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The product management lifecycle: what your team needs to know
The product management lifecycle is more than just a theory or a process; it’s a tool for discovering the truth about your product—and your users.
Last updated17 Nov 2022
Your responsibilities as a product manager are endless: from shaping the look and feel of a product and getting buy-in from stakeholders to making tough calls on a new hire, a launch date, and a price point. You need a firm grasp of the product management journey from ideation onwards to negotiate them.
But what does that journey look like? And what does your interpretation of it say about you as a product manager? Keep reading to find out.
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Use Hotjar to empathize with your users, understand how they experience your product, and deliver greater value at every stage of the product lifecycle.
What is a product management lifecycle?
A product management lifecycle is made up of the processes and decisions a product management team takes to lead, drive, and guide a product across the entire span of its evolution—from its very beginnings as a concept to its reinvention or discontinuation.
But because there are many ways to design and manage a product—including how it's resourced and pitched to users and how you ensure it meets customer and business needs—your approach to product management will directly impact your understanding of the product management lifecycle.
For example, let’s look at two contrasting definitions of the lifecycle and how they're impacted by differing approaches to product management:
Definition 1: “The product management lifecycle is the optimization of product performance as it transitions between the phases of its lifecycle from introduction to market removal.”
This definition focuses on the idea of distinct lifecycle stages. This is important because it implies that you can identify the lifecycle stages and then make strategic choices about them—choices like when to invest more in developing a new feature or who your audience is.
But what does 'optimizing performance' mean? And could breaking down all the complexities of a product journey to a few basic stages be too rigid or simplistic? We’ll discuss some of these issues later.
Definition 2: “The product management lifecycle is a product-shaping process in response to business and customer needs.”
This definition is more customer-centric and focuses on empathizing with the customer, which means doing user and product research to find out what people like and need from a product. It emphasizes iteration and continuous discovery to keep up with what your users want. We’ll talk more about the importance of this later, too.
Whatever your definition, and however you view your role, the product management lifecycle should be a device for better decision-making to create business and customer value—but before you can make use of it, you have to know who it applies to.
Who owns the product management cycle?
As the name suggests, product management teams lead on strategy throughout the product management lifecycle. But not in isolation.
Generally, leading on product strategy means pulling in expertise from a range of teams—like design, engineering, finance, and marketing—to create, develop, and market the product. And this means working in tandem with the project management team, who ensure clear planning and organization, workflows, and delivery.
The product management lifecycle is naturally cross-functional, which is great because cross-functional collaboration means better communication and fewer cases of conflict while avoiding knowledge silos and duplicated work. Cross-functional collaboration also helps with innovation and the iterative process because you have more expert perspectives on what to offer and how to find solutions.
💡 Pro tip: don’t cut new team members out of the loop—make sure everyone can find key product information on internal platforms and documents shared during onboarding.
Developing a culture of democratized knowledge can be a challenge if you have teams working in different time zones and across an assortment of collaborative tools, but better knowledge sharing:
Speeds up training
Facilitates cross-functional collaboration
Helps remote workers
Ultimately, because of the nature of the product management lifecycle, ownership is less important than establishing a shared product vision with the customer experience at its heart.
But how much emphasis does the traditional lifecycle model place on the customer experience?
Limitations of the traditional product management lifecycle model
As we mentioned, there are different definitions of and approaches to the product management lifecycle, but the traditional view of it gives us four main phases:
Introduction: here, the main focus is on getting to market as you analyze site performance to help develop a product that can pass to the next lifecycle phase.
Growth: now your goal is to scale the product by developing more features with greater functionality to capture a bigger share of the market.
Maturity: as demand plateaus, your focus moves from acquiring new users to retaining existing ones with effective product backlog management to prioritize new ideas or resolve technical debt.
Decline: if there’s no way to keep the product marketable, you’ll need an exit strategy that redirects teams and their resources to new ideas and products—and so back to the introduction phase of the lifecycle.
But having these set expectations of how your product will experience the product lifecycle can bring about poor decision-making. Here’s why:
The initial phase of a product management lifecycle should be a crucial discovery period about the customer, what they need, and how you can solve their problem. You can achieve this with ongoing user research, which is overlooked by a lifecycle whose focus is an early return on investment.
Not all products experience the kind of growth that the traditional lifecycle predicts, and mistakes with scaling strategy or implementation could mean you’re misdirecting your team’s efforts while harming the value of your site to the user.
A demand plateau or fall doesn’t always mean a radical shift in strategy is needed—you may just need to listen to your users more (or better). Declining traffic metrics can be a temporary blip, so empathizing with the customer and understanding their needs with surveys, feedback, and other UX insights should be prioritized throughout the entire lifecycle.
Iteration and the ongoing feedback loop: an alternative lifecycle model
Another, more user-centric way to break down the product management lifecycle is to use it as a springboard for ideation and responsiveness to the customer. This is where agile product management comes in, to facilitate a collaborative, adaptive approach for quick, creative product solutions.
Take a look at each phase below.
Lifecycle phase 1: ideation
This lifecycle model starts not with a product’s introduction but with just an idea—but where do ideas come from?
A product lifecycle involves lots of teams with the customer at the center of what they do—engineering, marketing, analytics, design—all with a perspective on customer pain points, possible solutions, and areas of opportunity. There are likely many ideas in circulation at any given time, so effective cross-functional collaboration is needed to bring those ideas to the surface, share them, and validate them.
Working together harnesses every team's expertise, and if all these teams agree a concept has value potential, and there’s no clear reason not to proceed, you can look to see what users make of it.
Lifecycle phase 2: research and development
Before going to market, you need to prove your concept—which means testing your idea with potential users so you have the best chance possible of a successful launch.
Take your idea to target audience samples and get quantitative and qualitative feedback to answer key questions, like what improvements can be made, and which of these would have the biggest impact.
The UX insights you gather will feed into your product roadmap (where you work out strategies and goals, plan releases, and set KPIs), help you prioritize the product backlog, zero in on the right price point, and iterate towards a minimum viable product (MVP)—which we look at next.
Lifecycle phase 3: launch
An agile, iterative product management cycle depends on early market entry to start receiving and reacting to user feedback as quickly as possible—so the product at the time of launch must be a basic offering aimed at early adopters.
Anything more than this and your development phase could be too long and expensive, and you’ll have too many areas of focus when it comes to feedback. Instead, you need to prioritize development around the features that directly address the user needs you identified during the research phase.
The MVP should:
Be basic but functional
Be created specifically for the potential user
Include the essential features needed to solve the user’s problem
Lifecycle phase 4: feedback, learn, and respond
With your MVP launched, use ongoing user feedback to inform decision-making and continually shape and reshape the product for the user.
Connect your UX insights with quantitative data to empathize with your audience, spot bugs, or uncover missed opportunities—like a feature users want or one they find redundant.
To do this, you could trigger pop-up surveys at certain points in the customer journey (ask questions like “Did you find what you were looking for?” and “What’s the ONE thing missing from this page?”), or use user behavior analytics tools to watch how visitors use your site, looking out for rage clicks or u-turns, indicating a broken element or page speed issues.
The product management team constantly seeks to improve the product with research and responsiveness via an ongoing feedback loop, which is the nature of continuous discovery—your product evolves with your customer.
Creating business and customer value throughout the cycle
Achieving business and customer value is a balancing act. You may have a fantastic product, but if customers only want half the features on offer, the price point is likely too high, compromising business goals as a result. Strip it down too much, though, and users might prefer what they see in a competitor.
So your challenge is to solve the user’s problem with maximum efficiency while keeping the product attractive and exciting—which means learning from your audience and getting the buy-in you need from key stakeholders to act on your findings.
To do this, a product manager can use a lifecycle model as a basis for discussion and strategy choices.
For example, you can use an agile lifecycle model to demonstrate the importance of speed when reacting to user feedback during launch. When a new feature goes live, you need to respond quickly to ensure your product aligns with what they need and expect.
Similarly, your commitment to an ongoing feedback loop means that if user numbers suddenly dropped within a certain demographic, you could quickly identify where that shortfall is coming from. With surveys and other UX insights, you can understand the reasons behind any change in user behavior and then address the issue with a fast response.
💡 Pro tip: excite and surprise your users to gain a competitive advantage.
Here are a few ways to exceed customer expectations and create a positive feeling for your brand:
Develop an intuitive product
Be proactive about solving user problems
Offer customization options for product personalization
Build a sense of community by sharing your roadmap and welcoming user ideas
Foster a customer-centered culture throughout the product team
Look here to learn about customer delight, how to create it, and how product experience insights tools (like Hotjar!) can measure it.
But the constant factor throughout any product management lifecycle, and the only way to be sure you’re creating value, is to continually improve your product by empathizing with the customer.
And to do this, you need to balance quantitative analytics with UX and PX insights, which is where Hotjar can make a critical difference to your success as a product management team.
Keep reading to learn how Hotjar can help.
5 ways Hotjar can help product management teams with the product management lifecycle
1. Get early feedback during the introduction phase
Use Surveys at launch to learn about visitors’ experiences and use their feedback to shape future product iterations. Questions like “How easy was it to solve your problem?” or “What could we have done better?” will give practical, actionable information on how to make PX improvements.
In-app surveys delivered at the right point in the user journey have been an invaluable source of product and customer insights.
2. Spot bugs
Especially during the early stages of the product lifecycle, you need to learn quickly about UX issues and blockers. Your users are better at finding bugs than you are, so use an Incoming Feedback widget—a real-time suggestion box for your site—to quickly find and solve issues.
For example, if users experience navigational issues (like 404 pages) or certain elements don’t load properly (like a video or gallery), you can learn about their blockers as they experience them, and not miss out on converting visitors.
3. Understand how customers experience your website
Use Heatmaps to follow user behavior post-launch to find out what’s getting attention and what’s getting ignored with an aggregated picture of where your users are clicking and scrolling. An early understanding of how a resource works for your audience saves on costs and helps you deliver a product that users want.
4. Find out why users are leaving
With Recordings, you can see what users see, where they scroll, why they click—as if you’re sitting right next to them as they do it. If you see a drop in user numbers, you need to know why—is your product really going from maturity to the decline stage, or is there simply a UX issue in play? Recordings allow you to see the full user experience, find pain points, and empathize with your customers.
5. Get buy-in from stakeholders
Back up traditional analytics with qualitative data from Hotjar to make better strategic choices and gain stakeholder confidence. Optimizing your site for the user shouldn’t be guesswork, and showing key decision-makers how customers experience your product will inform your strategy as the product transitions between lifecycle phases.
Discovering the truth about your product and your users
As we’ve seen, a traditional product management lifecycle describes a journey with distinct phases and quick strategic shifts. You scale, grab a big share of the market, then limit risk at the first signs of decline. But this isn’t necessarily the best way to create a product your users will love.
Creating a product that people love, and will continue to love, depends on knowing your customer, which relies on an ongoing feedback loop of user and product discovery. With an agile, iterative lifecycle, you anticipate needs, understand frustrations, and respond—and create customer delight throughout the product management lifecycle.
Hotjar’s insights help shape your products
Use Hotjar to empathize with your users, understand how they experience your product, and deliver greater value.