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Managing product lifecycles across different cultures: an explainer

In an increasingly globalised business environment, understanding how to manage the lifecycle of a product across different cultures is more important than ever. By working to understand and integrate cross-cultural sensitives into Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) strategies, businesses can create a competitive advantage, drive new product innovation, and achieve global customer satisfaction on a global scale.

And as the business world continues to evolve across borders, the value of cross-cultural PLM will become increasingly important in the international market.

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

Product Lifecycle Management is the strategic approach to managing the entire lifecycle of a product – from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal.

“Put another way,” says Oracle, “PLM means managing everything involved with a product from cradle to grave.” 

PLM integrates people, data, processes, and business systems such as PLM software, providing a cohesive framework for businesses to manage their products. It borrows aspects of project management, automation, and change management – among other business tools – to build a strong product lifecycle management process, one that enhances product roadmaps, workflows, and traceability. 

PLM solutions also typically use Product Data Management (PDM) platforms to help them to manage their product information more effectively. These systems ensure that all stakeholders have access to accurate product data in real-time, which in turn facilitates better decision-making and can help organisations optimise their product development process.

The benefits of a PLM strategy

The Product Lifecycle Management methodology offers a number of benefits. For example, it helps organisations:

  • Streamline their operations and processes
  • Increase efficiencies in new product development and the manufacturing process
  • Improve and enhance their product quality (and quality management)
  • Shorten their time-to-market
  • Enhance their ability to meet customer needs
  • Minimise waste and support sustainability initiatives

And all of these benefits are key to reducing costs and boosting profitability. 

Common steps within a Product Lifecycle Management strategy 

A comprehensive PLM strategy encompasses several key steps, and each one is critical to the successful management of a product’s lifecycle. Different organisations may use slightly different terminology for the different stages of the cycle, but they typically cover a few key areas:

  • Ideation and conceptualisation. This initial phase involves brainstorming, evaluating new product ideas, and defining the product concept based on market research and customer needs.
  • Design and development. In this stage, the focus shifts to product design, employing tools like computer-aided design (CAD) software. Prototyping and testing are essential here as they validate the design and functionality of the product.
  • Manufacturing and production. This step involves the production planning process and ensures that products effectively meet demand. Materials are selected and manufacturing methods are agreed, and then production begins. Supply chain management is closely aligned with this stage in the lifecycle, too.
  • Market launch and distribution. Strategies for go-to-market and distribution are finalised at this stage, taking into account pricing, promotions, and partnerships that can help ensure a successful product launch.
  • Service and maintenance. After the product hits the market, ongoing support and maintenance are often necessary to maintain customer satisfaction and address any issues.
  • End-of-life management. Eventually, the product will reach the end of its lifecycle. This stage is where decisions are made about the product’s discontinuation, recycling, or even the repurposing of products and materials.

Common challenges within PLM

There are a few challenges that can crop up in Product Lifecycle Management. For example:

  • Managing the complexity of product data. Product data changes constantly, spanning different functions within an organisation, different countries within a supply chain, and other organisations – and systems – too. In short, it’s complicated, and requires systems and staff who can effectively manage it.
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance across different markets. There are rules and regulations that cover everything from the manufacturing to the selling of virtually any product on the market, and the more complex or sophisticated the product, the more regulations it likely has to adhere to. Then consider that different countries have different rules, and product lifecycles often cross borders, which multiples the complexity for PLM strategies.
  • Overcoming resistance to change within organisations. Many businesses have struggled with their PLM strategies because they haven’t got their people on side first. For example, PLM implementation often requires digital transformation projects to successfully integrate PLM systems and PDM software with existing systems like ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platforms, and these kinds of projects need stakeholder buy-in to be successful.  

Cross-cultural PLM: building better lifecycles

Cultural differences can significantly impact everything from business processes and product development to go-to-market plans, so incorporating cross-cultural understanding into Product Lifecycle Management strategies is crucial for businesses that are operating in the global market. 

Adapting products for different cultures

Businesses can adapt or customise products to meet the unique needs and preferences of customers in different cultural contexts or markets. For example, this might include modifications to a product’s design, functionality, or even branding to ensure relevance and appeal across diverse markets.

“Consider, for example, the fast food giant, McDonald’s, which has effectively showcased the power of cultural adaptation,” says the International Trade Council. It’s a useful case study: “A beef burger in the US becomes a paneer burger in India, a shrimp burger in Japan, and a halal-certified burger in the Middle East. The company has managed to spread its reach worldwide, not just by providing fast food, but by offering food that is fast and culturally fitting.”

Adapting go-to-market strategies for different cultures

A one-size-fits-all approach to a product’s market launch and distribution is often ineffective in a global context. Like with the products themselves, businesses have to tailor their marketing strategies and consider cultural nuances in communication and consumer behaviour to ensure the successful introduction of their new products.

Adapting processes for different cultures

Product Lifecycle Management may also require adapting internal PLM processes, particularly where there are diverse teams and operations in different cultural settings. This is an opportunity, not a challenge: organisations can leverage their cross-functional teams to optimise communications and foster partnerships that respect and integrate cultural differences.

Become a cross-cultural leader in product lifecycles and supply chains

Develop the skills you need to successfully manage complex business decisions and situations with the 100% online MSc Management with Supply Chain from the University of Lincoln.

This flexible Master’s degree will give you the opportunity to evaluate macro issues and challenges associated with strategic global supply chains, and learn about some of the practical tools and techniques available to help manage these issues and challenges.