How does the lifecycle of a software product work?

Before we see how does the lifecycle of a software work, we need to understand the technology adoption curve. This concept came up for the first time in a book from 1962, called Diffusion of Innovations, written by Everett M. Rogers, sociologist and professor at Iowa State University. In this book, Rogers explains that technological innovations are adopted according to the curve showed in the following picture:

In the beginning, innovators are the first to get interested on new products and novelties. They even accept incomplete or defective products just for the pleasure of being the first ones to use this new product. Then we find the early adopters, also known as visionaries or enthusiasts, who accept the risks of testing a new product, but not for the pleasure of coming first but because they see the potential in it. Usually, they are influencers within organizations and communities in which they participate.

The early majority, also called pragmatic, buy new products only after they got references. Late majority are the conservatives, in other words, those who buy only after the price has dropped substantially. Lastly, we have the laggards, who only buy a new product if this is the only option available.

By calculating the integral (who remembers the calculus classes?) we can obtain the famous S-shaped technology adoption curve.

This S-curve can be broken in three stages: the slow beginning, which is the innovation stage; later comes the growth stage, when early majority and late majority adopt the product; and, lastly, the maturity stage, in which the product have already conquered practically the whole market.

Check out some examples for the S-curve.

S-curve in real life

Not always so perfect as the theoretical curve, but close enough. The TV curve is the closest one, and explains why the television manufacturers are always inventing something new, and then selling it to us.

In first place, there were black and white TVs; then, the colored ones. Then, there were the ones with remote control, flat screen, plasma screen, LCD, LED, 3D and SmartTV. All that so manufacturers could keep getting revenue out of their clients, even after the TV market has matured about 30 years after its was invented.

The internet and cell phones curves seem to grow the same way. The curves from PC, electricity, airplanes, telephone and cars have some alterations in their design but, in general, they are very similar to the theoretical S-curve.

Another example of the S-curve, closer to who is involved with software development, is the curve regarding the amount of .br domains registered.

Notice the typical acceleration in the innovation stage that happened between 1996 and 2008. From this year on, weíve entered in the growth stage. It seems that, from 2013 on, a new deceleration is taking place, but is still early to say whether we are or not in the maturity stage.

The abyss

There is always a “but”. In 1991, Geoffrey Moore wrote a book called Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers.

In his book, Moore explains that amongst the early adopters (enthusiasts) and the early majority (pragmatics) there is an abyss that many products can’t cross. This happens because the pragmatics need good references for buying a new product and the enthusiasts usually are not the best reference. Hence the difficulty of some products for crossing this abyss.

In his book, Moore also presents strategies to cross this abyss, but, unfortunately, the strategies proposed are all based in war tactics that, as said in a previous post, I don’t think it makes much sense for the business world.

The proposed strategy, except for the war reference, is summed up in focus. In other words, try to focus in one single type of customer and solve their problem with your product. When these customers are very satisfied, then it’s the moment for you to seek new types of customers.

The abyss described by Moore shows one out of two possible paths for the software product:

  • It is not going to cross the abyss: the company canít get its product to go beyond the enthusiasts and, consequently, will not have clients to guarantee its survival. This is one of the reasons that many startups close their doors prematurely.
  • Mature: your product is going to work and the company will eventually make to the top of the S-curve, and will decelerate until some other company comes up with a product to replace yours. Take a look at Kodak that, until today, didn’t recover from the invention of digital cameras, since its revenue came primarily from the sales of camera films and photographic material.

And here we are in the fourth stage of the software product lifecycle: the end, or, in nicer terms, sunset.

So we have the four stages in the software product lifecycle: innovation, growth, maturity and sunset.

In the following articles we’ll see each one of these stages in more detail and understand the role of product management in each one of them.

Product Management: how to increase the success chances of your software

In 2015 I wrote a book on Software Product Management in Portuguese. In 2016, Paulo Caroli talked to me about how he enjoyed the book and how this book could be useful to people in the software industry not only in Brazil but anywhere in the world. For this reason, we decided to create an English version of my book.

The book is organized in 5 sections:

  • Definitions and requirements
  • Life cycle of a software product
  • Relationship with other areas
  • Product portfolio management
  • Where to use software product management

This book is suitable for anyone working with software. Even companies that do not have software as its core business use software in their day to day and often have developed some software that interfaces with its customers such as a website or a mobile application. It is important for these companies to understand the software product management role and responsibilities, so they can better manage this software and increase its chances of success.

We are working on the translation but as we progress we are already releasing the content. If you want to see the work in progress, please visit the book page at LeanPub. Still in beta but already with valuable content. Feedbacks are not only welcome, but needed!