The PLC - a Primer

Regardless of the size or maturity of your organization, you have a product lifecycle, even if it is undocumented. A start at understanding is in this post

If you work at a startup, or a small company, chances are this TLA is alien to you. However once you graduate to a mid sized company, with multiple products, and, more importantly, multiple divisions, the construct of a PLC is inevitable.

PLC is an acronym for Product Lifecycle. It is usually a 6 – 8 step process with gates or checkpoints to move from step to step.

The concept is simple, in a large organization, with well defined functional groups (i.e. marketing, finance, engineering, sales, production or operations) the PLC ensures that all groups are working towards a common goal or endpoint.

The names of the phase groupings may vary, depending on the consultancy who brought it in (or senior manager's prior experience with it), but loosely they are:

  • Qualifying Opportunity – the initial investigation to begin a program. A marketing person does Voice of the Customer, engineering might do some early proof of concept (can this even be done). The output is either a concept form or a “thin” MRD. Expect this to cost a little bit of money, a couple of business trips by your Product Manager/Product Marketing team, and a few hours of an engineer’s time tops. The hard gate here is the “Concept”, and the marketing documentation should define what needs to be built, who will use it, how large that market might be, what competition is out there (or for greenfield, who’s bucket will we be stepping in to build a market.Additionally, there is likely to be some engineering work to do a proof of concept. This is often needed when the product concept is truly new, and not derivative.

This is owned mostly by Marketing, with consultation from Engineering.

  • Development – Where the real work gets done, taking the prototype, and making it a product, learning and refining along the way. This usually is the longest phase, and often has many revisions of the specs and requirements. This has several sub-phases, building a formal prototype, building one or more alpha systems (functionally, look and feel close to the final design) for internal testing, and a formal beta build and test.

This phase is dominated by Engineering, but as important is Marketing participation in the sub-phases to keep the requirements aligned with the development priorities.

  • Commercial – Where Engineering hands off to production, and operations. Ramping up production of products (in the hardware case), or scaling capacities for web services. Engineering is responsible for a clean transition, and production engineering picks up all responsibilities.

Marketing launches the product, announces it to the world, does promotion, trains sales, ensures that the systems are in place to take and process orders, and begins the sales ramp forecasting.

Heavy lifting by Marketing, and operations, with cooperation from the Engineering team to drive a smooth launch.

Within each of these high level phases, are a series of smaller groupings of activities. Organizations will adopt, adjust, or alter these macro tasks to fit their needs.

Regardless of the final configuration, the PLC brings rigor and reproducibility to the product development process, and helps guide investment.


The Product Lifecycle provides a convenient, applicable framework to the processes around developing products. As companies get larger, and have distinct product groups, business units, and the like, a PLC process us useful to keep programs on track.

In the next few posts, I will dive into the details of the macro phases, and how I have seen them partitioned.

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