Product life cycle management can be loosely defined as the activities a vendor engages in to develop, launch, market, mature (or evolve) a product. Many products enjoy long product life cycles. Other products reach a point at which they can no longer adapt or evolve, and vendors end the life of a product. Noteworthy adapter-evolvers include Adobe Acrobat, MS Office, Linksys and NetGear routers, Checkpoint and Secure Computing firewalls. Recent EOL examples include the Cisco PIX and Netscreen-5,-25,-50 lines of firewalls.
Users, especially enterprise administrators, contend with life cycle management of products they use in a very meaningful way. They carefully monitor a product's evolution, press vendors to add (or kill) features, improve performance or make products more secure. Users must stay informed so that they are not caught unprepared should a vendor choose to EOL a product. If you were an admin who ran a Cisco PIX only shop, you better have kept informed regarding the future of this firewall and considered what you would employ "post PIX".
Users have a longer life cycle to manage than vendors, one that includes hype cycle. A hype cycle may begin before a product announcement. Hype that sparks the cycle takes many forms: new standards and regulations (HIPPA, PCI) and demonstrations of prototypes at trade shows (Google Wave) are common. This is followed by trade pub and street talk. Soon, ThisRemarkableNewThing is widely heralded as the most disruptive technology since, well, the last most disruptive technology.
Hype is contagious. Enterprises should consider ways to contain or temper hype, since hype gone viral can cost an organization dearly. Consider this tale of two C*Os and their experiences with the iPhone.
The first C*O shows up at a senior management retreat with an iPhone, announcing that "this is so freaking cool". This begets a must-have attitude that trickles down from management, which begets an organization-wide buying frenzy, which begets a business imperative directed at IT to "integrate iPhones with our enterprise mail system and corporate web apps". To accommodate iPhone adoption, a planned 802.1x/network access controls project is dropped from the budget. There's always next year. This C*O failed to manage the hype cycle and allowed enthusiasm for a consumer grade product to snowball into a mobility issue that resulted in an unplanned network deployment, funded at the expense of an important security initiative.
Now consider a second C*O whose response to exactly this situation serves as a five-star example of hype cycle management. When iPhone was announced, this COO sent an "all hands" email with the subject line "iPhone". He acknowledged the awesome coolness of iPhone and that he desperately wanted one. However, he tempered his enthusiasm when he realized that interoperability issues would prevent him from accessing intranet services that were essential and that an important network and security upgrade would have to be sacrificed to accommodate iPhone adoption. He asked all hands to temper their enthusiasm, be patient while IT investigated iPhone integration, and promised that the organization would do its best to accommodate new mobile technologies. This COO jumped in front of the bus as it was departing and yelled "stop!" but in doing so, he acknowledged the desirability of the new technology rather than dismissing it. He explained why iPhone adoption was problematic, reminding rather than rebuffing staff that the mission and business of the organization takes priority over having a cool handheld. Lastly, he empowered IT by announcing that iPhone adoption would be studied.
Study these scenarios carefully. Substitute whatever it is in your organization that is causing buzz for the iPhone in the example and decide if your organization is best serve by C*O #1 or C*O #2. Hopefully, you have chosen wisely:-) I'm pretty certain you can tease out a set of "best practices" for hype cycle management.
This is an update to a prior article from March 2008.