Responsibility #7: Maintain the Product Lifecycle

By Michael Colemere and Candianne Haacke

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
With more than half (56%) of product managers in their position for less than two years and the average (51%) duration to launch of a product being 6 to 18 months, it’s no wonder that maintaining the product lifecycle is a challenge most organizations face.

The lack of continuous lifecycle management comes as a result of limited attention or discipline, organizational churn, lack of training, employee burnout, too many products to manage, lack of executive discipline, or any combination of these things. Regardless, product managers are responsible to create and execute against a roadmap that lives well beyond a product’s release so that others know what is in store for the future.

Product Development Process
Jeff Isom has been managing LDS.org for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for just over two years. Prior to his work on LDS.org, the site experienced a massive overhaul about every three years. When he was hired, stakeholders suggested he begin managing the site through “evolution not revolution.” Instead of planning major revisions, he developed a mode of constantly learning and iterating. Surprisingly, he says, “We usually don’t end up where I thought we would, but it ends up being the right place because we’re learning and applying as we go.”

Instead of planning a single major release, product managers might take a phased or iterative approach, thereby avoiding the “launch and leave” mentality. All too often products are released without any sort of plan to keep them fresh and relevant in the minds of users. Adapting and modifying the roadmap to meet challenging circumstances in product management is a best practice.

Product Roadmap: A Communication Tool for PLM
Moving to an iterative or evolutionary product development process (especially in organizations where waterfall or major releases have been the trend) requires product managers to set clear expectations. One way this can be achieved is by periodically discussing the product’s three-year roadmap with stakeholders and the development team. As a byproduct, engineers will be less anxious about the future and will be able to stay focused on current development. Similarly, stakeholders will see how their vision plays out over time and will be able to engage only when needed, trusting that they are in good hands. This implies that business objectives are woven into the roadmap and that the product has greater chances of meeting its original goal.

Commonly Ignored Product Lifecycle Stages
The majority of product managers (56%) indicate that there is too much focus on development and quality assurance while other stages of the product lifecycle are ignored. Then what are the other stages needing attention?

For various reasons, commonly ignored product lifecycle stages include:
· Product definition
· Market research
· Content strategy
· Production and distribution
· Cost and pricing feasibility study
· Enhancement roadmap
· Marketing activities
· Translation and localization
· Training and support
· Security and risk management
· Privacy and intellectual property review
· End-of-life plan

It is common for engineers to complete an ethics course as part of their curriculum vitae. In IT ethics courses, professors teach the unwritten rules of coding (for example, not copying someone’s code, hacking bounds, etc.). If product managers were required to complete an ethics course, one of the principles might include the tenets of lifecycle management.

Leaving a product after launch without plans for the future is detrimental to the organization, the customer, and fellow product managers. Adverse impacts will affect users, development teams, stakeholders, organizations, and the inheriting product manager. Being disciplined (at both product management and executive levels) to plan for the future, measure ROI (or value) and not leap to the latest and greatest “shiny object” will help the organization achieve its long-term vision and objectives.