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The Product Management Lifecycle: A Comprehensive Guide

Dive into the 6 steps in the product management lifecycle and discover how best to plan out product development and your go-to-market motion.

Successful products don't just sprout out of nowhere. Despite what you’ve heard, those “eureka” moments where everything just sort of comes together are exceptionally rare.

More often than not, a well-received product results from a rigorous process (and a couple of pivots) to achieve product-market fit.

This process, known as the product management lifecycle, runs the gamut from initial ideation to post-launch activities like feedback and optimization.

In this article, we’re going to shepherd you through that process.

What you won’t get is a collection of flimsy and pseudo-insightful recommendations like “create buyer personas.”

What you will get, though, is a set of expert insights and actionable takeaways that you can implement at each step of the product lifecycle that we’re about to lay out for you.

What is product lifecycle management? 

Product lifecycle management is the end-to-end process of governing a product, from early ideation and research stages through to product planning and development, right through to sunsetting.

Ignition product lifecycle

This includes executing on the individual stages within the product lifecycle as well as managing and overseeing the lifecycle as a whole.

In a healthy product team, the product manager or PMM (product marketing manager) is responsible for managing and directing the product lifecycle. They’re steering the Go to Market (GTM) strategy and own the product roadmap.

The actual stages in the lifecycle itself are up for debate.

Some product leaders promote a broad four-stage process — introduction, growth, maturity, and decline — which we think is too general.

Others go down the other rabbit hole and get too detailed, going as far as considering customer feedback as a distinct step (which is actually just something you collect during the post-launch phase).

At Ignition, we use a six-stage model to define the product lifecycle:

  1. Market research
  2. Ideation & product design
  3. Product development
  4. Product launch 
  5. Growth, iteration, & scaling 
  6. End-of-life/sunsetting

Those six steps are exactly what we’re going to dive into next. Read on!

The product management lifecycle in 6 stages

A quick note:

We’re assuming here that you’ve already got an idea for a product — we’re not going to walk you through how to come up with new ideas to bring to market.

1. Market research 

The first step in the product management lifecycle — market research — is about figuring out if there is a reasonable opportunity for your product idea to succeed.

Having preliminarily defined your target market, you want to know:

Who are the potential customers in this market, what are they motivated by, and how are they being underserved?

Use decision-first customer research — figure out what you want answered first rather than collecting data without an end goal — to answer these questions.

Behzod Sirjani, ex-Head of Research Operations at Slack, has a helpful model for choosing customer research methods based on the decisions you need to make

Behzod Sirjani research method archetypes

Part two of market research is identifying your TAM (total addressable market). 

At this stage, you’re scoping out whether the idea is commercially viable or whether you're talking about a TAM so small that you’ll never pay back your dev costs.

Then, it's into competitive research to understand who else is already serving the market and how.

Fractional product manager Talya Heller G shares a great template for competitive research on Reforge.

Tayla Heller G competitive research

The snippet above pulls out key data on what kind of customer each competitor is targeting — a helpful exercise for spotting any whitespace in the market.

2. Ideation & design 

You’ve got a clear understanding of the market need you’re addressing. You also have an initial vision of how you’ll compete with existing products in your space.

Now you can move forward with prototyping.

You’ve got three big jobs in this phase of the product management lifecycle:

  1. Idea management. You and your team will be coming up with all sorts of ideas for features and functions. Not all of them will be good, but you need a systematic way to store them. Mind mapping tools work well here to link different ideas together.
  2. Design. Defining how the product will function to solve the key customer challenges you’ve identified in the market research phase.
  3. Prototyping and validation. Building MVPs (minimum viable products) to test ideas, figure out if they work, and put them in front of real users to establish viability.

Marty Cagan, Founder and Partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, provides a helpful framework for choosing the right kind of prototype depending on what you’re trying to validate:

Marty Cagan prototype matrix

Feasibility prototypes test technical limitations, like trying out a new technology or algorithm. The engineer writes just enough code to validate or invalidate the approach. They might keep the end product, but it’s likely a throwaway.

Low-fidelity user prototypes are tested and interacted with by users, but they don’t look pretty or resemble a finished product. They function enough like one to conduct user testing on workflows and the broad value prop, though.

High-fidelity user prototypes test usability. It's still not a “real” product — e.g., you can enter your credit card details, but you can’t buy anything — but it’s close to working like one. They’re useful for defensive user testing. You can’t prove if they’ll like it, but you can learn if they won’t.

Live-data prototypes are low-cost, limited implementations that prove an idea works without building, testing, or deploying a real product. They require engineers to create the code but no design resource, as you’re not building a front-end.

3. Product development 

Step three in the product management lifecycle, product development, can be broken down into four key components.

  1. Roadmapping: Building out the product vision and plan for development, leveraging AI-powered road mapping tools, and using prioritization frameworks (e.g., 4D product road mapping or the MoSCoW method) to determine what gets developed first.
  2. Building: The actual execution of the product roadmap, including project management and development process refinement.
  3. Usability testing: Having real-life users interact with your productto identify friction points, inform improvements to UX and navigation, and collect usability data via surveys and user heat mapping tools.
  4. Quality assurance (QA): Defining protocols and requirements, implementing automated testing, and building out QA checklists.

On that last note, here’s a helpful QA checklist built by Will Rocklin, ex-Product Manager at Square, that you can steal

The below is just one part. Get the full checklist here.

Will Rocklin QA checklist

These processes happen simultaneously and iteratively.

For example, you don’t do all the building before you test usability. You build something, test it, and use the results to inform changes to the product roadmap, bringing you back to step one of the product development process.

4. Product launch 

The fourth stage in the product management lifecycle is where you bring the product to market.

This is the biggest phase, encompassing everything from building a customer persona to conducting Alpha testing to General Availability.

Ignition customer persona

In our ultimate guide to GTM strategy and execution, we dove into a 12-step process for launching a new product, including details on strategic and tactical planning and executing a product launch.

Here’s an overview of the steps involved:

  1. Figure out how much GTM activity you need. This will inform budgets and resource requirements.
  2. Set the right objectives. Define your business, marketing, and communication objectives, and set realistic OKRs.
  3. Research and define your ideal buyer persona. Get super specific on who your ideal buyer is, their goals and frustrations, and how they go about buying a product like yours.
  4. Define your positioning, messaging, and copy. This is where product marketing teams shine. It's all about communicating your product’s value and impact to your ICP.
  5. Figure out your channel mix. Use your understanding of your customer and your desired level of GTM activity to figure out what GTM channels you’ll invest in.
  6. Figure out your asset plan. Pull together assets like product videos, screenshots, email campaigns, and press kits.
  7. Figure out your pricing/packaging model. Make a strategic decision about how you’ll charge for your product (e.g., per seat vs. usage-based) and what you’ll charge (compared to competitors).
  8. Figure out your rollout plan. Decide if you’ll use alpha or beta releases or go straight to a public rollout.
  9. Execute! Do the thing (and try to avoid common go-to-market mistakes like “firing and forgetting”) 
  10. Execution and operationalizing (including a task list). Use a go-to-market strategy template to help you itemize the tasks you need to complete.
  11. Post-mortem. Sit down with stakeholders and work out what went well and what didn’t. Use what you learned to inform future release management procedures. Use competitive monitoring to understand how the market adapts and responds to your launch.
  12. How do you make this repeatable for your team? Work on automating communications, improving your GTM tech stack, and building a repeatable and refinable launch process.

The product is launched and you’ve got paying customers. Great! The hard work is over, right?

Not quite… 

5. Growth, iteration, & scaling 

Once you’re past the initial launch, you’re in the growth stage.

You’ll still be dropping new features and running mini-launches to improve user experience, adjust competitive positioning, and drive up market share.

You’ll invest in ongoing growth efforts, learn from your successes and failures in different channels and tactics, and improve your GTM playbook as you move forward.

You’ll also need to focus on improving customer support and success, as well as developing mechanisms for collecting feedback, which will, of course, loop back into the product development roadmap.

6. End-of-life/sunsetting 

The final phase of the product management lifecycle has a few different names.

Some call it sunsetting, others call it unshipping, and there are probably still others who have their unique corporate jargon to avoid telling it like it is:

Killing the product.

This step — which we prefer to call end-of-life, by the way — happens once the product or feature is firmly in its decline stage and has reached the end of its usefulness.

You’ve got two tasks here:

  1. End-of-life communications: How you communicate to existing users that you’re discontinuing the product or feature.
  2. Operation shut-down: The removal of the product or feature from your catalog.

A phased withdrawal is often a good way to manage end-of-life, especially if you’ve got a large inventory to get rid of or a small group of avid users of that product whom you want to serve for as long as possible.

From there, consider upgrades or alternatives you can offer to existing customers and how you can move them over to newer products you now offer.

Driving the product management lifecycle with Ignition 

Successful product teams have three things locked down:

  1. A clear idea of their business goals at each stage of the product lifecycle
  2. A strong focus on the customer experience and what it means for ongoing product development
  3. An integrated solution for managing all things product

Ignition, our AI-powered platform for helping product teams connect with revenue, helps you check that last box.

Ignition product management software

With Ignition’s product management suite, you can collect and analyze user and competitor insights, translate them into actionable roadmaps for product development, and connect the gap between product marketing and GTM teams with full-context communication.

See Ignition in Action.

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