Every single product experiences its own lifecycle, which consists of four distinct stages. By tracking where a product sits in this cycle at any given moment, businesses can use this framework to influence their decisions regarding marketing, costs, and expansion.
These processes and strategies are widely referred to under the umbrella term Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). PLM aims to improve both products and processes, increase overall efficiency, reduce costs, and eliminate waste. Here, we outline the four all-important steps of a product lifecycle and share some tips that can help support and maintain a product for as long as possible.
Stages of the product lifecycle
The lifecycle begins with its launch. Marketing is the main focus at this stage, and the cost of promotion and initial distribution could be high. Conversely, sales at this stage are low as the market still needs to accept the new product, which can take time—especially in competitive sectors. This is the stage a business typically loses the most money on its product.
Sales and profits start to grow as the product is accepted by the market. A business may opt to stay competitive by making improvements to its product and investing more funds into its marketing strategy, maximising the growth potential during this stage.
The product is established at this point, peaking sales. Now, the company must focus on maintaining its market share. Competition is fierce as alternative products enter the market, so businesses need to carefully consider how to best invest in marketing.
During the decline stage, the market starts to shrink, as consumers either switch to a competitor or the product has reached all its potential customers. While a product may no longer be in demand and get phased out of the market, businesses are still able to profit by moving to cheaper methods of manufacture and production.
Expanding your product lifecycle
As a result of increasing competition and saturated markets, the vast majority of products will have a limited shelf life. For instance, products in the electronics sector may decline when upgraded or cheaper versions are released. As there’s little that can be done to prevent developments like this, most business owners accept this outcome but will focus on PLM to ensure the product is as successful and profitable as possible during its life cycle.
Invest in specialist software
Managing the product lifecycle can be significantly simplified with dedicated software. There are several tools which aid with everything from identifying raw materials and managing the inventory, to uploading documentation and accessing product designs.
One example is EASA, implemented by Air International to facilitate its computer-aided engineering (CAE) workflows. Previously, the company’s design engineers would pass concepts to the analysts, who would then determine their performance and send back the results. However, the analysts rarely had the product knowledge required to suggest improvements, while the design engineers lacked the skills necessary to work with advanced analysis tools. With the help of EASA, Air International was able to “automate many of the non-value added steps involved in the process” and enable the designers and analysts to “create and deploy custom tools with ‘built-in’ expertise” so both parties could receive instant feedback. Since then, the company has made plans to integrate the software with all of its existing PML systems.
Collaboration with suppliers is crucial to optimising the supply chain and, therefore, maximising a product’s lifecycle. This helps identify the best vendors by establishing details like the source of particular materials, expiration and allergen information, and assembly and processing dates. With this knowledge to hand, a company is better placed to choosing quality materials, lowering procurement costs, and reducing wasteful processes. An organisation may also avoid buying unnecessary machinery or other equipment if they’re clued up about raw material specifications.
As well as conversing with suppliers, straightforward communication between everyone working for the business on an internal basis is also important. Any working PML system needs those with different responsibilities to work as a team, share information, and easily access any important data. Improving communication in the workplace helps create more efficient processes and increases the quality of the finished product. Solid communication channels also reduce the likelihood of any errors that could result in production delays.
Equipment is undoubtedly an important part of the product lifecycle and keeping track of it can help a business determine whether they really need to upgrade or replace any pieces—which in turn could impact both cost and productivity.
Managing an equipment inventory involves keeping an accurate and up-to-date list of all business assets, overseeing who uses it, and how, when, and where. This helps enterprises identify where certain equipment is most needed, enables them to prioritise spending on more frequently used pieces, and plan regular maintenance where necessary. It may also uncover important details regarding staff performance. For instance, if one machine continuously breaks, further investigation could show that one employee is using the equipment incorrectly. This means a simple training session will be all that’s needed to fix the problem, saving company money on a brand new machine.