Product Lifecycle Management: A Detailed Guide

Aug 12, 2021

To make a software product that withstands the test of time, you need to support it every step of the way.  

The best software solutions don’t happen by accident. They require ongoing maintenance and long-term vision instead. This is especially critical when it comes to building a solid product with a competitive long-term outlook. 

One of the best examples is Microsoft Word. Despite launching back in 1989, Word remains one of the most popular word processing solutions on the market today.  

In large part, this is due to Microsoft’s effective approach to product lifecycle management (PLM). That's the ongoing process of analyzing and supporting software. Keep reading to learn all about why PLM is important and why you should consider using it on your next projects. 

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What Is a Product Lifecycle?

The product lifecycle is a manufacturing term that refers to a product’s end-to-end journey from creation to disposal.  

The term also applies to software. Although the process tends to vary from company to company, it typically includes the following points.  

1. Planning

At the outset, key stakeholders will meet to outline the scope of a project. For the best results, the company should set up a single manager to own the project and see it through each step of development.  

During this phase, it’s critical to outline specific expectations and limitations. These include budgetary requirements, timelines, technical considerations, and key features.  

2. Development

Next, the product enters the development stage. At this point, engineers prepare a design, and the team determines the best development approach.  

3. Testing and Release

Engineering teams traditionally follow a waterfall strategy. This approach involves testing software and then deploying it to a user base. 

In turn, more companies are experimenting with DevOps workflows and progressive software development driven by CI/CD and testing earlier in the development cycle.  

In these environments, teams gradually release code to small groups of users at a time. This strategy reduces risk, keeps production costs under control, and preserves the user experience. 

4. Collecting Feedback

Once a product is released, software teams continue to monitor performance and collect user feedback. 

The feedback stage helps teams identify what they need to improve in upcoming software versions. For example, customers might ask for new features or provide input on existing ones that they like, avoid, or wish had additional functionality.  

5. Releasing New Features 

In an ideal world, software development never stops. Using an agile framework, developers will work with project stakeholders to identify changes and plan new features. 

In a large company, developers may release hundreds or even thousands of small updates per day. In other words, there should never come a point where software stagnates. 

What Is Software PLM?

In the software industry, product lifecycle management refers to the process of handling a piece of software as it moves through each stage of its lifecycle. 

In essence, software PLM is a bit like a production road map. It’s necessary for ensuring performance and quality and keeping software relevant and competitive as it ages.  

What Are the Benefits of Software PLM?

There are lots of reasons this is worth your time. Let's look at a few. 

Reduce Complexity 

Over time, software architecture can become increasingly complex. What starts as a simple project can easily turn into a giant knot that’s impossible to understand.  

This problem becomes even worse with employee turnover. An entire development team may turn over during the lifecycle of a software solution. When key engineers leave, it can be very difficult to troubleshoot errors and maintain stability.  

Software PLM aims to solve this problem by reducing complexity through tracking, reporting, and communication. By increasing visibility into production lifecycles, teams can have an easier time observing changes throughout each iteration.  

Mitigate Risk

The best way to avoid risk is to identify issues in advance. This is much easier to accomplish with a robust, risk-based PLM strategy in place. 

For example, most software today uses open source code, at least to some extent. Engineers need to monitor open source dependencies to prevent security vulnerabilities from affecting software.  

By prioritizing security, teams can catch issues early before they affect performance.  

Decrease Technical Debt 

Technical debt happens when software teams deploy short-term, easy fixes instead of actually solving the problem. In other words, technical debt is like a Band-Aid approach to development.

As time goes on, technical debt can increase in volume and become unmanageable, requiring extensive and costly reworks. When teams don’t address it, technical debt can ultimately cause a company to discontinue a product.  

Development teams can use PLM to avoid potential technical debt and maintain lean and efficient software that performs at a high level. 

Top Software Lifecycle Challenges

Given these points, it’s safe to say that PLM is pretty important. Yet, with so many things to juggle, teams often struggle to manage software lifecycles. 

Here’s a look at some of the top issues that companies face when managing software.  

Lack of Ownership 

It’s difficult to maintain a consistent approach to PLM when there’s a clear lack of product ownership. This can create conflict—especially when it comes to making important decisions about spending, managing, and updating software.  

To avoid this, management needs to have a clear system in place for issuing ownership and governing product collaboration. This holds specific teams and individuals accountable. 

Unclear Vision

Software teams also tend to struggle when there’s no clear product vision or road map in place. 

It’s important to carefully track changes as a product moves across its lifecycle. This is essential when it comes to navigating change and keeping software moving in the right direction. 

Poor Visibility

By and large, teams struggle with a lack of visibility into their product lifecycles.  

As such, it’s critical to collect data and measure product outcomes in order to know where and when to make changes. Without these insights, it’s very difficult to release updates.  

Plutora’s Approach to PLM

Are you looking to gain full visibility across the development lifecycle and improve collaboration among stakeholders? 

Plutora’s value stream management platform can help. 

In essence, a software value stream is every activity that’s necessary for delivering software products and services to customers. In other words, it’s all of the individual actions within a PLM strategy. 

We might be a bit biased, but we believe that Plutora is the most complete value stream management solution on the market. It offers value stream mapping, data auditing and governance, and deep analytics and metrics. On top of that, the platform provides AI-powered predictive insights and real-time collaboration tools to keep your software running smoothly.  

Add it all up, and this platform can provide a world of insight into your PLM strategy. You can use it as a dashboard for investing in your software—and as a way to extend its lifespan.  

Case Study: How Healthfirst Is Using Plutora to Improve Release Quality 

To illustrate, Plutora is helping Healthfirst, a health insurance provider, improve release quality and accelerate deployments. 

Before Plutora, developers would often ask Toni Mongiovi, director of release management, for more time for functional testing. 

“They would be firefighting,” Mongiovi says. 

That’s all changed with Plutora. 

“Now, I can see which pieces haven’t been accepted into the release by the respective product owners,” Mongiovi continues. “I can then have a data-driven conversation with them and find out what the problem is, allow extra time if needed, or defer to a future release.”  

Once that’s done, the team can go back, inspect what happened, and gain insights and learnings for future improvements. 

“We still have governance and we still have oversight,” Mongiovi concludes. “But it doesn’t get in the way.” 

To learn more about how Healthfirst is using Plutora for product lifecycle management, check out the full case study.  
For more information about Plutora’s approach to value stream metrics, check out our free guide: Discover the Power of the Value Stream Flow Metrics.

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