What is Product Lifecycle Management

Mark Harris
|  Created: November 4, 2021
What is Product Lifecycle Management

Product Lifecycle

All products follow at an abstract level the same basic lifecycle. First, they start with a spark of an idea that is transformed into a set of product requirements. Next, these requirements drive the design process. The finalized design is then realized into a tangible product that is then deployed into the marketplace. Typically products evolve over time in the market to match changes to consumer trends, competitive pressures, or regulatory requirements. But, of course, not all ideas make it to market, so this lifecycle can often be cut short or undergo several iterations of interim stages before proceeding.

Confusingly, the term product lifecycle can often be used in the marketing world to cover the period that the product is on sale. This subordinate lifecycle covers the introduction of the product to the market and sales growth until it reaches maturity and market saturation. The end of the marketing life is indicated by a decline in sales before it is retired, replaced, or reworked. This represents a subset of the overall lifecycle of the product.

This article looks at the overall product lifecycle from forming an idea through design, development, deployment, and ultimately retirement.

Product Lifecycle Management

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is simply the process of managing the product life cycle stages efficiently and effectively to maximize the chances of success, achievement of business goals, and realization of financial rewards. The achievement of these aims comes by managing the business processes and data across the lifecycle.

PLM covers all the steps a product takes over its lifetime, from its initial design and development, through manufacturing, to its marketing and in-service support, and then finally, its disposal.

To be effective, PLM must draw together all the parties involved in a product's production to streamline processes and maximize efficiencies. The goal of PLM is to produce the right product, bring it to market at the right time, and maximize profits by generating consumer demand and outperforming competitors.

To be truly effective, PLM must integrate with the other cornerstones of a comprehensive business management system. Namely, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM), and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

The benefit of good PLM is anticipating and avoiding problems, rationalizing timescales, resolving issues, and responding to events, all while minimizing costs over the product's lifetime.

Conception

The conception phase is the stage where an initial idea is converted into a viable concept for a product. This is a product that is feasible to create, has a market with sufficient demand to meet sales targets, and would deliver an adequate return on investment over its life to be an attractive proposition.

Feasibility will come down to whether the technology exists to realize the idea and if the business has the resources to design and develop that idea into a product.

The marketability will come down to whether sufficient customers are willing to purchase the product at the target price. This will be influenced by the demographics of the target audience, existing competition, and the effects of rival products also under development.
The return on investment assessment balances predicted sales income against development, operating, and support costs over the product's lifetime.

The conception phase aims to create a set of product requirements that precisely define what the product should do and not do. The PLM processes should support the collation and management of these product requirements into a single source of truth from which the product design is produced.

Design

The design phase transforms the product requirements into a blueprint for a developed product, including any prototyping and proof of concept activities to validate the requirements and provide project risk reduction measures.

Typically the design phase is an iterative process, using feedback from each loop to refine and enhance the design until it meets the requirements to the satisfaction of stakeholders. For the electronics industry, computer-aided design tools, and simulation support design processes. The PLM processes should support creating, sharing, and managing the design data generated in this phase. This data includes the design decisions recorded to demonstrate compliance to the product requirements to the component data sheets to support the development process—the design schematics and the bill of materials to support manufacture and supply chain processes. The PLM should support the collation and management of these product design data into a single source of truth from which the product can be manufactured.

Realization

The product realization phase encompasses transforming the completed design into a production-ready product that can be manufactured at scale reliably and repeatably.
The release of the finalized product to the market follows, where development processes end and the sales and marketing processes take over for product launch, distribution, and promotion.

The PLM processes should support the collation and management of the product information into a single source of truth from which the product documentation, such as user manuals or marketing materials, is produced.

Deployment

The product deployment phase covers the in-service stage of a product's lifecycle, encompassing support activities and customer feedback to manage reliability and serviceability issues. Continuous improvement processes take this feedback and useability metrics into product refinement and improvement activities, supporting the development of upgrades and alternated configurations within a product family.

The PLM processes should support the collation and management of the product usage, fault reporting, and in-service support information into a single source of truth that can be fed back into the development processes.

End of Life

At the conclusion of the product life cycle, management of the withdrawal of the product from the market through its retirement and disposal will be necessary and typically replaced with a new variant and supporting recycling processes.
The PLM processes should support the management of the product information to support disposal processes.

Implementing PLM

PLM systems streamline project management for electronic design projects by integrating processes and data into a cohesive solution that all stakeholders, from project managers to designers, marketers to support staff, can access and utilize.

From a design team point of view, it allows team members access to all relevant information beyond the typical subset available in siloed organizations. This greater visibility can help prevent issues due to issues with the clarity of requirements or ambiguities. It also gives other stakeholders visibility of design decisions and ensures that their viewpoints are taken into consideration.

Properly implemented, PLM will support data management across the product development activities to enforce the single source of truth concept. In addition, it will maintain the integrity of the data and support its administration.

PLM Benefits

A correctly implemented PLM system will improve project delivery by efficiently managing workflows that optimize processes and reduce development times to achieve a faster time to market. This timeline improvement can be crucial in a competitive marketplace where the first to market can gain sales momentum and reputational benefits over later arriving products.

The PLM system will introduce automation and verification into processes that help reduce errors across the lifecycle, reducing the effort required to resolve issues and resource wastage when problems are not found until the realization phase. These benefits are mainly accomplished with the integration of design and production processes.

The PLM system will improve inter-stakeholder communications and project data visibility to deliver better quality development and reduce the risk of engineering errors through misunderstanding or missing information. This benefit is particularly significant with geographically dispersed, multi-disciplinary teams collaborating on a product development project.

A PLM will enable you to react to change faster and more efficiently, responding to a change in requirements, compliance with changing regulations, or opening a new marketplace.

Conclusion

Formal product lifecycle management can deliver significant improvements across the development phases of a project. Benefits are restricted to project management and all stakeholders, including the product design team. The core of product lifecycle management is around project data management. With the adoption of Industry 4.0 and the introduction of artificial intelligence solutions to enhance development processes, product lifecycle management systems can be seen as a necessary next step for electronic device development organizations.

About Author

About Author

Mark Harris is an engineer's engineer, with over 12 years of diverse experience within the electronics industry, varying from aerospace and defense contracts to small product startups, hobbies and everything in between. Before moving to the United Kingdom, Mark was employed by one of the largest research organizations in Canada; every day brought a different project or challenge involving electronics, mechanics, and software. He also publishes the most extensive open source database library of components for Altium Designer called the Celestial Database Library. Mark has an affinity for open-source hardware and software and the innovative problem-solving required for the day-to-day challenges such projects offer. Electronics are passion; watching a product go from an idea to reality and start interacting with the world is a never-ending source of enjoyment. 

You can contact Mark directly at: mark@originalcircuit.com

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