Everything in our world constantly changes, from the music we enjoy and the star players on our favorite sports teams to the energy sources we rely on. Nothing in this world stays the same for very long, so the ability to adapt is an asset. It’s primarily evident—albeit harsher—that the animals and plants that are better equipped to adapt are the ones that survive.
It’s the same with industry. Everything is constantly changing in manufacturing, from how products are made to the type of products in demand by the customers. The demand is growing for high-tech products, from jewelry to appliances to vehicles to window coverings. Smart systems are more common than ever, while software is increasingly embedded in ordinary objects. All this change brings the need to adapt systems and operational models. This is necessary for product management in particular. Meeting the demand for evolving product complexity requires a strategy matching the pace.
When Old Systems Fade Away
It may be a bit dramatic to claim that the old way of managing products is completely out-of-date, but for many manufacturers, the old systems are holding them back. What worked in product management ten years ago is no longer the best strategy for now, nor is it the best strategy to embrace for the next ten years. Manufacturers need a revamped strategy for product management to continue being profitable and making goods their consumers want and need.
Adapting Keeps the Business Alive
Everyone can think of a brand or a company they supported ten years ago that is no longer around today, whether they failed to adapt to online business or ignored the new technologies entering the scene.
The top reason businesses fail is a lack of funding and capital. Businesses run out of money because their products do not reflect what the customers want. When companies take the time to really understand their customer, stay in touch with what that customer wants, and adapt to industry developments, they are far more likely to survive and thrive than if they stick their heads in the sand and ignore the industry shifts.
Three Reasons to Stop Chasing Waterfalls
The classic method of product management is the waterfall method. Product teams will design and test a prototype with the audience to gain insight and feedback to document and take away to improve a second prototype further. This second prototype would then be tested with consumers while feedback was documented, then taken away to work on the next and hopefully final version to launch. The entire design process, text, and document, then design again, could take several years before the product was fully ready to sell.
While this strategy had its perks in that the products launched were spot on what the customer wanted, there are several good reasons why it no longer serves the complex products of 2023.
1. The Time Involved
The waterfall method requires time to design, test, and proceed through the stages before launching a product. Companies don’t have years to perfect a product in the current market of wanting anything and everything instantly.
With the rate at which technology and software are updated, companies cannot waste time building the hardware to impress their consumers when it’s the latest tech they want. And the software does not and cannot take up the time the waterfall method requires.
2. The Money Required
Designing, building, and testing several prototypes without launching a minimum viable product to the market is no longer financially feasible for most manufacturers. While the product team plans, researches, and develops the perfect product model, there needs to be a sale-ready version that brings in revenue and feedback to improve the next version.
Depending on the manufacturer, the hardware or physical portion of the product often stays the same for several iterations, while only the software changes and is improved. The cost to push out a software update is far less for the manufacturer than launching an entirely new physical device.
3. Costly Mistakes
Working with the waterfall method can also lead to costly mistakes if the market research is wrong or the customer feedback collected isn’t exactly what the company needs to know. Waiting three or more years to test a product can harm the production budget if the launch is a flop. However, with a minimum viable product on the market for sale, companies can learn in real-time how their designs are hitting or missing the mark, allowing for a course correction and reduced financial losses.
What Product Strategies Come Next?
Anyone working in software knows that agile strategies work best for digital products and can be implemented with hardware products that do or don’t include software components. However, switching from a waterfall to an agile model requires drastic changes that most companies cannot make overnight. Instead, companies are shifting to a hybrid approach that takes the best of both models and makes the transition manageable.
The Benefits of Choosing a Hybrid Approach
Switching a routine or method is difficult in any activity, whether it’s a diet, a workout routine, or a service provider. That’s why baby steps are often recommended rather than making a full-on dramatic change. This is especially important when managing products that are only growing in complexity. Changing systems overnight is often not even possible, which is why the hybrid approach is what most manufacturers are adopting, with the end goal being agility.
The hybrid approach allows product teams to plan their models at a high level and stick to a well-documented plan for large-scale or high-cost products. For smaller-scale products or changes involving engineering, teams may switch to an agile approach to find the best option for that low-cost product feature while the larger-picture goal remains the same.
Encouraging Teamwork and Ideas
Having a hybrid approach keeps teams aligned with the company’s bigger goals while fostering new ideas. This strategy can also encourage teams to work together and collaborate more on improving the product. A strategy can only take teams so far. Success in product management requires leaders who can encourage cross-functional collaborations, filter ideas, and communicate important information from the data collection to all stakeholders.
More and more companies will be switching to an agile mode of product management to keep up with consumer demand for new product models while taking advantage of a hybrid strategy until they reach that goal.
The Perks of Full Agility
The benefits of an agile approach to designing products are that different portions of the product can be redesigned, improved, and tested without changing the entire structure at a reduced cost. One component can be studied, developed, and tested to see if it works, makes a difference to the consumer, and works with the rest of the components in the product. This method helps improve the entire model piece by piece, iteration by iteration.
Having many checkpoints for quality and alignment with the product goals along the way means that the improvements are on track at each stage. Agile product strategy makes product design and improvement faster with less wasted costs.
New Approaches to Product Management in Manufacturing
Many manufacturers are making the transition to new methods of product management. While they’re busy training their product teams to adapt to the new strategies, manufacturers can also use product management software and tools that make the transition to new approaches more manageable. Changing the goals and systems is one step, but having the right tools in place is what makes it possible
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