What is PLM (Product Lifecycle Management)?

Heather Krebsbach By Heather Krebsbach
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Product life cycle management (PLM) helps businesses plan and execute all aspects of the product life cycle, from design and development through distribution, marketing, and sales. It speeds up time to market, reduces costs, and helps manage resources efficiently. PLM connects cross-functional teams using a standardized approach to delivering products. It improves communication, promotes collaborative problem-solving, and brings everyone together around a common goal.

This guide will discuss the benefits of PLM, its key phases, and the importance of product management software in bringing cross-functional teams together.

Definition of PLM

PLM is a system to integrate and manage disparate information, processes, and people from diverse areas—development, marketing, service, and partners—into a unified end-to-end product development strategy. It digitizes and systematizes all necessary information and activities. 

The phases of product development help everyone identify goals, contribute valuable insight, create work products, and ultimately increase the product’s competitive advantage. PLM also includes customer and supplier touchpoints that help determine the product's natural life.

What is the history of PLM?

PLM first emerged in the 1930s. In 1957, the advertising firm Booz Allen Hamilton developed the five-step life cycle that mapped a product from its inception through development and eventually until its retirement. PLM has changed over time, but its primary aim has remained the same: speed product development and gain competitive advantage.

Today’s PLM focuses on centralized information and data management. It offers a systematic approach to managing information in a collaborative environment. Businesses can resolve issues faster, address necessary changes more efficiently, and reduce the overall cost of the product across its life cycle.

Key phases of PLM

PLM phases comprise highly focused areas, depending on the product’s complexity and industry. Software providers and manufacturers use a three-phase approach: 

Product design and development

The product design and development phase has three primary steps:

  • Research identifies and documents product requirements, competitive solutions, market gaps and opportunities, and customer needs.
  • Design involves ideation, prototyping, and validation of the planned product.
  • Development of the final design includes pilots and user acceptance testing. This step also helps inform plans for future iterations and additional features.


Calibrating production planning requires cross-functional coordination on available resources, changing market demands, and planned maintenance. The manufacturing phase focuses on the following:

  • Product builds must meet specifications defined in the product design and development phase.
  • Quality assurance testing ensures that the final product meets expectations. This can include ISO standards, safety requirements, data protection regulations, and customer satisfaction metrics.
  • Procurement of materials and resources maintains production levels.
  • Plant operations include human resource scheduling, equipment maintenance, security, and safety initiatives.


The distribution phase is critical because marketing and sales teams have already been busy creating enthusiasm for the product. This phase includes:

  • Inventory control: Both raw materials and finished products must meet market demand while balancing available storage and shipping schedules.
  • Product launch activities: These include trade shows, demonstrations, and case studies.
  • Product projections: These help businesses predict market demand for new products and deliver those projections.
  • Logistics: Coordinating schedules and timelines is key.
  • Supplier collaboration: This optimizes channel activities, materials, and resources.

Benefits of PLM

A PLM system brings disparate groups together on a common platform. When teams collaborate, they generate good ideas. PLM has demonstrated business benefits for nearly 100 years. Some of the most notable benefits of PLM include the following:

Improved collaboration

Managing a product from idea to production requires a sustained effort from multiple teams across the business. A product manager uses PLM software to enhance collaboration by removing silos and aligning people on common goals. It facilitates focused, effective communication in cross-functional teams.

Increased efficiency

With a centralized source of information, updates are easier to manage and disseminate. This allows project managers to coordinate multiple schedules. Design and development teams can understand new or changing requirements. Production and manufacturing personnel adjust to changing demand. When working together, businesses are more efficient, which decreases time to market and adds flexibility.

Enhanced product quality

Reducing waste improves product quality by allowing teams to break down complex work into iterative improvements and repeatable processes. PLM captures quality control measures and statistics at each phase to allow businesses to make rapid adjustments and corrections.

PLM use cases

Whether you’re developing software products, manufacturing hardware, or crafting other business solutions, PLM helps tame real-world business problems. Some examples include:

  • Customer needs: PLM helps all team members remain focused on the goal—providing a solution to a specific problem.
  • Time estimates: With collaborative input, PLM ensures that the product manager factors tasks they may otherwise overlook, like planned equipment maintenance or security updates, into the timeline for accurate estimates.
  • Change management: Reducing thrash when requirements change due to supply chain problems, industry disruptors, or other factors is easier when the entire team is aware. Connected systems and shared information provide a central source for members to understand how and why changes impact their work.
  • Continuous improvement: PLM captures data in many forms, including common KPIs that help businesses identify areas for improvement. PLM can reveal gaps in processes or communication, which helps suppliers provide quality materials and highlights opaque areas.

Future trends in PLM

New technology, like AI, cloud-based solutions, and machine learning, allow businesses to collect and analyze data more efficiently. This will likely result in changes to PLM as businesses find new opportunities to reduce costs and improve product quality.

Product management tools that promote collaboration give cross-functional teams better ways to work together to address sustainability issues. Information sharing results in faster resolution and more comprehensive solutions.

Use Jira for product development

PLM offers a proven approach to managing product life cycles. Product development software helps businesses realize benefits faster. Jira supports end-to-end PLM. Taking a product from idea to launch requires a coordinated effort. Today’s high-performing software teams include many disciplines beyond developers, such as marketers and designers. 

Jira is purpose-built to ensure all team members can collaborate effectively on a shared platform. It provides all the tools needed to build better products and centralizes information in a single source of truth. This helps teams navigate complexities across the entire life cycle. 

Jira includes the following features for PLM:

  • Agile Boards help teams plan, visualize, and manage work through visual cards that move easily through the product lifecycle.
  • Issues break complex work into smaller, manageable pieces. Depending on how your team uses Jira, an issue could represent a project task, a helpdesk ticket, a leave request form, etc.
  • Product management templates help teams start fast by providing a foundation of critical information for successful product development.
  • Timelines map work items, dependencies, and releases and make it easy for teams to stay aligned on goals.
  • Workflows reflect real-life processes, reduce friction, and speed up delivery.

Try Jira for free 

PLM: Frequently asked questions

What are some challenges of PLM?

The most common challenges to implementing PLM are silos and disconnected systems. Legacy systems often present data-sharing roadblocks and further entrench disparate teams. This makes it difficult to stay current on change requests, issues, dependencies, and timelines.

Modern collaborative tools solve these challenges by creating a single source of truth critical to identifying and measuring product management KPIs.

What are the four stages of the product life cycle?

Products fall into one of four life cycle states:

  1. Product development launches a new idea.
  2. Product growth occurs when customers adopt the new product and sales increase.
  3. Product maturity happens at peak demand when competitors introduce new products.
  4. Product decline assesses the lessons of the life cycle and converts them to continuous improvements in the next generation.

How do you measure the success of PLM efforts?

Measuring the success of PLM initiatives employs many of the metrics teams currently use:

  • Product quality: The number of customer issues, average uptime, and feedback are valuable measurements.
  • Time to market: Standardized project management processes can estimate release dates.
  • Cost reduction: This takes many forms, from overall support costs to the amount of waste reduction resulting from continuous improvement.
  • Sales: Product quality can affect time to market.
  • Reliability: This refers to the product’s uptime, warranty claims, and incident tracking.