What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

Product Lifecycle Management Definition

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is the management of product records (e.g., parts, assemblies, drawings, documents, AML, ECOs) during new product development and introduction (NPDI). PLM software helps product teams and their supply chain partners streamline development from concept through end of life. With automated PLM processes, engineering, quality, purchasing, manufacturing, and the entire product team can work together to speed the design, development, production, and servicing of products—while driving continuous improvement.

What is Product Lifecycle Management


The advent of product lifecycle management can be traced back to 1950 when the U.S. Department of Defense introduced a paper-based configuration management (CM) system to document and track how new products were configured. Twenty years later, the U.S. military issued standards that outlined how government contractors should use configuration management. These standards focused on quality, management, and interoperability and served as the foundation for PLM.

In 1979, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston introduced the first electronic spreadsheet program called VisiCalc. Spreadsheets would later become a widely adopted tool to manage bills of materials (BOMs) for engineering and manufacturing. The development of computer-aided design (CAD) software and product data management (PDM) systems in the 1980s eventually gave way to the introduction of a computer-based PLM solution by Unigraphics, a division of McDonnell Douglas.

In 1985, American Motors Corporation used PLM to speed the production of their vehicles. And in 1992, their Jeep® Grand Cherokee was the first recorded product built using this process.

In 2000, the first multi-tenant Cloud PLM solution was introduced by Arena (now Arena, a PTC Business). Today, PLM is used by numerous industries to centralize the entire product record, improve collaboration across dispersed teams, boost productivity, and reduce costs.


While product data management (PDM) systems provide a shared platform for engineering teams to collaborate and manage design iterations, PLM extends beyond the design phase to manage all of the information and processes that are tied to new product development and introduction (NPDI). PLM enables everyone on the product team—not just engineering—to provide input on the entire design to ensure that the right product gets built on time and under budget.

PDM vs PLM Diagram


PLM software provides a controlled and automated way for teams to manage product and quality processes throughout the entire lifecycle. By aggregating software, mechanical, and electrical components in a shared platform, dispersed teams can collaborate on the entire design before releasing the final product to downstream production systems.

Automated engineering change order (ECO) processes enable internal teams and supply chain partners to share, review, and approve design changes quickly. In addition, assigned tasks are electronically tracked and linked to the appropriate part of the product record so that team members are always up to speed on pending action items and deliverables.


Cloud Infrastructure

When evaluating different PLM software solutions, it is important to consider the impact to your IT resources throughout the initial implementation and as your business needs continue to evolve. Unlike traditional on-premises PLM software solutions which require costly IT expenditures for hardware, software, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other related items—cloud-based platforms include continuous enhancements from the PLM software vendor. This eliminates traditional upgrade and maintenance costs and ultimately reduces your total cost of ownership (TCO). Cloud PLM solutions sold under software-as-a-service (SaaS) models also eliminate upfront purchases with a pay-as-you-go subscription.

BOM Management

The ability to effectively manage bills of materials (BOMs) ensures that the latest designs are always accessed by the entire product team, including supply chain partners. It also ensures that teams have visibility into design and quality issues which may impact production and that costs are properly allocated.

Engineering Change Management

Engineering change management enables teams to process formal engineering change requests (ECRs) and engineering change orders (ECOs) more efficiently through automated approval routings and notices. It also provides teams a complete audit trail by documenting and tracking all changes to components, drawings, requirements, and other product information throughout the entire lifecycle.


A key function of PLM software is the ability to connect internal product teams and external supply chain partners in a centralized system. This facilitates real-time communication and allows for an efficient exchange of information to help accelerate NPDI.

Document Management

Companies must be able to store, track, and manage all of the documentation associated with the product and quality record to meet the demands of today’s highly regulated environment. Document management allows for the centralization of documents such as product specifications, standard operating procedures (SOPs), quality policies, and training records. It also enables organizations to implement proper revision controls and audit trails.

Regulatory Compliance Management

If you are subject to export controls (e.g., ITAR, EAR), environmental regulations (e.g., RoHS, REACH, WEEE), and/or quality mandates (e.g., ISO), the PLM solution should make it easy to define, control, and track complaint processes and demonstrate adherence.

Project Management

Project management enables teams to keep track of assigned tasks and key deliverables throughout the entire lifecycle to ensure that all product development milestones are met.

Requirements Management

By linking requirements to the product record, manufacturers can better manage quality issues and customer needs throughout the product lifecycle and innovate rapidly.

Business Insights

The ability to track and analyze metrics provides organizations greater insight into their product and quality processes to drive continuous quality improvement and customer satisfaction.

Enterprise Integrations

By connecting PLM to upstream and downstream software solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, engineering design solutions, and electronic component databases, companies can further streamline their product development processes and accelerate time to market (TTM).


Key benefits of cloud-based product lifecycle management software include:

  • Centralizes the entire product record
  • Provides real-time collaboration between internal team members and supply chain partners
  • Enables role-based user access and audit history tracking
  • Reduces compliance risks
  • Decreases product costs
  • Increases productivity (e.g., reduction in design review and engineering change approval cycle times)
  • Enhances product quality (e.g., reduction in manufacturing errors)
  • Speeds product launches
  • Accelerates revenue growth


What are the stages of the product lifecycle?

The four stages of the product lifecycle are introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.

What is a PLM strategy?

The PLM strategy establishes the framework for how processes are coordinated, costs are controlled, risks are mitigated, and products are maintained throughout their entire lifecycle. It encompasses the initial product concept or ideation stage up through product obsolescence.

Why is PLM used?

PLM enables engineering, manufacturing, related product teams, and supply chain partners to streamline the design, development, production, and servicing of products while driving continuous quality improvement.


  • PLM helps manufacturers and their supply chain partners streamline development from concept through end of life while driving continuous improvement.
  • PLM software provides a controlled and automated way for teams to manage and track all of the product and quality processes that are tied to the product record.
  • Unlike PDM which focuses only on the design phase, PLM is more comprehensive—enabling teams to manage all data and processes that are associated with NPDI.
  • Cloud-based product lifecycle management solutions eliminate the traditional installation, upgrade, and maintenance costs associated with on-premises software, thus reducing your total cost of ownership (TCO).

Manage Your Product Lifecycle

The ultimate guide to product lifecycle management (PLM) software.