Project Lifecycle vs. Product Lifecycle

You may wonder whether project life cycle and product life cycle are the same process. Rest assured, they are two entirely different concepts.

While management of both requires many of the same skills, it’s also critical to understand how to apply that skillset differently depending on the phase or stage of the process.

Project Life Cycle

The project life cycle covers the sequence of phases to create a product or service.

Once the product or service has been launched, the project is complete, and the project life cycle ends. However, that product will go through a series of stages that comprise the entire product life cycle: from beginning to end or from conception to retirement.

The PMBOK Guide – the cornerstone of the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) – defines the project life cycle in terms of phases.

Phases include activities under the following groups: initiation, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing. While the phases are generally executed sequentially, there can also be some overlap of activities from phase to phase.

  • Initiation: Develop the project charter and identify stakeholders.
  • Planning: Develop the project management plan.
  • Execution: Design and build the product or service. 
  • Monitoring and controlling: These activities go on throughout the project.
  • Closing: Hand off the product or service for delivery, and the project is closed. 

Project management needs often change during the project life cycle, with many factors considered. For example:

  • Identifying risks is more urgent at the beginning of the project before commitments and investments are made.
  • Staffing may be lower at the beginning as plans are finalized, then ramps up during execution, and decreases as the project is completed.
  • Costs may be lower at the beginning of the process and increase over time as more staff, materials, or equipment needs to be included and/or purchased.
  • Stakeholder influence is strongest at the beginning of the project life cycle while objectives are defined and then decreases over time.
  • Most of the funds and time are spent during the execution phase.

Product Life Cycle

In comparison, the product life cycle describes the stages a product passes through from conception to retirement, which often includes multiple projects.

In contrast to the project life cycle, the stages are sequential and don’t overlap. The project life cycle is just one part of one or more product life cycle stages.

Product life cycle stages generally follow this path:

  • Development: Generate the idea and create the product or service.
  • Introduction: Market the product or service and launch sales to customers.
  • Growth: Continue to build up sales of the product or service.
  • Maturity: The product or service is accepted in the marketplace, and sales are at their peak.
  • Retirement: Time to sell remaining inventory, obsolete the product, and move on to the next product. Retirement could happen because technology changes and a new version of the product or service is available, or because the product was unsuccessful.

Differences Between the Project and Product Life Cycles

To summarize some of the major differences between the project life cycle and the product life cycle: 

  • A product life cycle may include just one project, although it will often include multiple projects – and therefore multiple project life cycles.
  • The product life cycle is longer than the project life cycle, because it includes activities that happen after the initial project completion.
  • The project life cycle has a definite end, while a product life cycle’s end may not be easily predictable, given how long the product or service may stay relevant and remain on the market.
  • A product life cycle is subject to market conditions, technology changes, and other external aspects which can’t always be predicted well in advance. In contrast, projects usually have well-defined plans and roadmaps to expected completion dates.  
  • The product life cycle stages do not overlap, while the project life cycle phases may overlap.
  • Stages are sequential in the product life cycle, while phases may or may not be sequential in the project life cycle.

At Thurman Co., we recognize that project management and product management are more than just wrangling a schedule and budget; a full suite of skills goes into effectively managing projects.

We help businesses manage projects to significantly impact their success and growth. When you’re ready to put your project in the hands of a trusted professional organization, contact us to learn more about working together.

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