The “straw” that enables direct product line flow.
Maximizing a product line’s velocity demands a means or mechanism to create a laminar flow directly at the line’s OKR’s. I published a video that shows why the direct laminar flow is so valuable. See the video HERE.
In the video, I discuss how a product line team needs a straw to direct their flow. Yes, it’s just like the straw you put into a drinking cup. But for products it’s an organizational approach.
For product lines, the straw that creates a rapid flow is the smart oversight of the line laid out as a system of parts and forces. Here I explain the straw – the smart oversight – and share exactly what such oversight looks like.
The video describes three flows: the turbulent flow, the vortex-induced laminar flow, and the direct laminar flow. See Graphic 1. It’s essential to see how these flows play out for product lines. A turbulent product line flow is simple to see and understand. It’s the result of many projects being carried out independently. And it made worse when decisions about product line activities are disjointed.
The vortex-induced flow is much faster than the turbulent flow. Companies create the vortex with a deliberate focus on speed by embracing sharp project management and prioritization. And you’ll find leaders embrace a Time-to-Market mantra repeated with different words in every meeting.
The Time-to-Market Vortex
But a vortex-induced flow comes up short because its direction isn’t always the best for the line. The video shows a vector diagram to make the point. While the vortex flow pushes through the constraint faster than the turbulent flow, it also loses much energy. And results are good, but not stellar.
A focus on time-to-market has been well-entrenched in organizations for several decades. You’ll see this vortex-inducing approach going back to Boston Consulting Group’s famous push on speed in the early 1980s that influences companies even today. In developing products, the argument for speed suggests it delivers two critical outcomes. First, the faster you get to market, the better your competitive advantage. And second, the faster you go, the lower your total cost.
Red Queens Race
There’s no question the time-to-market vortex works better than the turbulent approach. But the problem is that all competitors are in the same race, using the same metrics, mantras, and techniques to induce faster flows. And the race is much like Lewis Carol’s Red Queen Race classically described to Alice.
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
The Direct Flow
A direct laminar flow for a product line allows teams to move beyond the vortex-induced Red Queen’s race. But it needs a different approach than merely preaching speed. It demands teams to focus on the right parts and forces within their product line system. And this is more strategy-oriented than just embracing portfolio prioritization and time-to-market.
The good news is the straw’s direct laminar produces results that far outpace the vortex-induced flow. Yes, it’s new. And yes, it’s different. But as your competitors step up to the direct laminar product line flow, your company will have little choice but to do the same. And in any fast-paced competitive industry, the sooner you set up this straw to enable the direct flow, the better the result.
You Need a Straw
So let’s take a look at the new product line straw. What is it, and what does it take to set it up?
The straw, as stated in the video, is smart oversight from a systems viewpoint. I call the viewpoint PLaaS, which stands for Product Line as a System.
First, lets’ explore what’s meant by a system and how it captures much of what’s happening with a product line. Here’s a formal definition from Wikipedia but copies one from Webster’s dictionary.
A system is a group of interacting or interrelated entities that form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.
Parts and Forces
It’s a set of parts that interact to form the whole. One type of part in the product line that obvious is the product. But these are not static or without their own influence. You’ll find the match between a product’s attributes and a customer’s needs create a magnetic force that pulls the product to the customer. The product line system is a set of parts and forces which playoff one another. And the product line’s performance is dependent on how well teams manage these parts and forces. You can see a list of these parts and forces Here and Here.
A key principle in systems thinking is very useful in setting up and driving product lines. Because parts interact, influence and control over the system does not require influence and control over each part. In a system, a narrow focus can influence and control the whole. That’s good news because it means great product line performance doesn’t require every product and every part in the line to have its own management.
A Strategy Focus
The narrow focus principle ties to smart product line strategies. That’s because if you determine the right set of focal points, you can gain leverage over the whole system. And here’s some even better news. We know the likely focal point that give most product strategies the biggest gain. As a set, I call these the Strategy-Essence. It includes
If you form a strategy that builds strength into each of the three Strategy-Essence parts, and you orchestrate tight unison of their interactions, you’ll be setting the stage for terrific product line performance.
The big problem some product line teams face is they don’t have a great Strategy-Essence to start. Plus, they’ll claim other organizational influences, like working to deliver quarterly sales, complicate the transition and organizational change needed to set up a new strategy.
Companies need a robust framework to enable the tight focus needed to drive their Product Line as a System. Graphic 2 below shares such a framework. It’s based on experience, practice, refinement, and logic. The framework keeps product line teams focused on doing the right work at the right time.
Notice how four pillars supported by organizational structure and process enable smart, deliberate choices and decisions. The pillars are critically important.
- Product Line System Forces and Parts — to deconstruct and reconstruct the product line and its performance
- Objective and Key Results (OKRs)– to enable a focus on the product line’s flow velocity
- Responsive Roadmapping — to carry out the strategy and re-actively guide progress toward desired outcomes.
- Rationale, Insights, and Foresight — to refresh and validate the knowledge and situational understanding that drives the line forward.
Implementing Product Lines as Systems
The framework is not an end-point to implementing a PLaaS approach. Instead, it’s a starting point from which product line teams can modify and adapt the approach to best fit their capabilities and needs. But in all cases, the framework demands companies change their mindset. And for some this may be a paradigm shift that reaches deep into the organization to redress strongly held assumption and standard operating practices.
Notable Product Line performance demands multi-product thinking, not old single-product thinking found in many companies. And sharing and setting up this more powerful way to think about products is an important job.
To learn more, please contact us. We’re glad to help.