Even if you're new to Product Management, you have probably already heard the term 'product lifecycle'. Job descriptions for Product Managers will generally reference it. People in Product Management will use it often. But what exactly is the 'product lifecycle'?

It's product over project

Product Management can be differentiated from Project Management in several ways. Fundamentally, Product Management recognises that a product changes over time and exists in a changing context, and so is required throughout the life of the product, while Project Management treats the build of a product as something that exists in a pre-defined period of time, with a pre-determined end state.

It follows that, if a product has a life during which it and the context in which it exists change over time, then the product will have a lifecycle. Much like any living thing will go through different stages in its life, a product will go through different stages. In turn, the management of that product will look different at different stages.

It's a way of predicting Product Management and Product Marketing needs

The product lifecycle has been fairly well defined by this point. The simple version sees the product go through four distinct stages. First is launch, next is growth, followed by maturation and ultimately decline. This provides a structure to plan the development and marketing of your product.

Product Management can look very different in each stage of the product lifecycle. The demands of the role are different, the stakeholders can be different, and the roadmap for the product will definitely be different. Launching a product requires strict definition of the MVP, and a focus on core functions and features. Growing a product requires analysis of what you've learned in the launch phase, focusing on the direction that brings the best results, and planning timely feature releases. This is different again in the maturation and decline stages. Knowing what to expect from each stage allows this to be planned and managed well.

Similarly, marketing of a product will be very different at each stage of the product lifecycle. Whether you focus on early adopters (launch), core customers (growth), or wider customers (growth into maturation) depends on the lifecycle. The amount of marketing effort and the type of marketing that you should invest in will change accordingly, and can be predicted by the movement of your product through the lifecycle.

It's the lens through which we can define success

The ability to predict the product lifecycle, and base our plans and requirements for our product on each stage, allows us to identify what success looks like for our product at different times. Defining success, or product-market-fit, or KPIs depends on our understanding of where our product is in the lifecycle, and where it will be in time.

A product at launch phase will have hugely different measures of success than the same product at the maturity stage. There are various reasons for this, such as market awareness, volume of features released, or the access to customer data and robust analytics. It's a very bad idea to set maturation-level KPIs for a newly launched product as you are unlikely ever to achieve them. Your measures of success should change with the product lifecycle, as another acknowledgement that products and the context they exist in, change over time.

You'll find training on the product lifecycle and all aspects of Product Management, in our Online Product Management Training Course.