t freak out if you see dead links, undefined terms, etc. If someone knows how to basically mirror a google doc onto a website, please hit me up (I’ve tried a number of plugins – none have been good enough).


Product Development —- Term encompassing all activities done in support of creating a product, from identifying the market opportunity to launching the product into the market;  

“The aim of any product or process development project is to take an idea from concept to reality by converging to a specific project that can meet a market need in an economical, manufacturable form.” – Revolutionizing Product Development;

“New products and processes come to the market through a process that first transforms ideas and concepts into working prototypes through detailed design and engineering, then tests and refines them, and finally prepares the product design and factories for commercial operation.” – Revolutionizing Product Development

Best Books

Product Development is a very broad subject encompassing many disciplines (marketing, strategy, design thinking, product management, etc.). Listing the “best books” for each of those disciplines would make for a very long list, so instead of doing that, here’s a much shorter list of “high-level” books which effectively cover the entire subject of product development.

Product Design and Development – Karl Ulrich. This textbook covers most of the key concepts and is pretty readable for an academic book.

The Product Manager’s Desk Reference – Steven Haines. I think this is perhaps the first book you should buy if you want a comprehensive reference for all things related to product development.

Revolutionizing Product Development – Steven C. Wheelwright and Kim B. Clark. Full overview of the development process, as well as team structures, management insights, and how to build development capability.

Winning at New Products – Robert Cooper. Not a textbook, but fairly dense; I like to reference it and read in snippets; endorses the “stage-gate” method of development, which some see as a flawed approach.

Product Development Methodologies

Waterfall — A product development methodology that is mostly non-iterative (simply goes from start to finish) in which steps flow (like a waterfall!) from identifying a product’s requirements, designing it, building it, verifying it, and maintaining it; this method is mainly used on projects where making changes later in the development process is prohibitively expensive; contrast this with an agile development method, which is much more iterative and flexible in making changes later in the process.

Stage-Gate — A product development methodology that entails having a series of stages (or phases) separated by gates — a gate being a managerial approval process which confirms that required work has been sufficiently completed such that the team can progress to the next stage; created by Robert Cooper, who has written many books on the subject; most Stage-Gate processes are Waterfall; also called tollgate or phase-gate.

Agile — A methodology that is primarily defined by the values it emphasizes: being adaptive, responsive, iterative, incremental, cross-functional, continually improving, flexible. Agile development is less a process that is moved through until a product is launched and more of an ongoing process of improving and designing a product.

Lean — This term is abused in the product world, but to focus on purely lean product development, this methodology has many parallels with lean manufacturing: reduce queues and work-in-process, optimize how quickly value is added to work, reduce cycle time and cycle cost; lean product development seeks to improve efficiency by doing things concurrently, by empowering teams of experts, by focusing on process and reducing waste.

The Product Development Team

Strategy – The team with strategic decision-making authority. Strategy is about making specific choices to win in the marketplace.

Marketing – Primary function is to understand the market and customers. Manage the “4 P’s” of Marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement (distribution). Often tasked with identifying product opportunities. Responsible for identifying target consumer segments. Often oversee product launch. (Best textbook: Marketing Management; Marketing 101 content here:

Research and Development – In a product company, typically the team tasked with identifying new technology, performance, or value and applying these to products.

Engineering – The technical team; see also “the nerds.”

Manufacturing – Responsible for guiding product design so as to be manufacturing friendly (Design for Manufacturing), developing processes and capabilities, and managing the production system.

CAD – Computer-Aided Design Software. CAD team or CAD specialist is someone who uses the software.

Industrial Design – Discipline focusing on product aesthetics, ergonomics, and user experience; employ Design Thinking; sometimes catch-all for non-engineering product designers.

Product Manager – The CEO of the product. (Article: Good/Bad Product Manager.)

PMHQ has a good PM newsletter and course. Ken Norton also has a great website for all things PM.

Operations – Team responsible for logistical planning of production and product delivery (receiving, inspection, assembly, shipping).


Product —- “A self-contained unit of economic value” The Personal MBA. “The item offered for sale,” The Economic Times. Not always physical object (service, subscription, lease, etc.).

Innovation —- “Innovation is the process of creating and delivering new customer value in the marketplace.” – Innovation: The Five Disciplines.

Technology —- “The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.”

Research —- Systematic study of something (information, behavior) in order to establish facts, insights and conclusions.

Fundamental Research —- “Pure research” or “Basic Research”; Research into the first principles or underlying science; Research aimed at creating new knowledge.

Applied Research —- Research that is aimed at solving a real-world problem; much more commercially and pragmatically focused research.

Prototype —- An incomplete or unrefined preliminary version of the final product, typically created in order to test a theory.


Product – “a self-contained unit of economic value” The Personal MBA. “The item offered for sale,” The Economic Times. Not always physical object (service, subscription, lease, etc.); some say it includes the product as well as the psychological positioning of the product in the mind of the consumer.

Fundamentally New Product – A radically new product that likely uses an entirely new technology or addresses a new or unfamiliar market; among the highest-risk new product ventures.

Product Platform – A set of common elements (usually technologies or components) which are shared across a family of products.

Incremental Product – One type of product development project; involves upgrading or enhancing features, or adding features, but leaving some of the previous generation product intact; a “next generation” version.

Derivative Product – A new product which falls into an existing Product Platform; for example, a new smaller version of the Prius.

Ancillary Product – A product meant to complement another; the iPhone case.

Ecosystem – A collection of products and/or services which share some relationship to one another and often work symbiotically.

Augmented Product – Encompasses the product itself as well as any other extra value-adding sources, such as warranties, service, etc.

Commodities, Products, Services, Experiences – Framework of increasing differentiation in product offerings; products with progressively increasing economic value; commodities are interchangeable, experiences can be one-of-a-kind. (HBR article Pine and Gilmore “Welcome to the Experience Economy”; Daniel Pink Interview)


“Competitive Strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” – Michael Porter, What is Strategy HBR.

“Strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.” – Playing to Win

Best Books and Articles

  • What is Strategy -Michael Porter (HBR article)
  • WTF is Strategy – Vince Law (Medium article)
  • Competitive Strategy – Michael Porter (10lb book)
  • Playing to Win – Lafley and Martin (my notes)
  • Start With Why – Simon Sinek (might be a stretch to say it’s strategy)

My Writing on Strategy

5 Forces – A framework for analyzing competition in an industry based on 5 major factors: industry rivalry, power of suppliers, power of customers, barriers to entry or the threat of new entrants, and the threat of substitutes. (Michael Porter’s book on strategy is a grand-daddy O.G. book.) The supplier and customer elements are vertically related, while the new entrants, existing rivalries, and threat of substitutes are horizontally related.

Trade-Offs – Trade-offs are essential to strategy because you cannot be everything to everyone; defining a strategy means clearly defining the things that are not important (consumers, markets, activities); if there are no trade-offs, there is no strategy.

Marketing Strategy – The unique set of Marketing activities undertaken by a firm; the mix of 4 P’s (product placement promotion and pricing) which are determined to support the overarching company strategy.

Strategy versus Effectiveness – Effectiveness is compared to Strategy in Michael Porter’s article “What is Strategy?” Strategy is about doing a different set of activities than other companies, or doing the same activities differently. Operational effectiveness is about how well you do a particular activity; it is more related to efficiency than to strategy.

S.W.O.T – Yet another analysis framework for a company relative to its competitors, market, and industry: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

Strategic Pipeline Management – The planning and activities which align company resources – and thus ability to execute projects and deliver products – with company strategy.

P.E.S.T.L.E. – Another framework for analyzing markets and industries: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental.

Big Hairy Audacious Goal – The BHAG is a strategic business statement meant to focus the team on a medium-term goal which is deliberately audacious and bold; sort of like a vision statement; from Collins and Porras Built To Last book.

Value Chain – Describes the set of activities that a firm performs in order to deliver a product or service of value; would include how labor and materials are converted into finished products.

Strategic Arenas – Term from the book Winning at New Products, describing areas of the market which you determine to be compelling places to explore new product introductions; you can’t compete everywhere, so this is similar to Playing To Win’s focus on “where to compete.”

Business Case – The justification for making a product, from a financial and market standpoint; justifying why it makes sense to embark on the project.

Core Competency – A specific ability, strength, or strategic advantage of a company; discussed in reference to strategy when considering if building certain products aligns with the company’s core competency.

Hedgehog and the Fox – Hedgehogs are really good at one thing and foxes are pretty good at a lot of things; a concept popularized in the book Good to Great, defined here because people use it to describe companies that focus on doing one thing really well versus trying to be too many things to too many customers.

Product Planning

Product Plan – the multi-year plan for what products will be introduced when; companies often make a 3 or 5 year plan.

Product Platform Planning – Planning a series of products based on the same platform; a platform in this case could be shared technology or production methods, which allows individual products based on that platform to be developed more easily because they leverage existing capabilities.

Business Case – The case for making a product; necessary at some companies for justifying time and energy being spent on a project or in order to develop a product; typically has financial analysis, market research, costs, timelines, risks, and financial projections.

Dual-track Development – Something used in Agile software development mostly, this includes Discovery Track and Delivery Track; Discovery is determining what to build, for lack of a better description, and Delivery is actually building it right. Article. Contrast this with just listing a bunch of features to build, Dual-track has a learning/validation process in front of a building process, which helps prevent building something that creates little value. The two tracks are said to go in parallel because the same team works on both, just slightly out of phase. Good overview article. Another good Medium article.

Continuous Discovery – Having a continual “always on” process of identifying new products and new product features that should be built and launched.

Technology and Product Cadence/Coordination – Cadence refers to the rhythm with which something is developed, so technology and product cadence refers to the rate at which each is developed; some companies have a regular cadence of new product launches which drives the need to develop new technologies, while other companies focus on technology development and launch products when new technology permits.

Doing the Right Projects & Doing Projects Right – A common way of breaking down product planning and project execution; you need to do both!

Markets and Consumers

Market – The total of all buyers and sellers; describes both the abstract group as well as physical or virtual locations.

Consumer – The end-user of the product.

Market Condition – Anything describing the state of the market into which the product is launching, including the number of similar products, the economic environment, etc.

Segment – A sub-group of consumers in a market which share a set of particular characteristics; e.g. users age 40-45 with an income over $100k/yr; “a large, identifiable group within a market” (Kotler and Keller)

Demographics – Quantifiable data about a particular a particular population of people, e.g. ages, income, etc; data about people in the market.

Psychographics – The study of people’s attitudes, interests, and opinions; see also behavioral variables.

Attitudes – Customer’s attitudes, which might be related to purchasing behavior, preference, what influences them, etc.

Ethnography – The study of people and cultures.  

Price-Sensitivity – How sensitive consumers are to pricing

Usage – Consumers can be segmented based on how much they use your product (i.e. “heavy users”).

Targeting – Companies can target the mass market (everyone), multiple segments, single or niche segments, and individuals.

Opportunities and Consumers Needs

Opportunity – Literally an opportunity to deliver value with a product, such as gaps in the market, unmet consumer needs, and pain points. Opportunities are often characterized by how well-known and defined the solution/technology is and by how well-known and defined the market is (Ulrich);

Consumer Needs – Usually fairly narrow term for what the consumer wants or needs, but actually a hugely broad concept ranging across the hierarchy of human needs.

Needfinding – The art of talking to consumers and discovering their needs.

Core Human Values / Maslow’s Hierarchy —- A theory that humans share core needs, each need being only possible to address when the more fundamental need beneath it has been met: Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualization.

Desire – This is something that a person wants, which is different than what a person needs, but products can address needs and/or desires; you can get semantic and talk about how our desires are really needs, but let’s not get philosophical up in this bitch.

Implicit Requirement – Something the consumer expects in a product without having to articulate or explicitly ask for it; a product characteristic that goes without saying.

Innovation (Adding Value) – Innovation is the creation and delivery of new customer value.

Problem Space – Relating to the fundamental issue or challenge to be solved, or the value meant to be delivered; where the customer’s needs “live”; (Good book: The Lean Product Playbook; Product Talk

Solution Space – The realm of possible solutions or products which can address the problem space; (Good book: The Lean Product Playbook; Product Talk

Product-Market Fit – “The degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand” – Marc Andreessen; “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” – Andreessen. (See also Sean Ellis; Steve Blank – The Four Steps to the Epiphany)

Product Discovery – The process of determining what to build; finding opportunities to deliver value. “The Cycles of the Discovery phase are all about talking to your users to reveal real use cases and goals and then translating those into product requirements. Elements that we use in these Cycles include user research, building user scenarios through story mapping and developing personas based user interviews.” Source

Opportunity-Solution Tree – A diagram containing the objective you are trying to accomplish along with all the possible solutions you’ve thought of for solving it; the opportunity and all possible solutions; see this article for a nice drawing.

Articulated Need – A need that a consumer can articulate, or explain.

Unarticulated Need – A need that a consumer cannot articulate or explain, but exists nonetheless.

Jobs To Be Done – One framework is that products are “hired” by people to do jobs; this is called the jobs to be done framework and is slightly different than thinking of a product as just solving a problem or eliminating a need.

Outcome – This is a term describing a performance result of using a product; easier to explain by just using examples, the outcomes of your new running shoe might be how comfy they are, how well they support your arches, how well they keep your foot dry, how long the sole lasts, how friggin sweet they look when you wear them casually because let’s be honest running is miserable.

Market Research

Market Research – Conducting research to better understand the market or a particular sub-group (segment) of the market.

Qualitative Measures – Not quantifiable (numbers) but more opinion-based and open-ended feedback.

Quality Function Deployment – “a method developed in Japan beginning in 1966 to help transform the voice of the customer [VOC] into engineering characteristics for a product.” – Wikipedia; Major element of QFD is the House of Quality, which is a matrix that connects design parameters (features) with customer attributes (benefits); (e.g. if we make the camera better, people like the photos more).

House of Quality – A method for visibly comparing what consumers want against what a product delivers; when drawn, this diagram looks like a house; a method for determining if a product delivers on known consumer’s needs; compares customer wants versus product features; connects design parameters with customer attributes/benefits/outcomes.

Conjoint Analysis – A method of analyzing how much potential consumers value various attributes (usually features and benefits) in a product; a statistical technique used in market research; a way of determining what consumer’s really value in a product.

Survey – Formal inquiry made to a consumer or to a person with information, opinions, etc. with the objective of acquiring insight and knowledge.

Process: Define problem or objectives > Develop research plan > Collect information > Analyze > Present Findings > Make Decision (Kotler and Keller).

Focus Group – Group of potential consumers used to gather feedback on something, presumably your product or a feature of your product; Not everyone is in favor of focus groups: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse,” – Henry Ford; “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them” – Steve Jobs

Contextual Enquiry – An interview method where someone is asked a few questions and then observed as they use the product in context.

Comparative Analysis – Market research specifically focused on identifying similarities and differences, and uniqueness versus interconnectedness; really just a subset of higher-level market research; basically just comparing shit 😉

Competitor Analysis – Research focused on your competition, be it their sales, pricing, distribution, advertising and promotion, strategy, or whatever framework you deem appropriate, in order to understand how to better compete with them.

Scoping – A term to describe doing a preliminary market, technical and financial assessment about a product concept. (Winning at New Products p. 193)

Design Thinking for Product Planning

Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” – Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. (My post on design thinking) (Great book: Change by Design)

Best Books and Articles

  • Change By Design – Tim Brown

My Writing

Anthropology – The study of people; a mindset taken in Design Thinking where you observe people’s behavior with an inquisitive or beginner’s mind.

Empathy – Describes putting yourself in another’s shoes, particularly to gain a deep understanding of the consumer or user’s needs and experience.

Observation – Really watching what someone does; people will often unintentionally explain their behavior in a way that contradicts what they actually do, so surveying them can product inaccurate results.

Get Out of the Building – Exactly what it means; get out and see what’s happening with your consumers, your market, and the way consumers are interacting with products; “there are no facts inside the building, only opinions.”

Brainstorm – A focused effort to generate a large number of ideas; the word brainstorming is often used synonymously with “come up with a solution” but it’s not the same thing — brainstorming is about idea generation; quantity over quality.

Divergent Thinking – Making choices; identifying options or possible solutions; going wide and broad with ideas; can be done through brainstorming. (See Design Thinking; Good book: Change by Design.)

Convergent Thinking – Making choices; converging on a decision from many options; narrowing in on something; the opposite of creating options or brainstorming. (see Design Thinking; Good book: Change by Design).


Storyboard – Drawing out an experience much like a cartoon — panel by panel, detailing the people, situations, and actions; used to communicate how something will happen (product purchase, product experience, a service, etc.)

Compounding Ideas – This is a process where you build ideas on top of ideas, or evolve an idea beyond a simple, basic idea; discussed in Innovation: The Five Disciplines; brainstorming is good for “first order ideas” whereas compounding ideas can develop more sophisticated, insightful ideas.


Concept – An idea for a new product or product feature, typically fleshed out more than just the initial idea.

Concept Screening or Concept Review – Process of determining which concepts should be pursued further down the development process.

Ideation – The process of coming up with ideas for a targeted prompt or within a specific scope; more focused and constrained than brainstorming.

Idea Capture System – Whatever system you have in place for capturing ideas, be is a list, a group of people, a suggestion box.

Development Funnel – Describes the front-end of the development process where you are trying to capture many ideas and narrow them down to a select few, like in a funnel…get it?

Positioning Statement – A statement that emphasizes how your product/brand/company is different compared to competition; includes market segment, needs of consumers, environment of industry, and the competition (The Product Manager’s Desktop Reference); See also Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Product Spec

Best Books and Articles

Product Spec – The product spec, or product brief, or product mission statement, or whatever you want to call it, is the preliminary document written to guide the product team on developing the product; it establishes a “box” within which the product should be designed.

Function – A description of what the product must do, or how the product must perform, within a specific dimension (e.g., towing capacity of a truck); also describes a group of people within a company that all fall within a similar discipline (e.g., the marketing function, the engineering function).

Who Writes the Product Spec – The product spec should be written by a cross-functional group, with representatives from every relevant team present. (Designing Products in Half the Time)

Must have; would like to have – Simple yet effective way of communicating whether a spec/feature/benefit is required or preferred.

Product Innovation Charter – A document that captures the “who what why when and how” of the product; clarifies the goals, objectives, guidelines, assumptions and scope of the project or product; can be a “living” document, and may or may not be the same document as the product spec.

Synthesize – The process of combining a number of different ideas into a larger more complex insight; critical for defining products because of the large number of relevant considerations; “considering everything I know about price, competitors, strategy, etc…this is the product spec.”

What not How – Good product specs should detail WHAT the product should do (which requires a focus on benefits), not HOW to do it; it is the job of the product design/engineering group, not the marketing team, to answer the HOW.

Differentiation – What makes your product different than competitors or alternatives.

Elevator Pitch – A very short summary detailing your product offering and its value proposition.

Core Benefit Proposition (CBP) – Basically the value proposition, the CBP states the benefits to the consumer; should be a clear and brief statement, highlighting unique and differentiating qualities.

Unlike Our Competitors – A useful way to begin a sentence describing the product, since it forces you to clarify the brand’s or product’s differentiating properties.

What It Will Not Do – Itemizing what a product will not do provides more clarity than just listing what it should do; a way to add clarity to product specs.

Implicit Requirement – Not so much something spec’d, but rather something the consumer expects in a product without having to articulate or explicitly ask for it; a product characteristic that goes without saying.

Benefits, Not Features – A focus on specing for outcomes and benefits, not features.

Metrics – metrics are things which are measured; if there are quantifiable specs for the product that must be measured and met, list them.

Product Goals – Objectives, be it objective performance (fuel economy) or subjective (taste better); good product specs provide clear product goals.

Product Mission – A lot like the Product Innovation Charter; basically a document capturing the desired outcomes and goals of the product; illustrates what success looks like.

Cost Model – estimates of what the product can cost; a full-blown “model” means there is some algorithm set up and you can plug in values for various parameters and the model computes final cost; essentially you just need the “right” amount of cost guidance in a product spec – don’t over-do-it or under-do-it.

Business Case – The justification for undertaking a project or product, typically made using financial analysis (expected cost, benefit, profit, etc.).

Fuzzy Front End – The phase of a project when it’s just beginning but has yet to be clearly defined; a time in which progress is often difficult and time is often wasted.

Perceptual Maps – A graphic that displays information about the product; for example, a 2-D plot with “Easy to use” on one axis and “Powerful” on the other, and products plotted in comparison to each other; products can be compared visually against various dimensions…typically consumer needs.

User Persona – Product Developers often create a user persona, which describes the behaviors and goals of the target user; sometimes this becomes an actual fictional person (e.g. Jill the soccer mom, Joe the plumber, Hudson the 6 yr old boy who lives in Brooklyn)

Customer Journey Map / Experience Map – A visual depiction of the steps that your consumer goes through engaging with your company, or more specifically, engaging with your product or service; a diagram of the sum of experiences the customer has with your product.


Industrial Design – Industrial Design is a discipline focusing on product aesthetics, ergonomics, and user experience.

Aesthetics – Everything having to do with the look of a product.

Ergonomics – Also called Human Factors, describes the interaction between products and their users; often involves one or more of: biomechanics, psychology, design, engineering, physiology; the study of products being designed for humans (physical, emotional, cognitive users). “The scientific discipline of studying interactions between humans and external systems, including human-computer interaction. When applied to design, the study of human factors seeks to optimise both human well-being and system performance.” Source

User Experience – I use this term as a super broad catch-all for everything else. Ultimately, it describes how well the product delivers value to the user or consumer. Some people might use the term “utility design” or “functional design” to describe this.

Design for X – X is a variable that can stand for “manufacturing” or “cost” or “quality” or “reliability”

Differentiation – What makes your product different than competitors or alternatives.

Intuitive – Describes the positive quality of a design that makes sense, is easy to use, and fulfills expectations.

Shelf Appeal – The aesthetic appeal of a product as it sits on the shelf; in the digital world this simply captures everything about the aesthetic first impression of a product.

Zero Point of Contact – When your first impression or contact with a product or brand is through third-party entities such as yelp; the “first impression” of the product you get without actually seeing the product yet.

Responsive Design – Design which responds well the user’s environment (e.g. an app that functions well on various software and hardware systems).

Usability – How easy it is to use your product

User-centric Design – Design focused on the user, contrast this with design focused on lowering cost, improving manufacturability, design to attract attention or stand-out on the shelf.


Concept – A potential product or solution; a more fully-formed idea for a product.

Prototype – An initial or early construction of the product concept, typically less formed than a “final” product; a mock-up, rough draft, meant to be iterated upon; prototyping is the “build-test” part of the “design-build-test” cycle.

A prototype is “a product that is designed and built to test a new design. The prototype is used to correct mistakes and make [the design] more user friendly” ( It is a “fully functional working model of a final product” (

Functional Prototype – A prototype that captures both the function and visual appearance of the intended design, though often at a different scale or lacking in some sophistication.

Working Prototype or High-Fidelity Prototype – A nearly complete product; a prototype that’s mostly functional and visually correct; very close to a final product and often used in alpha or beta testing.

Visual Prototype – A prototype that is used to test aesthetics or visuals more than function.

Proof-of-Principle, or Proof-of-Concept – A prototype that’s designed to validate a few key features, or a specific principle or concept, but not the entire product.

Build-Measure-Learn, or Design-Build-Test Loop or Iterating– The iterative process whereby prototypes or products are built, tested, and the product development team learns about the product and consumer; some might say this is the fundamental building block of product refinement. (See Revolutionizing Product Development as the O.G. source of this concept; also The Lean Startup discusses this at length.)

Spirals – Same as build-measure-learn, or “build-measure-feedback-revise” as Robert Cooper calls it in Winning at New Products.

Iteration Cycle – Completing all steps of build, measure and learn.

Minimum Viable Product – The MVP is as basic a prototype as is possible to facilitate a build-test-learn cycle; the bare-bones prototype required to test something; Often cited as a milestone stage in product development when learning begins. See The Lean Startup and The Lean Product Playbook for all things MVP.

Iteration Velocity – The speed with which you go from one iteration cycle to the next – iteration cycles being versions of your product which are built-tested-learned about. (See The Personal MBA and The Lean Startup.)

Rapid Prototyping – Any prototype built with speed, via either a faster manufacturing method, a limited design (building only a partial version of the prototype), or some other method to go faster.

Failure; Fail Early, Fail Often; Fail your way to success – Silicon Valley slogan for rapid learning; failure is a symptom of learning and progress, and the sooner you fail, the better, for later failures can be much more costly from a resource-invested standpoint. “My goal is not to fail fast. My goal is to succeed over the long run. They are not the same thing.” – Marc Andreessen

Wireframe – A bare-bones mock up of a digital product that’s used mainly to visually depict where things go; a wireframe doesn’t typically have functionality; a clickable wireframe might be called a “functional wireframe.”

Refining the Product

Refine – To improve a product as measured by its product-market fit or consumer value delivered; descriptive of improvement on the same fundamental concept as opposed to pivoting or concept exploration.

Alpha Testing – Pre-launch testing of a product that is focused on debugging and preparing the product to be functional enough for a beta test; an alpha test is often “friends and family” and is focused on improving product quality more than anything else (contrast with beta testing, which is more about validating user experience, value delivery, and launch readiness).

Beta Testing – Pre-launch testing of a product with a group of people meant to represent typical users, done in order to confirm and validate a product being ready for launch; much more of a “real world” type test as compared to alpha testing; might also be called “field test” or “customer validation test” or “customer acceptance test.”

Gamma Test – Pre-launch testing that goes beyond Beta testing to actually quantify if the product leaves consumers satisfied; typical example is a human trial of a new drug.

Feature Creep – The tendency to add more and more features to a product as time goes by; more features seem to add more value, but feature creep refers to the generally negative effect on the consumer that comes with overloading a product with too many features.

Attribute Testing – Running tests so as to determine which features are valued by consumers; usually involves using a prototype and surveying.

Simulated Test Market – A market research method that stages the purchase situation – exposing potential consumers to the product and advertising; Used to refine the product, but also to gain insight on consumer behavior and improve sales forecasting.

Critical Path – The path of actions that absolutely must be done to finish a project; a scheduling term; if something is on the critical path, it means that any delay in that task will delay the launch (or whatever the final step is).

Faux Purchase – Describes the type of test where you intercept random people who are shopping (maybe at a mall, for example) and put them through a simulated purchase (show them marketing material, merchandising) and then give them faux money to see if they would purchase your product; goal is to forecast commercial adoption.

Simulated Sale – Another test, this time where a sales pitch is given to a customer, followed by surveying about likely purchase; used more in B2B scenarios; goal is to better refine the product and forecast commercial adoption.


Launch Management System – Exactly what it sounds like, a system for detecting and anticipating deviations from a launch plan (distribution under or over target, competitor reactions, market changes, etc.) and the subsequent action plan that’s implemented; key element is tracking metrics (sales channels, distribution, sell-through, etc.). See New Product Management.

Channel – The “places or things” through which the product passes in order to eventually reach the consumer; a product might be sold through a large retailer, a small retailer, maybe through a distributor, maybe director through a website; all those different methods of getting the product to the consumer are difference channels.

Distribution – The method and/or locations used to get you product to consumers; how and where you product shows up for sale in the market; for example, the network of retailers where you product is sold.

A.T.A.R. – Awareness, Trial, Availability, Repeat. This is a framework for estimated market adoption of a product; uses marketing assumptions to approximate the percent of the target market which will become aware of the product, trial it, find it available, and become an ongoing customer; helpful for predicting sales volume in multiple years after launch. See New Products Management.

Awareness – A consumer being aware that you product even exists; can be used to measure percent of a market or segment aware of your brand or product; can be measured with no prompt (unaided), or aided.

Test Market – A product is sometimes launched in a limited distribution, or test market, in order to learn valuable lessons before the full-scale market launch occurs.

A & P – Advertising and promotion. Pretty self-explanatory.

Metrics – Anything that gets measured, such as revenue, customers, distribution, etc.

AARRR or “Pirate Metrics” – A “startup” metrics model made by Dave McClure: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, and Referral. These are theoretically all the behaviors you are looking for in your customers. Link.

Innovation Accounting – Discussed in the Lean Startup, this is a method of measuring and communicating progress in delivering value to your customer; it’s something like measuring customer acquisition and retention, iterating on some features of your product, and evaluating the effect of that improvement on those customer metrics; a metrics-based method of measuring and reporting innovation in your product; Makes a lot of reference to Pirate Metrics.

Product Line Replacement – A product meant to take the place of an existing product; typically the next-generation product which will phase-out the previous.

Time to Market – Generally measured as time from when the project gets resources (funding or greenlight) to launch date.

Distribution – All of the locations (physical or digital) where your product can be purchased.

Analytics – Obviously a very broad term, but vis a vis launching product, analytics are used to analyze data about launch metrics (distribution, adoption) and create intelligence or insight from the data.

First-Mover: The first entrant into a market with a particular product.

Pricing Strategy – Just that; this subject can fill chapters and books; Marketing Management – Kotler and Keller

Early Market

Technology Adoption Curve – The adoption curve describes the population of consumers and their willingness to adopt new technologies; the curve itself is a bell curve with a small group of innovators and early adopters at the “front” (these people are willing to buy almost anything new) – then moving into the middle of the market, most people fall into the Early Majority or Late Majority, and then finally there is a smaller group of Laggards at the final back end of the bell curve. See Geoffrey Moore.

Customer Acquisition – This is the sprawling world of identifying potential customers and doing all activities to “capture” or acquire them as actual customers; includes identifying “leads” and the various stages of acquisition, from identification to nurturing to capture.

Adoption Personas – Consumers are categorized as being more or less inclined to adopt/buy new products along a spectrum ranging from innovator/techies to Laggards/skeptics. It goes 1. Innovators 2. Early Adopters 3. Early Majority 4. Late Majority and 5. Laggards. (Moore, Crossing the Chasm)

Cannibalization – When one product replaces demand for another among the same customers, that product is said to cannibalize sales from the original product.

Net Promotor Score – A metric that measures the loyalty between a customer and a providor; the value is typically 0-10 based on the question “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?”

Mid-to-Late Market

Technology Adoption Curve / Crossing the Chasm – The early two regions of the adoption model are innovators and early-adopters; after that it’s the early majority; the “chasm” describes the wide gap (the great challenge) in getting your product adopted by the early majority after it’s adopted by innovators; coined by Geoffrey Moore.

Life-Stages: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Maintenance, Defense, Decline.

End of Life – The end of a product’s lifecycle is “end of life,” and this term is used to describe all the plans and activities necessary to execute end of life properly.

Planned Obsolescence – Intentionally designing a product to have an artificially limited life, or to become obsolete sooner than it otherwise would, typically with the aim of inducing more sales as people replace it; one example would be when a software company stops supporting a previous generation of software, forcing consumers to upgrade.

Triple Bottom Line – A term that measures three key impacts of a business or product: economics, social, and environmental. To think about the triple bottom line means to consider impact on all three dimensions.

Cradle to Grave – From conception to product end of life.

Used Products – Like used cars, there’s often a secondary market for used products, and it’s a strategic decision for all product developers to be involved with any activity relating to the selling/buying of used products.

Product Disposal – Getting rid of existing products, which might be an activity a firm needs to take in order to “clear the market” of previous generation product.

Exit Strategy – The plan to discontinue sales of a product; touches on supply chain, distribution channels, marketing, advertising and promotion, customer support, etc.  

Product Discontinuation

Product Rejuvination

Product Phase-out

Additional Concepts


Innovation – delivering new customer value to the market; not just “new” or “different.”

“Technically speaking, innovation is the process of creating a product or service solution that delivers significant new customer value. The process begins with the selection of the customer and market, includes the identification and prioritization of opportunities, and ends with the creation of an innovative product concept that delivers the new and significant value. In more practical terms, innovation is simply the process of figuring out “what customers want.” Anthony Ulwick, What Customers Want

Disruptive Innovation – a disruption (new technology or production) that creates a new market, or significantly changes the behavior of current consumers in a market.

Marketing Innovation – when a product or company creates a new market that previously did not exist; when a group of people have a problem and no existing solution or product is solving it; creating a group of consumers of a product that previously did not consume a product.

Operational Innovation – an improvement to an operational activity; a new operational activity or improvement to an existing activity.

Imitation Innovation – an approach to product development where competitors are imitated in a systematic, deliberate manner; a component of project portfolio management where copying competitors is done strategically.  HBR Article

Innovator’s Dilemma – describes the recurring phenomenon where an older/existing business struggles to innovate as effectively as newer companies who are not as burdened by the need for high margins. GitHub Article Summary.  

Incremental or Sustaining Innovation – Modest changes or enhancements to existing products like a new product feature; Additional customer value added to a product or service that doesn’t create a new market or value network in a disruptive sense, but rather just further extends or adds value in existing markets to existing customer types.

Architectural Innovation – Makes use of the same core components but uses them in a different manner to achieve similar design goals; an example would be a new bizhub copier system that uses much of the same components but works in a new and improved way.

20% Rule – There was and may still be a policy at Google where employees are expected to spend 20% of their time on personal passion projects; some might call this an innovation strategy.

Lean Development

Lean – Free of excess, or having little wasteful (non-value-adding) activities.

Flow – Describes a part moving through a process without causing delays for subsequent parts; when a part moves through a factory efficiently, neither waiting for future processes nor causing delays for parts behind it; can also be applied to projects and knowledge where there are few delays or backups as a project is completed.

Economics – Relevant in lean development because queues and inventory are costly from an economic standpoint; the purpose of lean is to drive out waste and improve efficiencies for the purpose of improving economics; you do not just improve efficiency because it’s inherently good – you do it for profit.

Constraints – Constraints are limiting factors in a system or process (e.g. you are constrained to having two hands, one of which can’t even hold a pencil right, so you can only juggle so many bowling pins); constraints are really important in designing processes such as the product development process.

Bottlenecks – A bottleneck a process that has limited capacity compared to other processes upstream or downstream, or otherwise constrains output.

Queue – A line of things waiting for something; queues are actually extremely important in lean manufacturing and lean product development; there is a whole body of knowledge around queues and queueing theory, complete with complex equations and mathematical models; complex but important shit.

Kaizen – Continual Improvement; the ongoing search for and elimination of waste in a process or system.

Batch size – The number of items in a batch, which is a group of things being worked on. There’s surely a more technical definition, but unless you’re getting into the nitty-gritty, just think of a batch of cupcakes and you’re golden.

The Goal – The goal is taken from the book “The Goal,” and it is to make profits; it is not to maximize efficiency; also, making profits should be done with some consideration for investment – it’s great to make a million dollars, but maybe not if you had to invest 100 billion.

Inventory – The parts, knowledge, or whatever “work” is in storage or in WIP; Good article on inventory in software development.

W.I.P. – Work in Process, describing a part moving through a factory being worked on, or some other item (a project) being worked on.


Kanban – Is an Agile “method” that is a lot like Scrum, but without the emphasis on time-bound delivery; Kanban is a set of methods, usually including a cross-functional team working together efficiently and with “flow” in order to continuously deliver new work.

Mudha – Japanese word for waste; used to describe waste in a process or system.

WIP – Work in process, or work in progress, describes the work (could be parts, components, or even knowledge or projects) currently being worked on by the system (the system could be the factory or the team); the projects on your to-do list which you are actively working on are in WIP.

Scrum – Is an Agile “process framework” most often used to develop complex software; it’s a set of practices and methods, usually including a cross-functional team working on specific projects within a time-bound sprint.

Sprint – A time-bound effort toward a certain deliverable, usually a product feature.

Cadence – Basically describes having a rhythm or pattern of starting and completing projects; cadence might apply to shipping new versions of your software, to having prototypes ready every X months; it provides some scheduling structure to a repeated process.

Synchronization – Means that a variety of cross-functional people understand what is happening at any particular given time and align and coordinate their work accordingly.

Project Backlog – This is the list of potential projects – often product features – which could be worked on; a critical document for helping to plan future work for the product team.

Product Roadmap –

Teams and Organization

Product Team – The group of people working to define or develop the product.

Functional Organization – team structure where groups of people are functionally organized (there is a team of engineers, a team of designers, and so on).

Cross-Functional – Working with people across functions (e.g. engineering w/ marketing).

Concurrent Development – Working as a cross-functional group from start to finish, rather than having hand-offs or throwing things over the wall.

Weak Matrix – Functional managers + project managers with influence; an organization structure where people report to their functional bosses (engineers report to engineering manager) and project managers have authority to facilitate projects, but project managers don’t actually have authority over the employees.

Strong Matrix – Most of the power and authority lies with the project manager, not the functional managers; project manager is usually in control of the budget and can force functional people to work on his or her project, rather than requesting work from functional managers.

Influence Without Authority – A common desired characteristic for any member of a team, particularly where you need to work with other members of the team without having direct control over them; often important for product managers working in a weak matrix, where they need to keep the project moving without being able to force others to execute.

Tiger Team, or Venture Team – A completely separate team that’s given almost complete autonomy to execute a project (e.g. Skunkworks at Lockheed Martin, whose name is now basically synonymous with a tiger team function).

Five Dysfunctions of a Team – When people don’t trust one another, they stop having real and honest debate and communication; Once you stop debating with people and fail to really communicate, you stop feeling commitment to the team and your actions; Once you don’t feel commitment, you lose your ability to hold others accountable. When this happens to a group, accountability is lost among the team; With nobody holding one another accountable, there is no real team. Actions are not coordinated well and cohesive, unified action cannot be achieved.

R.A.C.I. – An acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed, this helps clarify communication and ownership for a project; accountable means the single person who ultimately is on the line, whereas responsible is the person who owns the action items.  

D.A.C.I. – Driver, Approver, Contributor, Informed.

Command and Control – A management style in which you order people to do things; not usually used in a positive connotation, but it does work in some situations; the alternative is more “hearts and minds” and persuasion/motivation.

Interdependency – When something (a feature, decision, whatever) affects more than one person; most projects have a ton of them and they require coordination.


Best Books and Articles

  • Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson

Adjacent Possible – The adjacent possible is a term describing what is possible to invent considering the current state-of-the-art; imagine being in a room with 4 doors – those doors lead to the adjacent possible rooms…rooms farther away are not adjacent.

Cross-pollination – This is when you mix ideas, insights, learning, or information from one thing to another; typically from one team to another (engineers to marketers), or from one industry to another.

Cultivating Hunches – Steven Johnson says ideas don’t strike like lightning, they usually fade into view; cultivate your hunches by writing about them, sharing them, and otherwise keeping them “fed” until they grow into more fully formed ideas.

Exaptation – When a feature is developed or created for one purpose but then readapted to another; one theory is that birds developed feathers for warmth but then exapted them to flight.

Improvising – Some Design Thinking books recommend literally acting out scenarios (point of purchase, services, experiences interacting with products) to better visualize and ideate how to better serve customers; improvising can uncover new innovations by literally putting people in the experience of your product or service.

Serendipity – Serendipity is when something good happens by chance; organizing for serendipity has a lot to do with encouraging conversations in hallways and around water-coolers, giving your mind a break so that something can spark (this is why good ideas come to us in the shower), and having your ideas organized somewhere where you can search through them from time to time and find connections between them.


Feedback – Self-evident. Words are not the only type of feedback – actions, attention are indirect feedback.

Coaching, Evaluation, Appreciation – Per the book “Thanks for the Feedback,” these are three different types of feedback; understanding they are different is important to providing clear feedback, as managers often shotgun spray all at the same time, diminishing the effectiveness of each.

Management versus Leadership – Kind of a lame entry on this list, but there are numerous quotes about managing people (helping them do their jobs) and leading people (inspiring people); it’s a good distinction to be aware of.

OKRs – Objectives and Key Results; Google is commonly cited as popularizing this term, it basically combines goals and metrics: objectives are specific goals or desired outcomes, and key metrics are the things that are measured or quantified that measure progress toward the outcome. Used in employee management as well as corporate strategy.  

SMART Goals – Goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Related, and Time-bound.

Motivate or Train – The concept that improving an employee’s performance typically requires training, motivation, or both; assuming that most management efforts fall into one of these categories is an over-simplification, but this can still be a helpful generalization.

The Monkey on the Back – This is from an HBR article and it’s a clever/stupid/memorable way of thinking about who has the burden of action in a manager-employee relationship – often when employees ask for help, managers take the monkey off the employee’s back and assume it for themselves, which is not necessarily intentional or useful; the article advocates coaching and ensuring the monkey isn’t moved without being done so intentionally.

Good Managers Write – Pretty over-generalized assessment, but writing tends to be very useful for management guidance – it forces people to choose their words carefully and builds accountability because it’s permanent.


Dale Carnegie – Wrote an absolute classic book called How to Win Friends and Influence People, which sounds kind of manipulative, but it’s universally recognized as the definitive book on being a good person.

Daniel Pink – Popular author, most well-known for his book Drive, which is about human behavior and motivation, which is pretty good stuff to understand if you work with humans to build products for other humans.

Steve Jobs – Some guy who co-founded Apple; worthy of this list because of his and Apple’s influence on product development (whether you like it or not, the influence is significant).   

Ben Horowitz – Silicon Valley badass CEO and leadership author and now successful venture capitalist; writes books and blog posts and has a lot of solid insight about how things work at successful companies.

Donald Reinertsen – Author and product development expert who primarily focuses on Lean PD; wrote The Principles of Product Development Flow, Managing the Design Factory, and others; coined the term “fuzzy front end.”

Clayton Christensen – Harvard professor, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, grand-daddy of the concept of “disruption” and widely considered one of the authorities on innovation.

Seth Godin – Blogger extraordinaire and best-selling author who writes about marketing, overcoming fear to do meaningful work, tribes, and understanding human behavior, among other things!

Robert Cooper – Academic turned prolific product development author and pioneer of the “Stage-Gate” development process

Paul Graham – Harvard professor and founder of Y Combinator, definitely one of the more respected people in the Start-Up world; blog postings are very generous and thoughtful.

Geoffrey Moore – Intel O.G. (original gangster), wrote a highly respected book on management; Moore’s law is the rate at which computing power increases over time; kind of a big deal in the world of management and computing.

Ken Norton – A Google Ventures partner and Product Management blogger with great book recommendations and articles on developing products.

David Kelley – Founder of IDEO, a prominent design/innovation firm, and leading thinker and author on Design Thinking.

Tim Brown – CEO of IDEO, prominent author about Design, Innovation, Design Thinking.

Marty Cagan – Wrote Inspired, which is a well-respected book particularly among digital product developers; also manages the Silicon Valley Product Group, which hosts events, training, and has a good newsletter.

Steven Johnson – Author of Where Good Ideas Come From, also writes a good blog.

Steve Haines – Author of The Product Manager’s Desktop reference and other books on product management; runs a consultancy on product development.

Simon Sinek – Speaker and author of Start With Why; something of a recent prominent figure in the world of Strategy and Marketing and authentic storytelling.

Steve Blank – Basically the founder of the lean startup movement; a legend in the tech world and prolific blogger and author (Four Steps to the Epiphany).

Bob Sutton – Prominent author of best-selling business books you’ve likely heard of, such as The No Asshole Rule.

Karl Ulrich – Professor and author of one of the best textbooks on product development: Product Design and Development.

Preston Smith Co-author of Developing Products in Half the TIme and prominent figure in NPD world.

Tony Ulwick – Author of What Customers Want

Marketing (Not Covered Elsewhere)

Marketing Myopia – Expression for when you view your market too narrowly, or are shortsighted with your vision for your possible market; the famous example is train companies assuming they are in the train market, rather than the transportation market; another example is telegraph companies considering themselves in the telegraph market, not the communication market.

Marketing – “Meeting customer’s needs profitably.”

Milkshake Marketing

Growth Hacker Marketing – Very trendy term to describe trying to rapidly grow a business (typically users more than revenue) mainly by using data-driven iterative experiments, with a little sketchy/creative/unique guerilla tactics to leverage existing platforms (e.g., how AirBNB used craigslist to help grow their user-base).


Root cause analysis

Idea Capture System – Whatever system you have in place for capturing ideas, be is a list, a group of people, a suggestion box.

Gate – A decision point where a project is evaluated for “go” or “kill” or other (hold, rework, etc.)

Gatekeepers be Gatekeeping – The decision-makers in a gate meeting be doing the things that happen at gate meetings.