What Is The Product Development Life Cycle?
November 23rd, 2021

The product life cycle refers to all the phases that contribute to a commercial digital product's design, usage, replacement, or upgrade. 

There are five primary steps to the cycle:

  • Development
  • Introduction
  • Growth
  • Maturity
  • Decline

Why is this process essential to understand? 

Whenever you start working on digital product design, you need your finger on the pulse and your eye on the future.

Going back to our question, what is the product development life cycle? We'll explain this in a bit more detail to help assess which stage you're at and whether you are ready to launch a digital product

Digital Product Development

Let's start at the logical first step in the product life cycle. 

Development doesn't just mean the product build. It includes a whole range of other tasks, such as:

  • Research and market analysis
  • Product testing and adjustments
  • Market validation

During the development phase, you'll look at competitor analysis and determine the potential for future product growth to make sure you've got a solid business case.

This crucial step needs to involve interviews and prototyping. 

Received feedback will direct your development team to understand user problems and how your product can solve them.

The Introduction Stage

When you have a digital product ready to release, you move on to introduction and promotion.

Public awareness, traction, and engagement are vital to success, so you need to ensure the right people know about it.

There are two general ways to introduce your digital product to the world.

  • Penetration strategy: this option sets prices low at launch, raising them over time. 
  • Skimming strategy: this means you maximize your pricing from day one, only reducing as market capacity drops.

If you're in a dense market with multiple competitors, penetration promotion is best. It allows you to get your product known and focus on profit later down the line.

Skimming is an excellent way to approach product introduction if your product is unique or hasn't much competition. 

Digital Product Growth Cycles

The growth part of a product's life cycle is where you start to gain more market share and will usually direct most of your efforts towards sales and marketing.

Growth strategies depend on the nature of your product and whether you're selling B2C or B2B. Still, the idea is to create focused marketing campaigns and retain customer engagement.

Lots of businesses opt for social media or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, or you might look at industry-specific promotions if you're in a niche sector.

Successful growth cycles result in increased sales and more users until eventually market share stabilizes and you hit a plateau.

Maturity In Digital Products

Most digital products spend more time in maturity than the earlier three stages. 

As sales level out, you'll need to return to development, looking at:

  • Analyses of your current product
  • Evaluations of sales performance
  • Assessments of areas for improvement
  • Research into new opportunities

Products in maturity benefit from innovation, with options to expand to other verticals or add new features.

Surviving product maturity is all about staying competitive and either going back to the start of the product development life cycle or stagnating forward to decline.

The Decline In Digital Product Life Cycles

If a product begins to fall behind with slowing sales, everyone who needs and wants your product has likely either bought it from you or a more innovative competitor.

Products in decline need to be reassessed to either adapt updated features or create a new iteration to meet market appetite.

The decision about whether to go back to product development to reconfigure an existing product or start fresh with something new very much depends on researching the market and assessing those user pain points you're trying to fix.

Some companies might opt to withdraw from the market altogether. This may be because:

  • Competitor market share is now too substantial to contend with.
  • It is considered too expensive to innovate.
  • There isn't the capacity or expertise to reinvent the digital product.

When an existing product is already in decline, it can be tough to get back into the game without an aggressive product development strategy when larger firms come into the market.

Why Product Development Life Cycles Are Critical

So, why do we need to understand each aspect of a product life cycle?

If you don't recognize the phase you're currently in, it's extremely hard to formulate an effective strategy to ensure you remain competitive.

The best approach to life cycles is to continually monitor and analyze performance, rather than hoping against hope that a product in maturity will remain relevant.

Digital innovation moves fast.

Many of the top contenders are constantly pursuing development as an ongoing drive to release new launches of revised product iterations or to improve the functionality of existing offerings.

Ideally, you'll know how sales are performing and identify the sweet spot between maturity and just before the decline.

You can use that gap to start again with the product life cycle and ensure your business continues to be successful.