For decades, manufacturers have employed teams to comb through their processes to identify opportunities to continuously improve their operations, a practice known as kaizen.
However, one area that has surprisingly not been targeted for improvement until recently is the early stages of product planning and management. This stage presents major risks for the entire organization: if the product management team makes poor decisions or products that fail to resonate with customers, there is a massive downside for the company in the form of mistakes and delays.
Today, product line visualization allows organizations to render images to communicate products to customers visually and has the potential to give teams the actionable insights they need to pivot their manufacturing strategies faster and more effectively. So much more than a CAD drawing, going through the motions of product line visualization allows teams to make informed decisions and produce strategic, successful output. Data and analytics are critical components product line visualization and can transform a qualitative process to one that is both quantitative and data driven.
Death by a thousand spreadsheets
In the middle stages of the product development life cycle, product teamswill envision a physical product and build a mock-up to communicate their ideas to executives. However, many teams have a hard time fully visualizing whether their products are truly matching market needs.
The typical process will go something like this: A product team will begin planning for the next generation of a product by compiling a range of data sets, such as sales and configurations, into a spreadsheet, along with their proposed changes. The spreadsheets will often include custom templates to analyze products, and the spreadsheet templates used by one team member may differ from another.
After running their analyses, they will transfer the results into a nice PowerPoint presentation to show executives and get approval to move forward.
This process can be unwieldy, with no standardized way of visualizing or communicating a product line. Two product team members may have two different spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations for the same item, creating a potential gap in vision.
The power of product line visualization
Product line visualization has the potential to help product teams avoid these pitfalls while also saving time and increasing agility.
Advanced product line visualization tools allow product teams to abandon their cumbersome spreadsheets and deliver actionable insights in real time. It can be time-consuming process for the product team to run a new spreadsheet analysis in order to answer every executive product question. If the product team isn’t fast or efficient, they could potentially hold up the rest of the company.
Product line visualizations tools can create a standardization for the product, making communications and visualization more efficient and effective. Product teams also open themselves up to the possibilities of new methods and strategies that they may have never entertained to because running the analyses to arrive at these solutions was too complicated or sophisticated for a spreadsheet.
Additionally, having all of a product’s design information in one place creates a critical continuum that makes it easier, in the event of an unsuccessful product launch, to research the chain of decisions to identify missteps. Once teams have worked with a tool long enough, they can also compare data to prior models to determine what went wrong and what worked.
Product line visualization can help companies achieve the power of alignment, where all stakeholders, from the CEO down to the product team, are all on the same page about the product’s nuances, regardless of how many changes are made over time.
The role of data and analytics
Data is the fuel that powers product line visualization tools, while analytics transforms qualitative product comparisons into quantitative, data-driven analyses.
It’s possible to identify and assign weight to critical specifications that will differentiate a product in the market and ensure that it meets market needs.
For example, a product team for a smartphone manufacturer may want to track the weight, camera resolution and processing speed for a next-gen smartphone. It can set thresholds for each feature and score the design, giving the team confidence that the new model will satisfy its defined objectives.
Product teams can make the wrong manufacturing choices if they are overwhelmed and don’t collect the necessary information to ensure informed decision-making. If their product flops, despite their due diligence and stage-gates, their companies face severe downsides.
It’s possible to reduce this risk. Product line visualization can deliver the crucial insights that will help product teams pivot quickly when needed and make the best manufacturing decisions possible.