The Gartner Hype Cycle Explained: A PM Perspective

The Gartner Hype Cycle is an interesting product with wide applicability in the digital technology world. It takes the inevitable phases of developing technology products, boils them down to a logical life cycle, and adds rigorous product research to give a valuable perspective on where products fit into the life cycle.

This article covers the basic of the Gartner Hype Cycle and provides a project management perspective – how the Gartner Hype Cycle can be used when grappling with the strategic and implementation challenges of digital projects.

The Gartner Hype Cycle Explained: The Basics

The following graphic illustrates the Gartner Hype Cycle and its five (5) phases.

gartner hype cycle explained

Here are explanations for the five (5) phases of the Gartner Hype Cycle as shown in the chart. The names of each phase are shown at the top in the chart, while more ‘realistic and humorous’ names are at the bottom.

  1. On the Rise – Otherwise known as the ‘Technology Trigger’, in this phase a new technologies are introduced. The technology trigger is the event that in essence makes the technology public.  The technology has already been developed to at least a proven prototype condition, and the trigger is when it first gains broader attention and awareness.
  2. At the Peak – Typically expectations rise and far exceed the true value at the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. Most publicity comes from successes with the technology, so inflated expectations in the form of overly optimistic forecasts and investments naturally result. Misstarts abound, and there is more failure than successes in this stage.
  3. Sliding into the Trough – Expectations come down to reality – even lower – as people become disillusioned with the lack of progress in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. With attention focused more on the failures, publicity decreases, and the technology falls out of favor in most circles.  Any forward movement is done with great caution.
  4. Climbing the Slope – Hope is gradually restored as a more realistic vision takes shape during the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’. As some cautionary progress is made, more organizations – no longer starry-eyed – slowly begin to try the technology, but in a much controlled and realistic approach. New tools that make it easier for others to adopt begin to appear.
  5. Entering the Plateau – Having gained some traction in minds and in the market, the technology takes on a life of its own and produces value on the ‘Plateau of Productivity’. Real value is demonstrated and becomes accepted. More and more early adopters begin to use it. While it is not yet mainstream a good portion of the market has begun to adopt it.

Let’s look a little deeper in the next section at what activities and milestones you can expect to be in each of the hype cycle phases.

Activites and Milestones During the Gartner Hype Cycle Phases

For each technology area, Gartner performs analysis and produces a Gartner Hype Cycle product. For example, Supply Chain Execution (SCE) Technologies is a a technology area for a Hype Cycle report.

Generically, here are some specific sub-phases and ‘milestones’ – generally in order of occurrence – that happen in each of the Gartner Hype Cycle phases:

On the Rise / Technology Trigger

  1. Research and development
  2. First found of venture funding for startups
  3. Initial products with high prices, major customization requirements
  4. Investigations by first early adopters

At the Peak / Peak of Inflated Expectations

  1. Broad publicity begins
  2. Many suppliers jump on the bandwagon
  3. Interest extends beyond early adopters
  4. Negative experience and publicity begin

Sliding into the Trough / Trough of Disillusionment

  1. Suppliers fail, and some consolidate
  2. Successive rounds of venture funding ensue
  3. No more than 5% adoption
  4. Some succeeding products and service appear

Climbing the Slope / Slope of Enlightenment

  1. Methodologies and best practices arise
  2. More mature products and suites of products appear

Entering the Plateau / Plateau of Productivity

  1. More customers adopt
  2. Adoption hits 20-30% of potential audience

If you are working on a technology project or a program, knowing where your project fits into the hype cycle – such as its hype cycle phase – can be extremely helpful for setting strategically-driven taskings and milestones.

Uses for the Gartner Hype Cycle

In general, a Gartner Hype Cycle provides:

  • Information technology trends
  • The maturities of different but related technologies
  • Input to help to align projects with strategy

On a more practical level, it provides:

  • When considering operational initiatives and investments
  • Devising strategy for introducing technology products
  • Devising strategy for developing technology products

More specifically, if you are working in project management function, here is what the Hype Cycle can provide, depending on your role:

  • Project Manager – You may be implementing a project for a specific technology that is covered.  The Hype Cycle gives you perspective on where that technology sits in the hype cycle phases, which gives you insights on risks, what it will take to succeed, how long it might take to succeed, and what the payoff might be.
  • Portfolio Manager – You are sorting among various possible projects to include the portfolio. It will be helpful to understand the maturity, risks, payoffs, and potential timeframe
  • Program Manager – You have some similar concerns as the project manager, but broader. You are responsible for a group of projects that are all supporting a particular strategic objective. You also will be concerned with the nature of the technology, the level of maturity, the payoff to your company, and how long it might take to reach that payoff
  • Manager at a small to medium size company – It will be helpful for you to understand the trends in technologies to inform decisions on supply purchases, understand the environment you are selling into, and understand what larger companies are doing.
  • Working in a technology startup – You will definitely want to know the details of the technology maturity trends in your domain of operation so that you are informed by the competitive environment that you will eventually enter – even if you are evading it for now.

Note that the Gartner Hype Cycle is a product – you buy it! You generally use it as an input for further research and analysis.

Gartner Hype Cycle Evaluation Methodology

hype cycle work breakdown structureDeveloping a Gartner Hype Cycle report appears on the surface like…a project!  To the right is a generic, hypothetical Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that helps to show the key elements.

There is a lead analyst for the whole report, representing an analysis of an overall technology area.

At the core are the five phases, so that is the starting point for the WBS. That makes a set of tasks for analysis work for each phase, with a lead analyst for each of the phases.

Each technology, selected for further analysis at the report level, is then assigned an analyst. The analyst performs deep analysis as to the potential benefits, market penetration, maturity, importance and business impact, success drivers, risks, recommendations, sample vendors, and recommended reading. The technology is then assigned to a phase, depending upon the results of the analysis.

Understanding this rough methodology gives an appreciation of the magnitude and quality of work that goes into the work products – and thus the potential value. It also gives an appreciation for the rigor you need to use if you are going to partially leverage the report and supplement with your own analysis.


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The Gartner Hype Cycle Explained: Project Management Impact

The Hype Cycle has parallels to the business development maturity model, or product life cycle model. However, it is not just a conceptual framework, like those models. Instead, it provides real data, deep insights, and broad perspective to help inform and guide your way. It also has a price tag.

One of the biggest things the Gartner Hype Cycle will tell you, as a project, program, or portfolio manager, is some valuable perspective related to the risks, opportunities, and expected impact for your projects. It provides a detailed perspective on the technology landscape in your area of operation.

However, perhaps the biggest thing it can provide is to drive the need for the project in the first place. Gartner products, such as the Hype Cycle and the Magic Quadrant, are so ubiquitous in the industry that they are considered to be authoritative and can actually drive projects. Companies can easily think they need to act on the information just to remain competitive. Your project may have, to some extent, actually have been selected for implementation by your company because of information in the Gartner Hype Cycle!


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