Tilting the System
The Tilting Effect is a dilemma that traps companies without managers knowing. Repenning shows us how when companies shift resources to the back end of development to fix product issues and quality problems, the fix may be worse than the problem. It’s because, without well-resourced front-end work, developments have more issues and more problems. This then forces companies to shift even more resources to the back-end. And that leads to even more product related issues that need to be addressed.
It’s a self-fulfilling tilt where the fix to a single product hurts the flow of other products.
Tilting is a classic system. A change to one system part affects other parts. And in all systems, the parts are separated by space. Plus, you’ll see the effect of one part on another to be separated by time. In software systems, space and time separation are minutely small. But in the product line system, space and time separation can be notably large. It’s much harder to see and understand systems with large space and time separation. Even though product line systems sit in front of managers every day, their large time and space separation obscures the view.
Seeing the Beautiful Lady
Not seeing the system at first glance doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Instead, seeing the product line system demands you hone your brain. It’s like seeing both the beautiful lady and the old hag in the famous optical illusion. Once your brain adjusts and both heads pop into view, you can quickly flip between them.
The first time I saw a product line as a system was in the 1990s. My team and I were helping a client set up product development portfolio management. But we complemented the portfolio with a timeline-based roadmap.
Product Line System Parts
The idea was to use a timeline to lay out all product-related work. We wanted a graphic to show the client’s workstream from the front-end through development and into the market. To do this, we used our experience and collective knowledge.
We tagged development projects as PIDs and projects associated with existing SKU’s as PIMs. PID stands for products-in-development, and PIM is products-in-the-market. These names were straightforward. But our need to tie-in front-end work pointed to product innovation charters. This is a product-related document that few people know.
Product Innovation Charters
The innovation charter was first described by the late Professor Merle Crawford, a founder of the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA).
In the 1980s, Professor Crawford studied the starting points teams used when they began product development projects which produced notable success. And he tied his findings to team charters, a popular team-building tool. Professor Crawford showed us that if teams have certain factors to focus on, they are more likely to create and then successfully launch an impactful new product. The product innovation charter calls out these factors. The good news was the innovation charter, or PIC, fit the systems approach. It became the third product-related object on the timeline, sitting in front of PIDs and PIMs.
Those who know my teachings on roadmapping are aware of PICs, PIDs, and PIMs, and how I use these acronyms to describe a flow of products and development projects. But a roadmap of a product line must also share where you’re taking the line. It should lay out a plan for how product features embed in each product and connect to customer needs. The view must also show how specific technology bundles will create the correct feature set in each product.
Product Line Velocity
The single-product approach isn’t enough to keep pace with market and technology changes. Nor will it outmaneuver competitors. These moves, whether incremental advancements or major pivots, take more. That’s why product line teams need the system approach. It drives a continuous flow of significant results.
Managing the system to speed up its flow is a product line team’s top responsibility. And to do this, they must create better system parts and forces while purposely removing bottlenecks and hindrances. This requires a unique form of oversight and guidance.
The new product line oversight replaces time-to-market measures with the product line’s overall velocity. The focus is on the entire line, not just one project at a time. The velocity tracks how fast the line’s flow is progressing toward objectives and key results.
And to keep the flow at its best, management oversight must change or modify the system’s parts and forces. Plus, they may need to adjust the whole system and their organization to erase flow bottlenecks and hindrances.
Product line as systems is an important topic for all companies. And to get it right requires more than just reading a book or making it up as you go. Product line teams must learn new topics and put in notable work.
Managing The System Flow
Managing your product line as a system takes a team effort. Plus, it requires teams to build a new mindset and lay out a new approach. For many managers, this is counter to what they hear is best. The single-product approach tells them to gain freedom from existing products and create an entrepreneurial spirit. And while these steps seem positive, they simply push the single-product approach to be different. Unfortunately, it’s still the single product approach. And today, that’s seldom enough.
Please take time to learn more about product lines as systems. This multi-product approach is greatly needed as major changes in markets, technologies, and competition hits everyone, including your customers and your competitors.