What’s the difference between a Multi-generational Product Plan and Product Line Strategies and Roadmaps? The answer deserves a short discussion. Stick with me as I explain. The topic offers much insight into great development practices.
Multi-Generational Product Planning (MGPP) and Product Line Strategizing and Roadmapping (PLSR) are different. But they’re also closely related. To understand, let’s first look at each and see how they relate. Then we must explore how MGPP, when set into PLSR, can add significant value to product lines.
Both MGPP and PLSR lay out a timeline of work related to new products. MGPP does this from a project management and design engineering perspective. PLSR does it from a product line strategy view. You may also see how PLSR applies to all product lines whereas MGPP only applies to certain product line types. In good practices, MGPP may happen as a basic strategy move within PLSR. That’s because PLSR takes a broader view of the product line, beyond project management and engineering design.
Preventing Scope Creep
MGPP works to freeze product specifications and advance products one generation at a time. Its purpose is to lighten development work by controlling scope creep. This helps to speed up product launches. It streamlines projects. But to be successful with the approach, teams must also build a logical game plan for future product generations. It’s one thing to stop excessive scope creep. It’s another thing to be successful with whole product lines.
PLSR goes beyond MGPP. It adds targets for future products into a planning approach. This then lessens each project’s risk by helping contributors to collaborate during concept formation and throughout development. MGPP’s role is to help teams carry out day-to-day work and achieve product delivery goals. And while MGPP must be sensitive to strategy issues, its purpose is to freeze specifications, not lay out brilliant strategy moves.
Smart MGPP also purposefully retires older products. An older product’s retirement timing may be delayed from a new product’s launch, but the product’s closeout is a certainty. In time, the company will stop producing and servicing the old product. This enables the renewal of the product line. And it’s vital to a business’s health. But developers must make sure each new offering continues to match the customer’s needs.
When a new product targets the same segments as current products, it has an advantage. It aligns with how the organization interfaces with customers. And the alignment helps to reduce uncertainties and speed the product’s market diffusion. That makes MGPP developments attractive.
In strategy, MGPP advances a product by adding technology building blocks. These technologies are not part of the product’s core. Rather, they’re “add-ons” that update or add to an existing product. The challenge is that you can only make so many of these advances before the product and the line become burdened. Eventually, teams need to revise the core of their products.
Then too, sunk cost economics may obscure a need for more impactful strategy moves. This happens when new generations appear economically favorable in the near term. It looks like low hanging fruit that must be picked. But it also means the core of the product remains unchanged. And not addressing the product’s core can be a mistake. With time, incremental advancements without renewing the product’s core can harm a line. Unknowingly, a team may find itself using MGPP to promote this strategy mistake.
A Strategy Focus
PLSR focuses on creating and carrying out a product line’s strategy. PLSR work and thinking probe deeply into many topics related to the product line. This includes MGPP. But PLSR does not focus solely on project management or engineering. Therefore, product line teams carry out MGPP as part of, not in place of, PLSR. And you’ll see that a product line’s strategy almost always reflects multiple product generations.
Those involved in product lines will also recognize the “Strategy-Essence,” a central part of PLSR, is absent from MGPP. This means that platform-lever advancements, market segment plans, and how the organization supports the line are not part of MGPP. Yet, the Strategy-Essence is fundamental to making smart product line strategy moves and pivots. And it’s vital to a line’s success.
For some product lines, it’s natural to plan platform-levers, not just individual products, over multiple generations. MGPP works best with hardware design and software type platform-levers that form the core of multiple products in a line. Such planning can create a significant boost to a product line’s strategy. Think of this as a plan that lays out platform-lever generation X followed by generation X+1.
When you hear about the launch of a new generation of a product, it’s likely to be a design or software platform-lever. Consider smartphones. From its origin, Apple’s design platform-levers were the iPhone, the iPhone 3, then 4, and so forth. Each spawned only a few variant products. Similarly, Samsung’s platform-lever generations were the Galaxy S, II, III, 4, and so on. Because these are design platform-levers, using MGPP makes perfect sense.
Not all Product Lines, Not all Platform-levers
But MGPP may not fit other platform-lever types. For example, service and production platform-levers don’t easily advance through generations. Coming up with a new generation production platform-lever is difficult. But yes, there can be new production asset platform-levers that replace the old. More likely, though, teams sequence small improvements. They don’t seek a total renewal.
MGPP also falls flat when a platform-lever’s life cycle is longer than the organization’s planning horizon. Why plan a new platform generation if you can’t address it within your planning horizon? It would be speculative, not actionable.
Often, companies make the mistake of using MGPP without thinking through a product line strategy and contributing platform-levers. Consider a company that wants to add machine learning or artificial intelligence to its offering. They may use MGPP to add new technologies to an existing platform-lever. The problem is when the platform-levers weren’t designed with the new technologies in mind. As a result, a company may need to undertake much engineering work to overcome the mismatch. It may look like bad engineering, but instead it’s poor strategic thinking and misuse of MGPP.
The key difference between the two methods boils down to project management versus strategy. MGPP stresses engineering and project management. PLRS stresses the strategy. And the strategy moves become the directive given to an MGPP approach. Don’t expect MGPP to create the strategy.
PLSR creates and carries out the strategy. It’s an approach that focuses on exploring, analyzing and selecting strategy moves and pivots. And, depending on the platform-lever types, PLSR may include rigorous MGPP as an important “Strategy Lens.” It helps to rationalize the milestones in the strategy execution roadmap. How much MGPP influences PLSR, though, depends on the product line, its platform-levers, and the strategy.
For those who focus only on MGPP, embedding it into PLSR may seem wasteful. But that’s not the case. Instead, PLSR gives context to the multi-generational plan. But you’ll also see that MGPP builds reality into the strategy. The combination is powerful.
To learn how to gain from smart product line strategies which include multi-generational product plans, please consider reading my book. It’s entitled The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategies. Find out more about MGPP and PLSR here.
Whitepaper– Good Product Line Strategy Matters.