Lifecycle Insights – Perspectives Article Series

Part 1: The Complexity of Digital Assets across Product Variants

What. A. Mess.

Looking at product development of the variants that are produced today, that's the exact thought that comes to mind. It's so incredibly complex with documents here, files there and designs over there. It's so confusing at times when you're trying to figure out which version of this digital asset goes with this product variant. In all, the path to launch the variants of a product is rife with opportunity to make major mistakes.

Stepping back for a moment, you have to wonder how exactly did we get here? What really are the problems with this process? Most importantly, how can they be addressed?

Therein lies the purpose of this article series. In this first article, we'll take a look at the wide range of digital assets needed to develop and launch a product and, most importantly, how they vary with product variants. Setting a baseline around this problem gives us the right platform about how to solve these problems. But that, of course, is for a future article in this series. For now, let's dive in.

A Plethora of Digital Deliverables

Taken as a whole, the Digital Revolution has been a good thing. It transformed physical documents into digital ones that could be securely protected and shared. It also captured more of the definition of the product that was always there, but not always formally documented. Furthermore, as more and more electronics and software was integrated into products, the definition expanded more, enveloping the functions and disciplines in planning, designing and deploying those aspects of the product.

Overall, this translated into a veritable explosion of digital assets. There were those from mechanical, electrical and software engineers. But there were also those from testing, documentation and service. It also included architects, requirements engineers, project managers, system engineers, and quality. The digital definition of today's products quite literally is a sea of assets.

Now, of course, none of these assets are static. During different phases of development, they change, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Furthermore, they are also interdependent. Switching one chip out for another one affects the heat sink used to dissipate heat. That, in turn, affects the housing of the electronics, which impacts how it is mounted onto the frame of the product. But furthermore, these changes affect what components are purchased, how the system is tested and assembly on the factory floor. Stakeholders, and their assets, up and down the development chain are affected.

Managing change to this interconnected network of assets is no easy task. In fact, it can be overwhelming. But, strangely enough, this is actually the simplest scenario to consider. Next up, we'll tackle the next level of complexity in the form of product variants.

The Complexity Expands Exponentially with Product Variants

Today, the ability to create variants of a product to meet the needs of different customer groups is widespread. It's now a fairly common practice in the Automotive, Aerospace, Defense and High Tech and Electronics industries, just to name a few. Of course, the logic is sound. Variants within a platform share a common core set of systems and capabilities, thus sharing a common set of features. Other systems and capabilities are varied to provide different alternative and optional features.

While the logic behind this concept is sound, the tactical execution of it is anything but easy. Remember the problem with managing one interconnected network of assets discussed earlier in this article? In this context, there is a network for each product variant. Obviously, that adds a tremendous amount of complexity to development. However, that actually isn't the biggest problem.

The largest issue is managing change to the assets across those product variants. An engineer might attempt to change a single asset that describes many variants within a platform. Being aware of such an attempted change is one thing. But resolving such an attempted change to the satisfaction for all variants is another. Impeccable configuration management practice might get an organization through a few such changes. But with the plethora of assets needed for each variant, more is needed to get through these scenarios unscathed.

Recap and Takeaways

  • The variants in today's complex product lines rely on an interconnected network of assets for development.
  • Managing modifications to these interconnected assets, especially as they change independently, is highly challenging.
  • Not only are there multiple networks of assets to manage, but changes across networks for commonly used assets must be managed to the satisfaction for multiple variants within the platform.

All of this, of course, is a major challenge. However, this issue gets more complex. In the next article, we'll dive into those challenges.

This article has been licensed for hosting by Big Lever. The concepts, ideas and positions of this article have been developed independently by Industry Analyst Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insights.