Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is characterized by an extremely poor prognosis, since it is usually diagnosed at advanced stages. In order to employ tools for early detection, a better understanding of the early stages of PDA development from its main precursors, pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN), and intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN) is needed. Recent studies on murine PDA models have identified a different exocrine origin for PanINs and IPMNs. In both processes, developmental pathways direct the initiation of PDA precursors from their cellular ancestors. In this review, the current understanding of early PDA development is summarized.