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As a frequent technology writer I often find myself referring to the method or process that teams use to produce software. The two terms that are usually given for this are software development life cycle (SDLC) and product development life cycle (PDLC). The question that I have is are these really interchangeable? I don’t think so and here’s why.

Wikipedia, our collective intelligence, doesn’t have an entry for PDLC, but explains that the product life cycle has to do with the life of a product in the market and involves many professional disciplines. According to this definition the stages include market introduction, growth, mature, and saturation. This really isn’t the PDLC that I’m interested in. Under new product development (NDP) we find a defintion more akin to PDLC that includes the complete process of bringing a new product to market and includes the following steps: idea generation, idea screening, concept development, business analysis, beta testing, technical implementation, commercialization, and pricing.

Under SDLC, Wikipedia doesn’t let us down and explains it as a structure imposed on the development of software products. In the article are references to multiple different models including the classic waterfall as well as agile, RAD, and Scrum and others.

In my mind the PDLC is the overarching process of product development that includes the business units. The SDLC is the specific steps within the PDLC that are completed by the technical organization (product managers included). An image on HBSC’s site that doesn’t seem to have any accompanying explanation depicts this very well graphically.

Another way to explain the way I think of them is to me all professional software projects are products but not all product development includes software development.  See the Venn diagram below. The upfront (bus analysis, competitive analysis, etc) and back end work (infrastructure, support, depreciation, etc) are part of the PDLC and are essential to get the software project created in the SDLC out the door successfully.  There are non-software related products that still require a PDLC to develop.

Do you use them interchangeably?  What do you think the differences are?

Comments RSS TrackBack 2 comments

  • aww91

    in July 31st, 2010 @ 17:20

    Thanks for tackling this very tough subject. I was also very inquisitive about the difference. If you have the opportunity check out Kenneth Bainey’s book, Integrated IT Project Management: A Model-Centric Approach. The author uses this model to describe the IT Project Delivery Life Cycle (IT-PDLC) and it too encompasses the traditional SDLC. Honestly, I’m not sure how either models help in clarifying the integration between SDLC and Project Management. Maybe someone more familiar with standards such as PMI and CMMI can shed some light on the subject.


  • AKF Partners | AKF Agile Training

    in August 20th, 2013 @ 16:36

    […] Agile development methodology. We consider Agile as a product development life cycle methodology (PDLC) rather than a software development life cycle methodology (SDLC) because it is a business process […]