When I started working with SmarTeam Corp.  in 1999, the company had several product managers, who were responsible for the whole lifecycle of a component or technology. The Product Manager was the person to define the features for the new release and provide the justification for these new features internally inside R&D.  In addition the Product Manager had the external role to visit customers and understand their needs for future releases and building and explaining a coherent vision to the outside and internal world. The product manager had a central role, connecting all stakeholders.

In the ideal situation the Product Manager was THE person who could speak in R&D-language about the implementation of features, could talk with marketing and documentation teams to explain the value and expected behavior and could talk with the customer describing the vision, meanwhile verifying the product’s vision and roadmap based on their inputs.All these expected skills make the role of a product manager challenging. Is the person too “techy” than he/she will enjoy working with R&D but have a hard time understanding customer demands. From the other side if the Product Manager is excellent in picking-up customer and market feedback he/she might not be heard and get the expected priorities from R&D. For me, it has always been clear that in software world a “bi-directional” Product Manager is crucial to success.

Where are the Product Managers in the Manufacturing Industry?

Approximate four years ago new concepts related to digitalization for PLM became more evident. How could a digital continuity connect the various disciplines around the product lifecycle and therefore provide end-to-end visibility and traceability? When speaking of end-to-end visibility most of the time companies talked about the way they designed and delivered products, visibility of what is happening stopped most of the time after manufacturing. The diagram to the left, showing a typical Build To Order organization illustrates the classical way of thinking. There is an R&D team working on Innovation, typically a few engineers and most of the engineers are working in Sales Engineering and Manufacturing Preparation to define and deliver a customer specific order. In theory, once delivered none of the engineers will be further involved, and it is up to the Service Department to react to what is happening in the field.

A classical process in the PLM domain is the New Product Introduction process for companies that deliver products in large volumes to the market, most of the time configurable to be able to answer to various customer or pricing segments. This process is most of the time linear and is either described in one stream or two parallel streams. In the last case, the R&D department develops new concepts and prepares the full product for the market. However, the operational department starts in parallel, initially involved in strategic sourcing, and later scaling-up manufacturing disconnected from R&D.

I described these two processes because they both illustrate how disconnected the source (R&D/ Sales)  are from the final result in the field. In both cases managed by the service department. A typical story that I learned from many manufacturing companies is that at the end it is hard to get a full picture from what is happening across the whole lifecycle, How external feedback (market & customers) have the option to influence at any stage is undefined. I used the diagram below even  before companies were even talking about a customer-driven digital transformation. Just understanding end-to-end what is happening with a product along the lifecycle is already a challenge for a company.

Putting the customer at the center

Modern business is about having customer or market involvement in the whole lifecycle of the product. And as products become more and more a combination of hardware and software, it is the software that allows the manufacturer to provide incremental innovation to their products. However, to innovate in a manner that is matching or even exceeding customer demands, information from the outside world needs to travel as fast as possible through an organization. In case this is done in isolated systems and documents, the journey will be cumbersome and too slow to allow a company to act fast enough. Here digitization comes in, making information directly available as data elements instead of documents with their own file formats and systems to author them. The ultimate dream is a digital enterprise where date “flows”, advocated already by some manufacturing companies for several years.

In the previous paragraph I talked about the need to have an infrastructure in place for people in an organization to follow the product along the complete lifecycle, to be able to analyze and improve the customer experience. However, you also need to create a role in the organization for a person to be responsible for combining insights from the market and to lead various disciplines in the organization, R&D, Sales, Services. And this is precisely the role of a Product Manager.

Very common in the world of software development, not yet recognized in manufacturing companies. In case a product manager role exists already in your organization, he/she can tell you how complicated it currently is to get an overall view of the product and which benefits a digital infrastructure would bring for their job. Once the product manager is well-supported and recognized in the organization, the right skill set to prioritize or discover actions/features will make the products more attractive for consumers. Here the company will benefit.

Conclusion

If your company does not have the role of a product manager in place, your business is probably not yet well enough engaged in the customer journey.  There will be broken links and costly processes to get a fast response to the market.  Consider the role of a Product Manager, which will emerge as seen from the software business.

NOTE 1: Just before publishing this post I read an interesting post from Jan Bosch: Structure Eats Strategy. Well fitting in this context

NOTE 2: The existence of a Product Manager might be a digital maturity indicator for a company, like for classical PLM maturity, the handling of the MBOM (PDM/PLM/ERP) gives insight into PLM maturity of a company.

Related to the MBOM, please read: The Importance of a PLM data model – EBOM and MBOM

 

 

 

 

 

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