Each organization creates their own version of a product life cycle.
Often there are phase gate reviews that signal a transition from one phase to the next. In general, each set of phases follows a common progression from idea to retirement.
There are many references that include a description of the life cycle phases, so let’s explore two of them.
RAC Product Program Phases
The first has a military focus as it was created by the Reliability Analysis Center (RAC) in Rome, NY and published in the RAC Blueprints for Product Reliability, Defining Reliability Programs, RBPR-1, 1996. They describe a generic set of 5 phases:
- Formulate ideas
- Estimate resources
- Estimate financial needs
- Identify and allocate needs and requirements
- Propose alternate approaches
- Design and test the product
- Develop manufacturing, operating and repair/maintenance tasks
- Refine and Implement manufacturing procedures
- Finalize production equipment
- Establish quality processes
- Build and distribute the product
- Implement operating, installation and training procedures
- Provide repair and maintenance service
- Repair warranty items provide for performance feedback
- Implement refurbishment and disposal tasks
- Resolve potential wear out issues
In the description, RAC does mention the phase names and number of phases may vary by industry. Also, that the flexibility of the phase scope may vary.
For a minor product, update the concept and design phases may be combined and shortened. Whereas, a product based on technology breakthroughs may require detailed phases with emphasis on the concept and development phases.
The emphasis for reliability work is early in the life cycle in order to minimize the risk of missing reliability objectives or wasting resources due to redesign or rework.
Each phase includes the participation of the array of functional elements in an organization. Reliability is one element of the discussion in every phase.
Consumer/Commercial Product Program Phases
The Handbook of Reliability and Engineering Management also published in 1996 described 6 phases.
The description of the life cycle includes the elements: customer focused, team-managed, and continuous improvement.
The six phases of the product lifecycle as described in the handbook are:
Identify and define ideas based on consumer needs into proven concepts worth development investment.
From the many possible ideas gathered from market research, customer request, and business opportunities, this phase sorts and prioritizes ideas that the business will pursue with the next phase. The concept phase may include feasibility experiments and proof of concept projects.
Take ideas and concepts and fully develop them into designs and models that meet the detailed requirements. This phase often ends with a design freeze.
Product design includes the creation of a project plan, the definition of product specifications and the design work to achieve both the business objectives and product specifications laid out in the plan.
This phase includes the prototypes which permit evaluation of functionality, performance, durability and more.
Prototype unit testing that both verifies functionality and explores for weaknesses or errors. First serious look at the integration of the assemblies. Also, an opportunity to secure any third-party certifications if necessary for distribution or to meet requirements.
The later stage prototypes may be part of process development and validation work. Good chance to run pilot manufacturing runs to check for process stability.
Limited customer use (sometimes called beta testing): field tests, test markets, clinical studies or preferred customer trials. Collect and analyze any identified issues (last chance before production ramp).
Time to finish all testing for certification or regulatory agencies. Also, last chance to check and recheck the achievement of all design objectives. And preparations for manufacturing scale-up.
Management approval for the start of production and market release.
The team works with customers as required to provide support, honor warranty claims, monitor and improve product performance throughout the product’s commercial life.
End of Life
The phase starts when the management team decides to discontinue the marketing and production of the product. The team sorts out and prepares manufacturing, sales, spare parts, and service phase-out plans.
Keep in mind there are many product life cycle plans and it seems each author has to add a unique twist to what is a very common set of phases.
Reliability has a key role in each phase which we’ll discuss in other articles.
How to Assess Your Reliability Program (article)
Purpose of a Reliability Program (article)