A Look at Product Lifecycle: Management, Tools, Careers

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This product lifecycle guide describes a product lifecycle, the product lifecycle stages, and the skills you need to be a product lifecycle manager. Learn about courses to help you learn and demonstrate product lifecycle management knowledge.

[Featured Image] A group of product managers discusses product lifecycle and writes notes on a screen.

Product lifecycle management is crucial to a product’s long-term success. It involves managing a product's design, development, deployment, sale, and support over its life. 

The product lifecycle is the process of turning a product idea into reality through sales and marketing. The product lifecycle ends when a product is no longer viable and retired. The steps in the process vary by industry but follow a similar pattern.

Why is it important to think of products in terms of a process?   

Thinking of products as an ongoing process is to see that they are not a one-time event but rather a relationship. You typically build a product hoping that users will relate to it and purchase it. The process of building a product should be structured as a continuous feedback loop composed of smaller production processes. Every step impacts the product’s success and needs to form a part of the feedback loop.

What is product lifecycle management?

Product lifecycle management (PLM) integrates processes, people, business systems, and information to have product guidance of an idea to production. In practice, all product-related information (technical specifications, production processes, orders, etc.) is managed and available to the correct people at the right times.

The goal of PLM is to create a single source for product data while integrating internal departments and external stakeholders in the design, engineering, and manufacturing process. PLM is used to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve collaboration.

The seven stages of a product lifecycle

The product lifecycle stages are the phases that a product goes through from its beginning to end. The following seven phases can be applied to the majority of physical or digital products.

1. Research and development planning 

This stage sets the goals for your new product’s accomplishment timeline and how they’ll be met. This involves researching the customers' needs, developing the product value proposition, and forming the outline of the product strategy.

2. Product prototypes development 

A prototype is a preliminary version of an idea being developed. Prototypes allow products to be assessed and tested before release. This allows your future customers time to give feedback on product development, which helps ensure its success when launched.

3. Product development 

During the development stage, your business may spend considerable time and resources creating a product that's ready for market release. The network of professionals involved in the project may expand to suppliers, product designers, engineers, and manufacturers.

4. Introduction 

The introduction is when you launch your new product to market. Your profits at this stage will typically be low due to high marketing costs since your product will need exposure and interest from consumers. You may need to educate consumers about your offering during the introduction stage, especially if it's entirely new for them.

5. Growth 

Your gross profit margins may increase during the growth stage due to higher demand and consumer awareness. Your cash flow begins to enter positive territory because you've reached a level of scale that lowers your unit production cost and brings economies of scale. 

6. Maturity 

After the growth stage, sales may continue to increase but at a decreasing rate until they reach a constant point or even fall. This is known as maturity, as most potential buyers have already bought your product, so there are fewer customers. Your sales could also fall if an improved product version enters the market. Your average sales price per unit tends to decline. Competition increases and companies look for ways of reducing their unit costs to maintain their profit margins.

7. Decline 

This is the stage when sales start to fall because consumer tastes have changed or competition has created better products at lower prices. The decline stage begins when you no longer sell enough volume of products to maintain a significant share of the market. You may phase out your product due to newer models, new technology, or replacement products. At this point, most companies will stop advertising and promoting their product and instead focus on maximizing profits during the product's last days on the market.

Which professionals are involved in a product lifecycle?  

A product management team is responsible for the end-to-end product development process. They're in charge of everything from ideation and research to design, development, and marketing. The team is made of various professionals, including:

  • Product managers

  • Designers and engineers

  • Data scientists

  • Test engineers or QA engineers

  • Marketers

Product management teams can exist in many different forms, depending on the size of the company or product they're working on. For example, a small start-up with five people might have a single person who has multiple roles as a product manager, designer, and engineer.

Read more: What Does a Product Manager Do? Define Product Strategy

Responsibilities of a product manager

Product management involves taking on varied responsibilities. As a product manager, you may need to play the role of a business analyst, product owner, and much more. You may need a complete understanding of product management, including:

  • Product strategy: This is the foundation of all product management activities, including planning, development, and marketing.

  • User experience design: As a product manager, you’ll need to understand user experience design principles and methods.

  • Agile development: You’ll need to understand Agile product development concepts, methodologies, and tools.

  • Business analysis: You are responsible for ensuring that under development products are commercially viable. Business analysis skills may help you create a compelling business case, identify critical requirements, and set priorities.

  • Leadership: The ability to inspire a team to execute product strategy is critical to your success as a product manager. Product leaders must be able to rally all necessary employees around a single vision and motivate them to take it from concept to reality.

  • Communication skills: You'll need to communicate with everyone involved in your product development process and be able to talk and explain your product. This means presenting information clearly and succinctly.

  • Collaboration: As a product manager, you’re not solely responsible for the success or failure of the product, but you will be making decisions for it. It takes many people (and teams) to bring a product to life. Collaboration is key to a successful outcome.

  • Domain knowledge:  As a product manager, it's essential to understand how the technology that powers your product works because it can help you make better decisions.

Product lifecycle managers connect many different business areas throughout the product journey. You’ll need to be able to navigate through the following disciplines:

  • Engineering, including mechanical design and simulation

  • Manufacturing, including tooling and processes

  • Quality assurance

  • Supplier management, including supplier development and audit processes

  • Materials management

  • Packaging

  • Reverse logistics, including repair and refurbishment processes

Is the PLM skill set in high demand?

Employers value the product lifecycle management skill set, and it is a critical part of any business that makes products.

In today’s competitive business environment, it's essential to make the correct product development and promotion decisions. Product lifecycle management helps companies improve decision-making and streamline innovation. It’s a strategic business discipline that enhances collaboration and communication throughout the entire product lifecycle.

Following a professional approach means companies can more easily track where products are in their lifecycle and quickly access all relevant data about those products. 

Read more: 4 Phases of the Project Management Lifecycle Explained

Average salary of a product lifecycle manager

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a product lifecycle manager in the US is $94,957 per year [1]. Your actual salary will depend on your experience level, the type of company you work for, and your location.

A wide array of PLM software options is available to help you manage everything from product concept design, manufacturing, and marketing. Here are some examples:

1. SAP PLM

This is a web-based solution designed for the manufacturing industry. It integrates aspects of PLM with business functions which may result in increased efficiency and profitability.

2. Siemens Teamcenter

This web-based solution integrates engineering with manufacturing, IT, and business processes. It is ideal for large enterprises looking to improve efficiency across their entire organization.

3. Oracle Agile

This solution is built on the Oracle database and provides a comprehensive PLM platform to support manufacturers’ current and future needs in today's economy. It also offers an integrated collaboration environment where teams can work together on innovation projects while managing their data securely in one central location.

4. Bamboo Rose

Bamboo Rose is a digital platform that connects brands, retailers, and suppliers to automate the product lifecycle. The company’s tools facilitate collaboration on 3D design, sampling, and production.

5. Aras PLM

This is an enterprise open-source software platform that allows manufacturers to manage their product lifecycle. The company provides data management, simulation and analysis, technical documentation, quality management, and other capabilities in a unified system.

6. Upchain

Upchain is a cloud-based product lifecycle management solution that enables manufacturers to collaborate with customers and supply chain partners. The tool includes engineering change control and quality control features.

7. Andromeda PLM by NGC

NGC offers a complete end-to-end solution for all aspects of product development. The solution was developed to cater to the fashion and footwear industries. The company’s product data management solutions include a PLM system from its Andromeda suite.

8. Centric PLM

Centric is a popular PLM solution for retail, footwear, apparel, and consumer goods industries. Its primary offering is Centric 8 PLM, which provides an end-to-end solution for managing the entire product lifecycle.

9. Propel

Propel PLM helps companies in the manufacturing industry to manage their products throughout the entire product lifecycle, from design to production to distribution and customer service. 

10. Productboard

Productboard is a cloud-based end-to-end platform that offers marketing tools such as customer feedback analysis, product positioning, and pricing research.

Next steps in your career

Whether you're still considering jobs in product management or are already in the industry, you can take online courses to help you learn more, all at your own pace. To learn more about the product lifecycle, consider Google Project Management Professional Certificate on Coursera.

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Article Sources

1. Glassdoor. "Product Lifecycle Manager- Salary, ” https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/product-lifecycle-manager-salary-SRCH_KO0,25.htm." Accessed  May 27, 2022.

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