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Product Lifecycle 101

10 min read
The product lifecycle doesn’t just take you from great idea to finished product. It has the ability to spark new concepts, extend the value of existing lines, and give you a deeper understanding of your customer.

What do we mean by product lifecycle?

The product lifecycle is the process of shaping a product through research of customers and the market.

It’s an ongoing feedback loop that continually improves a product over time, making it more appealing to consumers, more profitable to the company producing it, and more embedded with its audience.

All great products start with a great idea. To get from that stage to the design, production, launch marketing, and continued sales of a real-world item or service involves many steps. There is qualitative and quantitative research to help assess what will work and what customers will want to pay for. Often it takes multiple iterations and steps are repeated to get things right.

To keep that process as efficient and effective as possible, product managers and product teams use a range of tools and analyses to streamline and organise each part of the journey. That might include customer focus groups, interviews, max-diff surveys, and concept test surveys, all of which inform the route to success using customer-backed data.

The power of iteration

Throughout the product, lifecycle iterations help us to narrow down, filter out, and hone our ideas until we find what will equate to customer success. Re-routing is part of the process, and it’s not uncommon to change direction multiple times or even go back to the drawing board.

Discovering early in the project that something isn’t going to work is a positive, because it means we’ve saved time and resources we would have spent pursuing something non-viable.

A typical product lifecycle might look something like this:

1. The idea

Ideas often come from observations inside the business. Perhaps there’s a customer pain-point that’s frequently recognised. Or an obvious pattern in the business data that points to an opportunity for a new solution. Opinions on what new products should be are often very broad. There may be a wide range of ideas but not much clarity on what should take priority.

Generally the product team will own the product lifecycle process, but it can include product marketing and engineering teams too. Further down the line, UX teams, designers and other stakeholders all have a vested interest in understanding from the customer what’s important.

Once an idea comes to light, the next step is to validate it internally by getting feedback from people within your company. Having thoughts from a range of business areas will help stress-test the idea to make sure it’s worth taking to the next step.

If there’s a general consensus that the idea is a good one and there are no obvious barriers to taking it forward, you can progress to the next step – testing the concept with real end-users.

2. Product development research

There are various ways to connect with your customers. Tools and platforms like Qualtrics Research Core provide different instruments to assess, validate and improve your ideas and perspectives.

In general, there are four sequential steps to product development research.

  • Features: What should be included?
    You’re likely to have a long laundry list of potential features for your new product. But what’s a necessity, and what’s just nice to have? Customer research can help you narrow down your feature list and prioritise which items on it deserve a bigger chunk of your budget.
  • Function: How should it work?
    How should your chosen features work together? What will the user interface of the product be like? You may be faced with a decision about whether to innovate on your product’s functionality or model it after an existing product that’s already familiar to users. Testing can help steer you towards the option customers will prefer.
  • Messaging: How should we market it?
    Once function and features are established, you’re ready to bring in the product marketing team and decide how to present the product to its audience. This will involve researching how customers view your business and its competitors and finding the right niche for your product in its future market.
  • Price: What will customers be willing to pay?
    You can use surveys and studies to hone in on the exact price point where customers feel ready to purchase.

Methodologies and tools

There are a whole range of tools and techniques you can use in the research phase to start answering the questions above. Here are a few that are commonly used in product
research cycles.

Conjoint analysis

This is a popular market research approach for measuring the value consumers place on a product’s features, whether those features are presented individually or as a package. The conjoint analysis approach combines real-life scenarios and statistical techniques to assist in modelling market decisions.

Conjoint analysis is commonly used in product testing and employee benefits packages. Conjoint surveys will show respondents a series of packages where features are varied to better understand which ones drive purchase decisions.

MaxDiff analysis

MaxDiff (Maximum Difference) is an advanced survey research technique used to collect preference and importance scores for multiple items. Respondents are presented with samples from the full list of items to be assessed. They mark the item they prefer most and the item they prefer least in each set and repeat this exercise with different subsets of the items.

MaxDiff analysis is a type of Best-Worst scaling that relies on Paired Comparisons. As respondents mark their preference for specific items against a list of other items, MaxDiff seeks to find the ones preferred the most and how a ranking of the items shake out. Using that knowledge, you can identify the features your program should be most focused on providing for customers, and the ones you can set aside.

Card sort

Card sorting is a quick way to prioritise a long list of potential features. It’s great for creating a shortlist of features early on in the product development process.

The card sort technique helps you understand which product features most and least deliver value to a potential buyer or past customer. Card sort survey participants sort your list of potential product features so you have all the information you need to make important product decisions.

Product features are frequently characterised into easy to understand categories such as ‘must-have’, ‘nice-to-have’, and ‘doesn’t-need’ so you can see at a glance which ones matter most to different customer segments.

Concept test

Concept testing is the investigation of potential consumers’ reactions to a proposed product or service — before introducing the product or service to market. As organizations look to launch a product or invest in the development of an idea, concept testing is essential to identifying perceptions, wants and needs associated with a product or service.

Needs-based analysis

This method helps you understand how each of your product features is performing and how important they are to your customers. Needs-based analysis assesses current satisfaction and importance of various product features so you can focus on the ones of most importance to your customers.

It allows you to spot product gaps and identify the features customers value that you’re not performing well on, so you can focus your investment on the improvements that will have the biggest impact.

Market segmentation

Customer segmentation involves dividing your market into usable groups of potential
customers by analysing demographics, needs, beliefs, spending patterns or other
psychological or behavioural criteria.

It allows you to paint a detailed picture of different groups of customers or prospects so
you can maximise your appeal to different target groups. Your market segments can be
used in all kinds of contexts, from product research to communications and promotions.

3. Product launch

Congratulations! You’re ready to send your product out into the world.

But that’s far from the end of the story. Now that customers are in direct contact with your product, there’s a huge opportunity to collect experience data about the product’s performance, the marketing messages around it, and how it’s perceived in terms of value.

4. Feedback and customer response

With your product launched, the next task is to set up and maintain an ongoing program of research. Monitor the response to your product using tools like product satisfaction and customer satisfaction surveys, as well as sales and other operational metrics, to keep a pulse on how it’s performing.

Often this can serve as a pipeline for ideas on improvements to existing products, or even start the cycle for entirely new products. It’s just as critical as the pre-launch testing we do, because it helps us improve what we currently offer.

Managing the product lifecycle

As you can see, the product lifecycle is complex, and involves plenty of twists and turns, explorations and dead ends on the journey to finding the right solutions. It also involves collaboration between a range of different stakeholders, including product teams, marketers, engineers and UX professionals.

To keep the product lifecycle on course, productive and within budget, it’s important to prioritise efficiency and accuracy in your methods. Designing surveys that yield high-quality data is essential, as is having that data in a common format so that your analyses are done on like-for-like basis.

Managing everything within a single platform can help minimise the potential for confusion and provide a common communication channel. It can also help speed up the journey from idea to revenue-generating product, keeping costs contained and processes streamlined.

Qualtrics XM has everything you need to take your product from initial idea to point of sale.