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Project-to-Products: Product Lifecycle Management

By Brian Nathanson posted Oct 28, 2019 04:28 PM

Continuing from my last post...

Nothing has changed in that there is still a heavy product marketing component to a product manager's work. We'll cover that in some upcoming posts.

On the other hand, everything changed in the mid-1980s with the advent of computer systems that would allow better coordination and dynamic changes in the production of a product -- that is, you could use information about the ecosystem and/or the production process itself to improve the process and inform future product iterations -- often producing superior products at cheaper costs. This new type of product management is often called product lifecycle management.

The most commonly cited first example of this new discipline is the old American Motors Corporation's use of supply chain systems to produce the Jeep Grand Cherokee as a derivative of the Jeep Cherokee in 1985. From Sidney Hill, Jr.'s article on the topic (How To Be A Trendsetter: Dassault and IBM PLM Customers Swap Tales From The PLM Front):

"The first move in this quest for faster product development was the purchase of a computer-aided design (CAD) software system...that made individual engineers working on the Jeep Cherokee more productive by allowing them to create on computers rather than drafting tables. [The new system] helped with communication. [It] allowed engineers to pull product drawings and other documents from a central database, [which] meant [c]onflicts were resolved faster [and e]ngineering changes were reduced. In 1996, when Chrysler [who acquired AMC] was still an early adopter of PLM technology, it was the auto industry's lowest-cost producer, recording development costs that were half of the industry average."

What we know today as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) addresses the approach where products are marshalled (iteratively) through stages of Design, Develop, Test, Launch, Enhance, and Recycle. What marks this process is that it is almost entirely focused on engineering and technical production.

Traditional backlog management falls into this category of activity and many of the day-to-day details in this area are handled by Product Owners. Product Managers should at least be aware enough of current status to know what's going on, but it's not their primary focus.

It's important to note: When agilists talk about optimizing flow, they are mainly referring to optimization of this lifecycle -- the lifecycle of product engineering.

What do you think? Did I leave anything out? Need more examples? Sound off below.