Optimizing your Product Development Lifecycle for Success

March 27, 2023

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The product development lifecycle consists of several stages, each with its unique set of goals and exit criteria. Proper administration of these stages is crucial; otherwise, your product launch can face challenges like delays, budget overruns, or missing the market window entirely.

This article will describe all stages of a hardware product lifecycle, from idea conception to end-of-life, and discuss the integration of advanced tools like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software.

By the end of this guide, you’ll better understand the challenges that can occur throughout the product development lifecycle and how tools like PLM can help navigate these challenges more effectively.

What is the product development lifecycle?

The product development lifecycle refers to the stages through which a hardware product passes. It’s a formal process that outlines the product journey, from ideation and prototyping to build, launch, and, finally, end-of-life. Each stage has a unique set of objectives and challenges.

Setting goals and tracking progress along the product development lifecycle benefits all parties involved in hardware development. This ensures that the product meets the required specifications and targets, leading to a successful product launch.

Product development lifecycle stages

Every new hardware product goes through several stages before it successfully hits the market. Below, we’ll outline the stages of the product development lifecycle in detail.

Ideation

Ideation is the first stage of the product development lifecycle. In this phase, your team brainstorms concepts and comes up with new product ideas that could turn into a successful hardware product. The objective of the ideation is to come up with as many ideas as possible that align with your company’s goals, mission, and customer needs.

You can approach ideation in several ways, such as brainstorming sessions, customer feedback, competitor analysis, or observing daily life. Once your team generates a list of ideas, they’re evaluated and prioritized based on their feasibility, market demand, and potential impact on the company.

Validation

The next stage of the product development lifecycle is validation, where your team takes the selected ideas and validates their potential in the market. In this phase, your team conducts thorough research to ensure that the concept aligns with market demand and will generate revenue. Validation assesses the idea’s viability before investing significant time and resources.

Validation can be done through market research, surveys, focus groups, and customer interviews. You can also analyze the competition to understand their offerings and market positioning. Based on the validation results, you can either proceed with the idea or return to the ideation phase to generate new concepts.

Prototyping

In this phase, you create a rough model or prototype of the product to test its functionality and design. Prototyping aims to identify any potential issues or areas of improvement before moving on to the development phase.

Hardware prototyping is often initiated in a CAD tool. Depending on the type of product or system, a digital 3D model can then be sent to a 3D printer so that the design can be rapidly, and economically, turned into a physical prototype.

You can then test the prototype and collect feedback from stakeholders, customers, and various relevant team members. Based on the feedback you get, your Design and Engineering teams can then iterate on the prototype (potentially exploring other fabrication methods besides 3D printing) until it meets the desired level of quality and functionality.

Marketing

Marketing is a critical stage in the product development lifecycle as it involves creating a solid brand identity and generating buzz around the existing product. Developing a marketing strategy involves identifying your target audience, understanding and defining their pain points and needs, and assessing  market trends.

Once you identify the target audience, your marketing team can develop core messaging that accurately explains the product’s value and resonates with the target market. The team then builds various materials, such as product brochures, videos, and social media content, to showcase your product’s features and benefits. These materials should grab your target audience’s attention and differentiate your product.

Build

In the build phase, your prototyped design is made into a physical product by a manufacturer. This stage requires collaboration between teams (engineers, designers, and manufacturers) to ensure your hardware product is built to specifications and on schedule.

Once the final product is created, it will go through testing to ensure it meets quality standards. The product needs to be functional, aesthetically pleasing, mechanically sound and meet safety requirements. Once confirmed, manufacturing takes over, producing the hardware product at scale while ensuring consistency in quality and cost.

Launch

This is when you finally introduce the product to the market! This stage involves executing the launch plan created during the marketing stage, which includes advertising, promotions, and sales strategies. The goal of the launch is to generate excitement around the product and attract customers.

A successful product launch requires effective communication with your customers and stakeholders, including retailers, suppliers, and investors. It’s also vital to monitor sales and customer feedback during this stage to determine if your product resonates with customers as intended. (You may need to adjust the marketing and sales strategies based on this feedback.)

The launch stage is also an opportunity to build customer relationships and create a loyal customer base. You can achieve this by providing excellent customer service and support, offering promotions and discounts, and communicating with customers through social media and other channels.

Improvement

By analyzing sales data and gathering feedback from customers, your product development team can identify which features are most valuable. Based on this information, you can make changes to the hardware product, like adding new features or improving existing ones, to make it more appealing to customers and strengthen your market share.

Product development challenges and solutions

While the product development lifecycle offers a structured approach to bringing a new product to market, it has challenges. External market forces, such as supply chain shortages or changing customer preferences mean that a product may need to be altered at different stages in its lifecycle.

This section will discuss some challenges that can impact the product development process. We will also explore potential solutions that can help overcome these challenges and ensure a successful product launch.

Environmental and scientific studies

It’s not uncommon for a material once deemed safe for use to be later found harmful to the environment or human health. In such cases, the product development lifecycle may be impacted by the sudden need to identify alternative materials that are safe and environmentally friendly. This process can be time-consuming and expensive for your business, requiring additional testing and research. Failure to address environmental concerns can negatively affect your company and the environment.

Solution: Carefully think through components used in design: Tracking the environmental footprint of products will become increasingly important in the coming years as companies and investors put more emphasis on environment, social, and governance (ESG) factors. Important factors to consider include required manufacturing activities, raw material sourcing and usage, and eco-design.

Social movements and value shifts

Consumer trends and preferences constantly evolve, and companies must stay on top of these changes to remain relevant. For example, products that are not only manufactured in the USA but built from USA-sourced components are becoming increasingly popular. There’s also marked public interest in products that are designed, built, and manufactured ethically. Failure to adapt to these trends can result in lost sales and a damaged reputation.

Solution: Stay close to customers throughout the process: Continue to gather feedback on customers’ needs and values. You want to ensure that your products have value in addressing a customer problem better than existing solutions, while also meeting expectations related to ethics, DEI, and other social movements. Be adaptable and agile to market shifts.

Competitive breakthroughs

Another challenge that hardware companies may face is with competitive breakthroughs. For instance, a new technology may be introduced, rendering your product obsolete. In such cases, you must work quickly to develop new products that compete with the latest technology. This can be challenging, as it requires significant investments in research and development and a rapid product development lifecycle to stay ahead of the competition.

Solution: Use automation to speed up time to market. Speed up hardware product development by reducing manual data entry – use automation via PLM and seamless systems integrations across the lifecycle to share data across departments. PLM also makes the change order process quick to implement and track.

Economic constraints

Economic fluctuations, such as recessions or supply chain disruptions, can significantly impact your company’s ability to develop new products. Financial constraints with partners or investors can lead to delays in product development, increased costs, and a failure to meet market demand.

Solution: Factor sourcing early into the product lifecycle. Review live supply chain data at the time of design. Stay agile, focus on speed and quality rather than heavy processes that hinder innovation. Having the ability to review the availability and pricing of components at the time of design is a decisive competitive advantage in product development.

Managing disparate teams

Product development often involves disparate teams working on different aspects of the project. Your teams may be scattered across the country (or globe) and use different tools that don’t “talk” to one another, making it challenging to maintain a single source of truth for product development information.

Lack of communication, siloed data, and working from different documents can lead to mistakes and delays in the product development cycle.

Solution: Centralized product information in PLM software. PLM can serve as a single source of truth for product development information, including the bill of materials, design files, and revision details. Having one accessible system strengthens collaboration across engineering teams as well as with external partners, such as manufacturers.

Adapting products following feedback

Product design, materials, or feature changes can significantly impact product development. Without proper change management documentation, these changes can lead to costly rework, delays, and quality issues.

Solution: Create a structured change management process: Communication, documentation, and testing is required to ensure that changes are correctly integrated into the product. A product lifecycle management platform can do exactly that, centralizing documentation and automating data transfer between systems, reducing the frequency of costly, time-consuming errors and rework.

Product development lifecycle examples

This section will discuss how market forces and consumer trends impacted real-life hardware products at different stages of the product development lifecycle.

iRobot – Roomba

Roomba is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner introduced in 2002.

In its introduction stage, Roomba was an innovative product that attracted early adopters. Roomba’s essential features — its ability to automatically navigate obstacles and clean under furniture — were highlighted to differentiate it from traditional vacuum cleaners. Roomba was marketed heavily to create awareness, and the company offered a free trial period to gain customers.

When Roomba gained popularity, it entered its growth stage. The company continued to invest in research and development to improve the product’s functionality, such as adding new features like mapping technology and the ability to connect to smart home devices. Roomba also expanded its product line to include models for different floor types and sizes.

Roomba reached the maturity stage as the market for robotic vacuum cleaners became more competitive. The company introduced new pricing strategies, such as offering discounts and bundling products. Roomba also expanded its distribution channels to reach new customers by partnering with retailers and online marketplaces.

At present, Roomba has not yet reached the decline stage, but it may face challenges in the future from competitors like Eufy (cheaper), Neato (top performer on hardwood), and Ecovacs (most advanced). The company must continue to innovate and improve its product to stay relevant in the market. As competition grows, Roomba must differentiate itself by focusing on features such as better battery life, more advanced mapping technology, and other innovative solutions to cleaning problems.

Nokia – Mobile

Clear stages of the product development lifecycle can be seen in the evolution of Nokia’s mobile phones.

In the introduction stage, Nokia produced GSM and CDMA phones like the Nokia 1011. In the growth stage, Nokia launched the popular Nokia 3210, which sold more than 160 million units.

As the market became more competitive, Nokia launched models like the N95 to compete with other smartphone companies, marking the maturity stage. However, poor product design, failure to leverage Haptic technology, and focus on Windows as their operating system led to Nokia’s decline.

Nokia struggled to keep up with competitors such as Apple and Samsung, eventually leading to the discontinuation of their mobile phone business. Nokia had to continuously adapt its marketing, manufacturing, and financial strategies throughout the product lifecycle to keep up with the changing markets and increasing competitive pressure.

Apple – iPod

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, a portable music player that revolutionized the music industry. The introduction stage of the product development lifecycle was marked by Apple’s aggressive marketing campaign. This focused on the unique features of the iPod, such as its 5 GB hard drive that could store 1,000 songs which was revolutionary at the time.

With its advertising, Apple targeted early adopters, music enthusiasts, and young people. The iPod’s sleek, minimalist design emphasized the product’s simplicity and elegance.

During the growth stage, Apple continued to refine and improve the iPod, adding new features such as playing video, a larger hard drive, and unique designs such as the iPod Nano and Shuffle. The iPod became a cultural phenomenon, and Apple’s marketing campaigns emphasized the product’s coolness and status symbol.

In the maturity stage, competition from other manufacturers, including Microsoft (Zune), Sandisk (Sansa series), and Creative (Zen series), increased tenfold. These competitors focused on cost, screen size, screen quality, and storage to compete with the former CeBIT award winner.

Apple responded by cutting prices and introducing new designs, such as the iPod Touch, which added a touch screen and internet connectivity. Apple also focused on expanding in new countries and regions.

Finally, in the decline stage, the iPod faced increasing competition from smartphones. Apple phased out the iPod Classic and Shuffle, and, eventually, the final generation of the iPod Touch, which was introduced on May 28, 2019 and later discontinued. Although the iPod Touch is still supported by Apple, its main portable music player is now considered the iPhone.

Overall, the iPod’s success was due to Apple’s innovative design and marketing strategies, which helped to create a new market for portable music players at a time when consumers were forced to carry books of CDs if they wanted to listen to their entire music library on the go.

Enhance your product development

Duro is a game-changing product lifecycle management platform that offers a wide range of benefits for hardware organizations. The solution helps with collaboration, faster prototyping, and streamlined change management processes.

Whether you’re a startup or an established enterprise, Duro can help you stay ahead of the competition by providing the tools and resources you need to innovate and iterate quickly. By leveraging the power of Duro, businesses can streamline their product development process, reduce costs, and bring high-quality products to market faster.

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