In today's technology-driven world, the products we use every day are an increasingly complex mix of software and hardware components. Developing these modern products requires multiple resources, including personnel and components, to build them; systems engineering is the process that brings these different resources together to create a finished product. Product managers must be in tune with systems engineering so they can navigate the many challenges of modern product development.
Complex vs. Simple Products
We can compare products and classify them based on the complexity involved in building them.
Consider a ceramic coffee cup or a copper pipe, which are simple products with a single component. The process of creating a cup involves building a prototype, preparing the molds for mass production, pouring the material into molds, firing, and then glazing the product.
This linear process of producing a cup bears contrast to the complex process of building a laptop with multiple components. Some components of a laptop include a screen, keyboard, and motherboard. These three components will be designed and constructed simultaneously by separate specialized product teams. Building laptops and other such products requires a system to integrate all the different functions, and that's where systems engineering comes in.
What Is Systems Engineering?
Systems engineering refers to an interdisciplinary approach used for designing, implementing, managing, operating, and retiring a system. The "system" comprises all the hardware, software, personnel, processes, equipment, facilities, and procedures required to produce system-level outcomes or, in the case of product manufacturing, building a finished product.
Strategies for Managing Complex Product Variants
When building complex products, there are two strategies commonly used in product development: platforming and clone-and-own.
Platforming in Product Development
Platforming is a strategic approach where products share a foundational structure or framework but have different features, configurations, or specifications to create diversity. For example, in the automobile industry, a platform could include standardized components such as the chassis, engine, and transmission. Using this platform, the manufacturer can create various models, including sedans, SUVs, and sports cars.
A standardized platform featuring several core components offers several benefits, including:
- Economies of scale
- Reduced time to development
- Reduced market research and development costs
- Consistency in the quality and performance across the product line
- An ability to respond to market demands quickly
Clone and Own in Product Development
In contrast, the clone-and-own strategy involves copying an existing product and then customizing it to cater to the specific target market. This strategy is common in software development where a company may take open source software to use the base functionality of the software and then develop new unique features to make it their own. This process is ideal when time and resources are limited because it avoids having to build a new product from scratch.
While this process works well in software development, it is not always ideal when building complex hardware products; when multiple components are shared, platforming may be a more effective option.
Systems Engineering in the Development Process
Systems engineering encompasses the range of activities that are needed to build a finished product. With a product line of laptops, each product will be managed by a lead engineer product line engineer (PLE). The PLE That engineer is responsible for bringing all the components of the laptop together, including the monitor, keyboard, motherboard, central processing unit, graphical processing unit, and memory.
Each of these laptop components is developed by a different department, which is headed by a lead engineer who specializes in that component module line engineer (MLE). In the case of keyboards, the lead engineer of keyboards the MLE will might create a range of keyboards in different sizes with options that light up for higher-end models laptops and others that don't for lower-priced models. The lead engineers at the component levels will often work with multiple product line level engineers The MLE will work with multiple PLEs to integrate their feature into various final products screens already in production or create new components screens to meet the needs of the consumer.
The Importance of Cross-Functional Teams in Product Development
When product components are built in isolation, without proper communication between product teams, they often result in information silos. When information is isolated rather than shared, it often leads to problems and inefficiencies. Cross-functionality is essential to a successful systems engineering structure, with engineering teams working collaboratively to contribute to the product's creation and success.
Why Do Product Managers Need to Understand Systems Engineering?
As the key people who develop the product idea and are responsible for bringing the product to market, it is vital that product managers are equipped with knowledge about systems engineering. Product management teams need to have a good understanding of all the processes that are required to bring the finished product to completion.
Bridging Communication Between Hardware and Software Teams
A great product manager must also have good communication skills and develop strong relationships with all the personnel within the system; this is key to getting things done promptly and efficiently.
Consider the example of a product manager wishing to build a faster car; this goal requires input from engineering teams to build a superior engine and also the design department to reduce the weight of the body and its interior components.
In the case of software integration into a hardware product, a product manager must communicate with software and hardware teams to ensure the hardware can accommodate this new capability.
Cross-Collaboration For Efficiency
When developing complex products, collaboration between product teams is essential for efficiency. The product manager plays a vital role in guiding this process, which is key to resolving problems and promoting innovation.
Aligning Product Teams With Roadmaps in Complex Product Development
A product roadmap is an essential tool that assists the product manager in overseeing many complex tasks. It provides a single source of truth for product development teams to align with and outline the product strategy.
A product roadmap should guide the way and offer a plan that each team can align to. To be effective, the product roadmap should be established in the early stages of the development process; product managers are responsible for monitoring, analyzing, and updating the roadmap to ensure that all information is current and relevant.
Systems Engineering: A Characteristic of Modern Product Development
Modern product managers must learn to develop products through the process of systems engineering to achieve maximum efficiency. If you would like to learn more about how Gocious Product Roadmap Management Software can help you take your business to the next level, book a free demo today.