Product Lifecycle Management (PLM): A Quick Guide


Products have a lifespan just like everything else. After they’re born, they develop, mature and eventually die. That journey is called product lifecycle management. Like any aspect of creating a product, it involves many processes.

Product lifecycle management is the sum of the process that makes a product happen. It can be long and complicated with many phases, but let’s first define what product lifecycle management is and look at its history.

What Is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

Product lifecycle management, or PLM for short, is the handling of a good as it moves through the phases of its product life. Those phases are market development, market introduction, market growth, maturity and market decline.

For now, it’s enough to know that product lifecycle management is an involved process. It’s everything from manufacturing the product to marketing it. Managing that process is important as it helps executives make business decisions on everything from the price of the goods to promotion, expansion and cost-cutting.

The way a business approaches the various phases of a product’s development, from inception to decline, is what the product lifecycle is all about. That includes every stage of the process, from development to manufacturing and marketing to customer segmentation. Benefits include shortening product development times, knowing when to ramp up or slow down production and how to focus marketing efforts.

Successful product lifecycle management must integrate different departments within the organization, its various teams and even outside companies to streamline their activities. If done properly, this can create a product that outshines its competitors in the marketplace. That means greater profitability.

Product lifecycle management is one of the four cornerstones of manufacturing with customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). PLM also helps you market the product by knowing which stage it’s in. For example, a new product needs explaining and a mature one needs differentiating to help it continue to grow.

Project management software can help you streamline processes throughout the product lifecycle. ProjectManager is online project management software that helps your products more efficiently. Our automated workflow feature lets you set as many triggers as you want that then automate actions to move your product through production faster. Don’t worry about quality, we also have task approvals that allow only authorized team members to change the task’s status. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's workflow automation
ProjectManager has workflow automation to streamline processes without losing quality. Learn more

The History of PLM

While manufacturing can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, product lifecycle management is a concept that started to codify around the early 1930s. In 1957, the five-phase lifecycle for goods was developed by an employee of the advertising agency Booz Allen Hamilton. But it was German economist Theodore Levitt who published his Product Lifecycle model in the Harvard Business Review in 1965.

In 1985, American Motors Corporation (AMC) wanted to speed up its product development process to be more competitive. AMC didn’t have the budget so it focused on the product lifecycle of its prime products, such as Jeeps, and introduced the compact Jeep Cherokee. That product launched the modern sport utility vehicle (SUV) market.

This process was advanced by the creation of computer-aided design (CAD) software that helped engineers work more productively. Better communication systems furthered the effort by centralizing drawings and documents. When AMC was purchased by Chrysler, it used PLM to become the lowest-cost producer in the automotive market by the mid-1990s.

Since then, product lifecycle management has been known as the integration of a set of software tools used in the design, review and manufacturing of goods. Now, other companies can ensure that transition data is the same, with one source of truth reducing errors.

PLM Phases

Products go through five phases in their lifecycle. These are milestones that indicate the time from the product concept to its decline in the market. As noted earlier, the product lifecycle management phases help with decision-making, strategic development and creating the correct messaging when marketing each phase.

You’ll need to spend time on market research to understand the role of each stage of the product lifecycle within the context of your business. For example, each phase has no definitive timeline, its own risks, costs and opportunities. However, there are five basic product lifecycle management phases, which we’ve defined below.

1. Market Development

Here’s where you start the market research for your product. You’ll define and refine your product concept, test it and start to develop a launch strategy. It’s important that you test with potential customers to get feedback that can help you make changes before the launch. This is a costly phase with no income, the risk is high and outside funding might be limited. You need to show investors the potential of your product and its viability, the earlier the better, to raise funds for your product launch.

2. Market Introduction

This is when your product is launched into the market. The marketing team is tasked with creating product awareness and reaching the target audience you’ve identified. While marketing primarily focuses on promoting the product, it could also explain the usefulness or need the product is filling. This phase is all about getting the product into the hands of your customers successfully.

Related: Free Product Launch Template

3. Market Growth

Now you have a customer base that has embraced the product. Hopefully, you also have demand and profits associated with the product. But the competition can see this and will likely work towards interrupting that success. Your marketing plan will pivot to showing how your product is superior and different and perhaps you’ll add new features. You’ll also want to increase your customer support and open new distribution channels to solidify your place in the market.

4. Maturity

As your sales begin to level off from their peak, you’re entering the maturity phase of your product. To stay competitive, you might have to lower prices or revamp the product. Awareness campaigns will cease at this point, and you’ll concentrate on differentiating your product and adding features that improve the product to keep customers engaged. Market saturation is likely by this point as competitors flood the marketplace. Focus on your strengths or suffer decline.

5. Market Decline

Every product has a shelf life. Some are months while others are years. There are many things that can send your product into decline; there’s more competition from similar products, your product is outdated, customers lose interest or your brand image is tarnished. You can try to extend your product line, repackage it, adopt new pricing strategies, launch new versions of the product or move into new product categories. The latter means starting from the beginning.

PLM Software

Product lifecycle management software helps with the data and processes from the development to the decline of your goods. It’s an information management system that integrates data, processes, business systems and teams.

Using PLM software allows users to better manage data throughout the lifecycle of their product. This includes automating processes that drive revenue through repeatable actions, connecting different departments and other outside partners as well as providing real-time data.

Having a single source of truth that keeps everyone working on the most current data is one of the main features of any PLM software. It maximizes the lifetime value of your product portfolio.

Benefits of PLM

Knowing the PLM phases won’t only help with making decisions but can increase the return on investment (ROI) when you launch a product, increase the overall profitability of the company and help marketing stay connected with your target audience. This leads to maintaining and improving your product’s appeal, reputation and customer loyalty.

You also get a single source of truth, which means everyone is always working using the most current data. That’s critical when you have teams coordinating across departments and even other businesses. Having a central hub for your documentation and drawings that’s easily accessible also adds to the project’s efficiency.

Other benefits include reducing compliance risks and keeping your product updated with standards, requirements and regulations. You can also find cost reductions, drive innovation and improve the quality of the products your manufacture. That all leads to greater productivity, the ability to scale your business and boost collaboration with suppliers.

How ProjectManager Helps with PLM

If you’re looking for benefits when developing and delivering a product to the market, then you need ProjectManager. Our online software connects teams across the company. Our real-time data updates help to establish one source of truth that keeps everyone working on the same page to avoid delays and redundancies.

Connect With Remote Teams and Outside Partners

Staying engaged with teams outside of your department or even outside the company is hard. Those hurdles are easily cleared with online software. We keep everyone involved in the project connected so they can comment at the task level, share files and even tag other people in the project and bring them into the conversation.

Task list in ProjectManager

Use Multiple Project Views to Work How You Want

Not everyone uses the same tools. We keep traditional Gantt chart users connected with more agile teams using kanban boards or list views by having multiple project views. Every project tool is connected to our live updates so what you see on a timeline is the same as what you see on the calendar or sheet view.

A screenshot of a gantt chart in ProjectManager

To make sure you get that product to market on time we have tools that give you a high-level view of the progress and performance of your production, such as the real-time dashboard, and one-click reports that dive deeper into the data for a customizable look at everything from time and tasks to overall health. Add resource management features that balance your workload and you’re able to keep everyone working at capacity for greater productivity and a greater product.

ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that connects teams to work better together. Plan, monitor and report on projects to keep on schedule and stay within your budget. Manage every phase of your product lifecycle and deliver higher quality goods faster to market. Join teams at NASA, Siemens and Nestle who are delivering success with our tool. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.