In an earlier post, I explained the concept of product platforms. Now let’s talk about how you implement a product platform in your organization. Follow these six steps to increase your likelihood of success:
1. Assign and empower a platform team leader
Success lies in having a leader that is empowered to make final decisions when the platform team cannot come to a resolution on an issue. Typically, a product manager fulfills this role to make sure customer needs are met with the platform approach.
2. Define the needs of the market
Create a matrix of all market requirements by target application and region. Verify these needs with sales or customers.
CAUTION: Make sure to identify market trends by application. If there are significant risks for a particular market requirement to shift in the near future, then mark the requirement as a variable specification that might need to be addressed outside of the platform. You want the platform to be viable after at least one market shift to maximize the return on the investment.
3. Identify what is common or unique by application and region
Requirements shared across markets automatically become part of the platform specification. However, unique market requirements are a challenge and can be addressed in two ways:
- Design a “one size fits all” platform. Some unique requirements may need to be compromised for the success of this platform approach.
- Design a modular interface or adapter for ancillary parts to address unique customer requirements.
There are many examples of how companies or industries addressed unique market requirements. For instance, many laptop power supplies can electrically operate anywhere in the world (platform) but you need to use a plug adapter to connect to various power outlets.
The additional cost for addressing a unique need must not move your total target unit cost by 5%. If the cost is too high and there is a viable business case for the market need, then keep the requirement out of the platform and address the requirement with a separate solution.
4. Identify which requirements would be a value-added feature
Value-adds could be features that differentiate you from the competition, justify a price mark-up, or both. In either case, you want to look for ways to attach value-adds to a platform. The value-adds could be offered as product accessories (ex. iPhone skins), product versions (iPhone 4 vs. iPhone4S), or enabled within the product (iCloud). All of these tactics magnify the range a single product could address a variety of customer needs.
5. Develop the platform architecture concepts and compare them
Test the concepts from different perspectives to make the best choice. Do you have a common value added feature in your platform? Is it feasible to use a “one-size-fits-all” platform to address region/customer specific needs? Which approach will meet the target unit cost? Which approach will be fast and easy to implement? Which approach creates a barrier to entry or limits copycats? Which approach has the highest potential for being future proof? Does the platform span across an entire product group to maximize the return on the investment?
6. REVIEW, RINSE, REPEAT
Conduct frequent reviews during the early stages of development to verify the approach is achieving cost, performance, and time targets.