Big Lever Software, Inc.

BIGLEVER NEWSLETTER: Special Series

At the Edge of the PLE Envelope
Part 2: Product Line Engineering Meets Product Line Operations

Greetings from Dr. Charles Krueger, BigLever CEO:

February makes perfect timing for the next installment in this newsletter series, At the Edge of the Product Line Engineering (PLE) Envelope. Our partners and customers have completed their year-end reviews and created their Product Line Engineering objectives and plans for the new year. Looking across the industry in the February perspective, we can see how the advances in PLE practice last year are enabling the leading edge trends going forward into the new year.

In part 1 of this series, I mentioned that many of the latest PLE innovations are occurring at the interface between engineering and the larger business enterprise. The scope of this trend has expanded with remarkable speed and clarity, exposing new opportunities where PLE methodology, tools and practices can be applied to align engineering and business operations.

The implications are similar to the paradigm shifts we saw when 1st generation Software Product Line (SPL) methods provided whole factor improvements in software development for a product family and when 2nd generation Systems and Software Product Line Engineering (2G PLE) methods provided additional whole factor improvements across the entire systems and software engineering lifecycle.

In this newsletter, I'll describe this next emerging paradigm that offers additional whole factor improvements in product line operations.

Product Line Engineering meets Product Line Operations

The complexity of managing the variability in a family of similar products or systems is not limited to engineering groups. Other organizations that can spend inordinate amounts of time and effort dealing with product feature diversity include manufacturing and supply chains in automotive, certification and compliance documentation in aerospace and defense, product marketing and product portfolio planning in highly competitive markets, web system deployments in e-commerce, sales automation for complex configurable systems, plus training, support, service, maintenance, disposal, and more in many industries.

Although it became clear to many successful 2G PLE organizations that alignment of PLE with their existing business operations was crucial, the idea of consolidating the variant management disciplines across engineering and operations groups is an emerging idea at the edge of the envelope. Some of the industry's most innovative product line enterprises are now leveraging or planning to leverage their PLE competence to create highly efficient Product Line Operations. We refer to this convergence as Product Line Engineering and Operations, or PLE&O.

Smart Automotive Variant Conference

An insightful view into this emerging convergence was at the Smart Automotive Variant.con Conference held in Germany last November, for which I was the invited conference chair.

From that introduction you might expect this to be a PLE conference, though it was in fact primarily a Product Line Operations conference, with senior leadership representation from manufacturing, supply chain, portfolio planning and management, sales automation and configurators, support and maintenance, and more.

The challenges, opportunities and solutions for managing the complexity of product line variants in these disciplines is strongly analogous to those seen in PLE. This should not be too surprising since the complexity of variant management has the same root cause as PLE – product feature diversity. It was interesting to see that some of the most promising approaches were using feature-based abstractions, such as those found in traditional sales configurators for complex products.

It was immensely clear that the disciplines of PLE and Product Line Operations are overdue for a PLE&O convergence.

On the Wings of the V

Prior to the 2G PLE methodology, individual stages of the systems and software engineering lifecycle would typically invent their own solutions for managing product line variation. Requirements engineers might use attributes to annotate requirements variations in their database, designers might use supertypes and subtypes to model design variants, software developers might use IFDEFs to indicate source code variants, and testers might use file system directory naming conventions to sort out their test case variants. Of course, dissonance among the solutions across the lifecycle stages made it nearly impossible to manage the traceability among variants in the different lifecycle stages.

>> See illustration 1.

The 2G PLE solution uses feature-based approaches to consolidate variation management across the different stages of the systems and software engineering lifecycle with a single source of the "feature truth" and sophisticated feature-based automation. This is shown in illustration 1, where the consolidated feature-based PLE approach sits in the middle of the traditional systems and software engineering 'V'.

Some of the most advanced 2G PLE organizations are pushing towards a similar convergence between PLE and Product Line Operations. However, business operations such as product marketing or customer training are not part of the engineering 'V'. A good way to think of operations is that they are on the wings of the 'V'. That is, there are operations that are upstream of the engineering activities on the left of the 'V' and there are operations that are downstream of the engineering activities on the right of the 'V'.

>> See illustration 2.

As shown in Illustration 2, the single source of the "feature truth" has been elevated out of the middle of the 'V', so that it can also be the single source of the "feature truth" for the operations on the wings of the 'V' and thereby facilitate the PLE&O convergence.

As you might imagine, the sophisticated feature-based ontology needed to support 2G PLE needs to be further extended with new abstractions to support Product Line Operations. Although this is still an area of pathfinding, emerging at the edge of the PLE envelope, it appears that these extensions may be mostly grounded on new feature bundling constructs. The feature ontology for PLE&O will be the subject of a future newsletter installment.

Note that PLE&O can be viewed as the product line specific concern within the field of DevOps, which promotes the overall efficient interoperability of engineering and business operations.

The Next Generational Step

PLE&O is more than just a new approach for aligning PLE with business operations. It is a generational step forward in the evolution of product line paradigms.

  • 1st generation Software Product Line (1G SPL) engineering extended traditional software development with a fundamental new perspective and methodology for developing software in a family of similar systems.
  • 2nd generation Systems and Software Product Line Engineering (2G PLE) extended 1G SPL with a fundamental new perspective and methodology for consolidated feature-based variation management and automation across the full systems and software engineering lifecycle in a family of similar systems.
  • Product Line Engineering and Operations (PLE&O) extends 2G PLE with a fundamental new perspective and methodology for consolidated feature-based complexity management, variation management and automation across an enterprise's entire engineering and business operations for their family of product or system deliverables.

I anticipate that PLE&O will continue to emerge this year from innovation and pathfinding at the edge of the envelope into more widespread and well known practice in the product line field. I look forward to hearing and sharing ideas and experiences with members of our community.

Stay tuned for more installments in the series, At the Edge of the PLE Envelope (which we may need to update to be At the Edge of the PLE&O Envelope).

Best Regards,

Charles W. Krueger
BigLever Software CEO
ckrueger@biglever.com


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