Old school product managers live and die by the product lifecycle. For the past 30+ years, PMs have been defining requirements, conducting marketing analysis, and launching products to “segmented markets”. To some, this canon. Is this right? How effective is it? Given the advent of the networked globe, through the internet and globalization, there’s been a shift to a new paradigm: hypothesize, create the most simple test, and scale if the test is successful. Does the product lifecycle still matter?
Product Lifecycle Model
The product lifecycle model evolved from the industry lifecycle. In the traditional business lifecycle, there are four phases:
Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline
A new industry is found. There are few competitors and blue skys are everywhere.
Demand in the industry is high and customers want more of x then companies can create.
Everybody sees x company making money hand over fist and jumps to create a clone of the company. Supply is greater than demand and now customers can choose between different companies driving the prices within the industry down. Companies now compete on cost and the glory days of high profits are replaced with cost cutting across the board.
There is now excess capacity and selling at razor thin margins is replaced with selling at losses and rationalizing customer lifetime value. Companies that cannot compete die out and newer, better forms of x products are introduced.
The Continuous Cycles Of A Product
New mental models point to different ways of viewing the product lifecycle. These models are all variations of Steve Blank’s Four Steps To The Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual and his student’s book The Lean Startup. Instead of viewing the life of a product in a linear manner, these new models view them as a continuous cycle of customer development and customer validation each with their own cycle of hypothesize, build, measure, learn, and pivot or proceed.
Customer Development Process (The Startup Owner’s Manual)
Build Measure Learn (The Lean Startup)
The main thesis of both these models state that businesses and products within those businesses are a series of unproven hypotheses. Gone are days of going up to a mountain and chiseling away at a product to return like Moses with 2 tablets that will mesmerize all users into emptying their pockets to purchase. Instead, each product has underlying hypotheses with it’s business model that can only be verified by testing them within their respective market. Hell, their markets are also a series of hypotheses that need to be tested as well. Instead of creating long Product Requirement Documents on PMs and engineers’ desks, these models emphasize the involvement of customers early to validate that the product features are actual solutions to customers’ problems.
So Many Models, Which One Is Correct?
The short answer: all in their own way. Instead of viewing the models as tradeoffs against each other, I see the models as defining the views of a product from different magnifications. The product lifecycle is the highest level view stating that all products will have a beginning and end. The Startup Owner’s Manual in a mid level zoom that explains how a product can be successfully taken from introduction to growth to maturity, and that instead of dying after the decline phase, products can pivot to get back into growth phase. Lastly, The Lean Startup model is the most magnified zoom, diving into each of the steps in the Customer Development and Validation processes of The Startup Owner’s Manual. It explains how combining the idea of quickly iterating through hypotheses + agile software development can reduce waste while go through the phases of Customer Development and Validation, which should give more runaway for startups to not take the fatal run out of funding plunge.