What Is a Platform Product Manager?

Posted by Maziar Adl
Maziar Adl
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Illustration: team leaderMost customers don’t realize the number of people behind the complex products in their lives. From the product owners and managers to the team leads to the skilled technical employees, it takes a large, cross-collaborative team to design and build complex products. One of those important roles is the platform product manager.

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the platform product manager role and why their position is crucial for businesses that use platforms. 


Platforms and Platforming

A platform is a common component that several products use as the base structure or framework. Each product model will add different features and configurations to the platform to make a unique model that serves a distinct customer and target market. Some common products that use platforms in their development process include the following:

  • Laptops
  • Cell phones
  • Vehicles
  • Tools 
  • Heavy machinery
  • Appliances
  • Digital products


Creating a Platform 

Illustration: engine to vehiclesCreating a platform for a portfolio of products is called “platforming.” The goal of platforming is to streamline the product development process by creating a foundational component that different product teams can take and make their own. A platform should have standardized components so each product team knows what they are working with. 

The platform aims to be universal for a set number of products because it makes the development process more efficient. Manufacturing high volumes of the same platform cuts down on the costs of materials and infrastructure while speeding up the time it takes to start making a product. 

A well-designed platform is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Supports economies of scale
  • Reduces the time to development
  • Lowers market research and development costs
  • Consistency in the quality and performance across the product line
  • Responds to market demands quickly  


What Does a Platform Product Manager do?

Illustration: A person to Choose aPath The platform product manager is responsible for managing the development of a platform that supports and impacts multiple product lines. This makes the role a vital yet challenging one to fulfill. To begin, platform product managers must stay aligned with the goals and vision of the larger company since their platform will impact entire product lines. They must also carefully manage prioritization to ensure the platform adheres to the product vision. Due to the cross-functional nature of the platform, the platform product manager must collaborate with multiple product teams


Aligns with Goals & Vision

All product teams need to align their product visions with the overarching goals of the company. However, platform product members need to embody these goals as their platform is the foundation for multiple products in one or more portfolios.

For example, when an automotive manufacturer wants to develop a line of electric vehicles that outperform the competition on MPGe (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent), they need to pay close attention to how the platform supports that goal. If the chassis can be sturdy and aerodynamic, it will help all car models that use it have greater MPGe, assuming the product teams design the rest of the model with that goal in mind. 

Starting each product with a strong platform helps improve the entire product line using it. Creating a winning strategy for platform product development has a cascading effect on the rest of the product management teams in that company.


Manages Prioritization

Illustration: balanceBecause the platform serves multiple products, every decision made in its design and construction significantly influences other projects. As the base model, the platform needs to support the primary means of all the products using the platform. Each product line can then add to or modify the platform to suit the unique goals of the product model.  

Platform product managers need to ensure that the platform doesn’t lean towards prioritizing one specific model over another. Favoring a feature that product line A is using may interfere with what product line B has designed. Effectively managing the prioritization of ideas on the platform is a significant part of the platform product manager’s responsibilities. The day-to-day work of the platform product manager is to ensure the platform keeps all internal stakeholders happy. 


Collaborates with Multiple Product Teams

Cross-functional collaboration is an essential responsibility of a platform product manager since their product platform is used by multiple product lines in the company’s portfolio. In some cases, their platform may be used by different brands under the same company umbrella. Take the platforms developed by Volkswagen, for example. Many of their platforms are shared between automotive brands, including Audi, Skoda, and Porsche. 

The work of a platform manager intersects with various other leadership roles, including the work of systems engineers, product owners, and their product managers. Each product that uses the platform may have a different team of owners and managers that the platform manager will communicate with. For this reason, platform product managers must be excellent communicators. 


When Does a Company Need a Platform Product Manager?

build-an-ideaSmall companies won’t need a platform product manager, as they won’t be at a scale where a platform will be financially feasible or beneficial. Large companies with complex manufacturing portfolios are the perfect organizations to employ platform product managers. They might already have a platform system in place with a management team overseeing its production. Other companies may create the position as they begin to develop a platform to scale their operations. 


Combatting Project Silos

Most companies will create the position of platform product manager when they want to grow their business to the next level. They don’t want to increase production by a little; they want to scale their operations, but their projects feel isolated and siloed to make it happen. Investing in a platform and hiring the platform product manager facilitates major growth when done carefully and strategically. 


What Makes an Excellent Platform Product Manager

teamwork-3In order to excel in the role, the platform product manager needs to have a set of skills similar to those in traditional product management. They need to have strong communication skills, work well with stakeholders, inspire their teams, and communicate goals clearly. Their daily responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Production oversight
  • Strategic planning
  • Technology integration
  • Quality assurance
  • Supply chain coordination
  • Performance metrics monitoring
  • Continuous improvement
  • Team management


Product Roadmap Management Software that Supports Your Platform Strategy

Whether you already have a platform product manager or you’re just starting to scale operations, Gocious product roadmap management software and tools support the hard work of everyone involved in product management and product development. Book your free demo to see how our software can work for your teams.  

Topics: Product Management

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