“The concept of the product life cycle is today at about the stage that the Copernican view of the universe was 300 years ago: a lot of people knew about it, but hardly anybody seemed to use it in any effective or productive way”
Theodore Levitt should've been pleased to see the progress we’ve made in the recent decades. We now have product PLG conferences, product lifecycle management tools on product lifecycle management, and project managers casually use the lifecycle concept to develop the product vision. Eleken UI/UX agency can see the progress from the experience — design decisions that our clients make are often based on their companies’ product lifecycle stages.
PLG has definitely moved from theory to practice. The next shift should be from practice to best practice. The goal of this article is to look at some examples of successful product lifecycle management in the UX context, so you can emulate them.
But before we start, let’s briefly review the concept of the PLM process, to make sure we are on the same page for the stories that would follow later.
What is product lifecycle management (PLM)?
SaaS startups often have either of the two strategic planning pitfalls:
- They concentrate on their vision and forget about market dynamics that influence the business. A planning funnel gets too long and narrow, leading to so-called “tunnel vision.”
- They solve the here and now problems, getting a short and wide planning funnel, also known as “a failure to see the big picture.”
The functions of product lifecycle management are to help companies avoid these two pitfalls.
First, PLM refers to handling a complete journey along a product’s lifecycle and makes managers consider their product over a long perspective.
Second, PLM splits the product development process into four phases:
- Introduction — the point when you get the business off the ground
- Growth — climbing up the curve challenge
- Maturity — a battle for maintaining your position
- Decline — time to innovate or die
The key component of the four phases is agility. You can’t have the same product all the way through — with every new stage, the company faces new challenges that require new approaches.
Effective management of a product's life cycle connects together all the parties involved in product creation. It encompasses product design and development, marketing, sales and more.
As designers, we can't tell you much about the development, marketing, or sales of SaaS products. But if you want to learn about UX design and its role in the product lifecycle management process, you've come to the right place.
Through the introduction stage with a little blood
The introduction stage of product lifecycle management is an endurance game. You don't earn anything yet, but you spend a lot on the product manufacturing process and go-to-market strategy implementation.
Success at this stage depends on the ability to reach product-market fit before the attempts would leave you drained of resources.
Market validation is achieved when you have a product that solves a real problem and know how to get it to the people who need it. So you need to start with the MVP (minimum viable product). And MVP requires a design. Product design, that would be good, fast and cheap at the same time.
The chances to get such a design for a SaaS startup are approximately equal to the odds of meeting a unicorn. No wonder 92% of SaaS startups fail smashed by the introduction stage.
PLM experience with a Habstash MVP
Eleken designers have found a way to help startups with MVP design in a fast, affordable and efficient way. We design MVPs without reinventing the wheel, by using common UX/UI patterns. Let’s take an example of product life cycle management of the MVP design we created for Habstash to see how our approach works.
Habstash is an introductory stage fintech startup that helps people navigate the savings needed to buy homes. The company wanted to test its idea by building a minimum viable product and came to Eleken for an MVP design.
When we started working with Habstash, they already had some prototypes that they were looking to develop into an MVP. We came up with an alternative user flow — more logical and easier to implement.
For instance, our clients wanted to make onboarding in a form of a calculator designed from scratch. But the app required gathering a lot of user information. We understood that placing all the fields in a calculator would result in a confusing user experience.
We suggested using a Wizard design pattern that divides all the parts of the data into steps and shows the sequence of steps on the top. As a result, the client got faster design implementation and a better user experience.
Habstash’s onboarding process management
PLM solutions help a growing startup to grow even faster
When the market validation is achieved, the manager’s aim is to reach cruising speed and climb up the lifecycle curve as high as possible. The growth stage is a chance for underdog companies to strengthen their positions in a market.
The difficulty arises when weak product design becomes a bottleneck, limiting the startup’s growth. This problem once made Enroly our client.
Benefits of PLM for Enroly’s redesign case
Enroly is a growth-stage student engagement app. The year 2020 has brought some tectonic shifts to the education sector — and an ocean filled with opportunities for edtech startups. Enroly set themselves ambitious goals: to increase its market share in the UK and expand to Australia and New Zealand.
To gain new opportunities, Enroly needed Eleken designers to work on its outdated UI and design some new killer features. One of the killer features was a reporting tool with no parallel among student engagement apps. The tool had the potential to become Enroly’s competitive advantage that is so essential for startups in the stage of growth.
- We started with feature ideation in a team of designers, developers, and product owners.
- With a list of components ready, we brainstormed how each feature is going to work.
- The next step was restructuring features into pages.
- And a cherry on top — wireframing and visual design of reporting tool’s dashboards.
One of the Enroly’s reporting tool dashboards
Five months since Enroly started its redesign project, they have raised £1.5m in funding to empower its international expansion. Enroly also reports it currently onboards a new university every three weeks. That’s a dynamic that takes the team closer to achieving its ambitious goals.
Refresh to inject new life into a mature product
The stage of maturity is the point where the growth tempo starts to slow down. Your market gets saturated, most of the target audience already uses your product or your competitors’ products.
Refresh to inject new life into a mature product
In a saturated market, customer acquisition becomes harder to achieve. The focus moves toward winning customers from competitors and preventing competitors from poaching your own clients.
In terms of design, the key idea here is to deal with emerging user experience issues and new user requests. Improving product allows to hold the current market share and prolong the maturity stage. This is the essence of the project we did for Ricochet360.
PLM implementation challenges after several years on the market for Ricochet360
Ricochet360 is a cloud phone system. Like most B2B CRMs, sales, or marketing platforms with rich functionality and a high degree of customization, Ricochet360 has grown into a heavyweight app.
It took about a month for our client’s team to help their customers set up the application. Many potential clients abandoned Ricochet in favor of less problematic alternatives. We were asked to redesign the application to make it simpler and more accessible for clients to grasp.
The redesign project was going to take two months, another couple of months developers would need to implement changes. We indicated UX issues that made platform usage painful for Ricochet360 clients and offered to make some minor improvements first, which would take only a couple of hours to put in place.
- For instance, we added tooltips to the potentially confusing areas,
- Introduced standard data formats,
- And indicated required fields with asterisks, so users don’t need to guess which fields they can skip.
Even such small UX fixes instantly impacted the business performance of a mature app. Not to mention a full-fledged redesign that followed several months later.
The decline stage doesn’t mean someone has to die
Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, hit the growth ceiling at some point and start to decline. It happens due to technological advances, new trends, or changing consumer behavior.
That’s what happened to TextMagic, a B2B messaging platform for sending SMS texts. SMS usage declines, replaced by messaging apps like Whatsapp and Viber. The SMS texting market is shrinking, respectively. So TextMagic wanted to innovate and jump into the new product life cycle.
Product transformation for TextMagic
The development of brand new products for new audiences is a promising strategy for companies operating in a declining market. TextMagic came up with an idea to create new email marketing, customer support, and sales features. This is when they turned to Eleken.
- We designed a live chat tool for TextMagic’s new customer support platform,
- The entire functionality for setting up and configuring email campaigns,
- And updated the SMS campaign configuration design to be consistent with emails.
As a result, the SMS texting app turned into an all-in-one digital marketing platform — universal, but at the same time simple from the user perspective. For TextMagic, that opens up new prospects for growth.
PLM: Product lifecycle management wrap-up
For any business interested in continuous growth and profits, a product management responsibility is to predict changes that are coming in the following few years. Those predictions won’t be very accurate, but they will allow responding to product lifecycle changes in a product lifecycle proactively rather than reactively.
As we’ve seen today, UI/UX is often a starting point of those strategic changes responsible for the product’s wellbeing and profits. Design can probably help your product fuel growth or expand its uses and user right now. But we won’t know that unless you get in touch.