Focusing on the process gives a new dimension to strategy
Robert H. Hayes and
Steven C. Wheelwright
Although the product life cycle concept may have value for managers, its emphasis on marketing can make it inadequate for strategic planners.
These authors point out that using a process life cycle can help a company choose among its vnrious manufacturing and marketing options.
Using the concept of n
"product- process mntnx," they show how a company's position reflects its weaknesses and strengths, and they discuss the implications for corporate stra tcgy.
Mr. Hayes 1s professor of buswess administration at the Harvard Business
School. lie is currently sen ing ns faculty chairmnn of and teaching at
Hnrvard's Semor Managers
Program in Vevcy,
Switzerland. One of his previous arucles in HBR is "How Should You
(coa uthor, Roger W.
Schmcnner, JanuaryFchruary 1978). Mr.
Wheelwright is associate protcssor of business ad-
ministration at the Harvard
Business School. He is currently teaching in the
MBA program and is faculty chairman of
Harvard's executive program on Manufacturing in Corporate Strategy. One of his previous HBR articles is "Corporate
Forecasting: Promise and
Reality," (coauthor, Darral
G. Clarke, NovemberDecember 1976).
The regularity of the growth cycles of living organisms has always fascinated thoughtful observers and has invited a variety of attempts to apply the same principles-of a predictable sequence of rapid growth followed by maturation, decline, and death- to companies and selected industries. One such concept, known as the "product life cycle," has been studied in a wide range of organizational settings. 1 However, there are sufficient opposing theories to raise the doubts of people like N.K. Dhalla and S. Yuspeh, who argued in these same pages a few years ago that businessmen should forget the product life cycle concept. 2
Irrespective of whether the product hfe cycle pattern is a general rule or holds only for specific cases, it does provide a useful and provocative framework for thinking about the growth and development of a new product, a company, or an entire industry.
One of the major shortcomings of this approach, however, is that it concentrates on the marketing implications of the life cycle pattern. In so doing, it implies that other aspects of the business and industry environment move in concert with the market life cycle. While such a view may help one to think back on the kinds of changes that occur 111 different industries, an individual company will often find it too simplistic for use in its strategic planning. In fact, the concept may even be misleading in strategic planning. In this article we suggest that separating the product life cycle concept from a related but distinct phenomenon that we will call the "p rocess life
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2 N K Ohall• and S . Yu,pch, "Forget the Product Lofc Cycle Ct>nccpt ' "
HBR lanuary February tQ76, p. 101.
cycle" facilitates the understanding of the strategic options available to a company, particularly with regard to its manufacturing function.
The product-process matrix
The process life