Product Managers are vital to the manufacturing industry but there are several challenges they face that need to be overcome.
There are a range of common issues faced by many Product Managers. These include their role being poorly defined, having too much to do, lacking ownership of the roadmap, dealing with vague business strategies, and often missing a common way of working and language.
Another is that there are novel challenges for different market sectors and product contexts.
Some of the specific challenges for those managing manufactured products include the challenge to get things right first time, product complexity, the broader range of people involved in the creation process and maximizing value once in market.
Getting it right the first time
Getting the right product of the right quality to market the first time is critical for Product Managers in manufacturing and doing this successfully can be difficult.
One way Product Managers can respond to this challenge is by creating a prototype of their product.
Whilst creating hardware prototypes and getting customer feedback can be time-consuming and costly, these downsides need to be balanced against the risk of setting up a manufacturing line for a product that will ultimately fail in the market. Rather than viewing the phase of building a prototype as a delay in the process, it should be seen positively as a necessary stage of work in the innovation process.
Using a prototype both allows Product Managers to get customer feedback and helps design and manufacturing assess the best way to build the product. It minimizes the risk of expensive product recalls and rework, ensuring that what’s delivered is valued by customers and hits the quality standard required.
Dealing with product complexity
In many companies and industries, Product Managers have to manage multiple products. However, when looking after manufactured products we see that this frequently takes too much of a product manager’s time.
This is down to the complexity of the products. Perhaps there are multiple SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) each with a different BOM (Bill of Materials). Maybe there is a long lead time on ordering some of the components in the BOM or existing suppliers stop supporting some key components.
These supply and complexity challenges can create work for product managers who might have to forecast at a very detailed level and support their procurement, design, and manufacturing colleagues in working with suppliers.
Clearly, this work needs to be done. But, what organisations should do is offload the detailed work such as maintaining BOM and SKU definitions to others in the organisation. These are operational tasks and it’s more valuable for the organisation if Product Managers focus on higher-level strategy, roadmap, requirements, and plans rather than working at the operational level.
Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay
Working with a cross-functional team
Being a team player in a cross-functional team is a vital skill for any successful Product Manager, and it is especially valuable in manufactured products where there is a broader team of specialists with whom to engage and align.
To avoid overlaps, gaps, and wasted effort, it’s important to be clear on each person’s role in this environment.
The Product Manager’s role is to understand why a product is important, and in what ways it will be valued by its target clients, and to communicate this effectively through strategies, roadmaps, business cases, market insight, and other plans. Their insight provides the guidance needed by the rest of the team so that the specialists in design, manufacture, test, procurement, and others can use their expertise to deliver what’s needed.
The team may be limited to in-house colleagues, but third parties who may be providing components, sub-assemblies, or could be the channel to market, must also be engaged.
Maximizing value in-market
Every Product Manager who has end-to-end responsibility across the lifecycle of their product faces the challenge of how much time to spend on New Product Development (NPD) or in-life management. NPD and innovation tend to get the headlines, but it’s when a product is in-life that the organisation gets payback on its product investments.
We see some great work by successful companies aimed at maximizing the value of in-life manufactured products. This might mean maximizing support and upgrade revenues, product refreshes, or maximizing the potential in the after-market.
Support and upgrade revenues can provide a reliable income stream, but the challenge is to find options for the customer to buy. For example, should multiple different tiers of support be offered, and if so, what should each contain? What upgrades could be created as replacements or add-ons to an existing product that would complement it and deliver value?
Over time, products get stale and need a refresh to kick-start improvements. Product refreshes are important to maintain differentiation, to keep the product relevant if customer needs are changing, and as a “good news” story to stimulate customer interest. Even a small refresh such as a facelift, small functional improvement, or rebranding could be effective.
Some manufactured products are supported by a network of companies offering complementary services, such as cleaning, refurbishment, and maintenance. Supplying products and support to these companies helps them deliver a better service to your clients, provides an additional revenue stream, and helps the overall product proposition.
Focussing on better in-life management can reverse falling revenues and increase profitability.
Product Managers within manufacturing face many challenges. We identified several in this article:
Getting it right the first timeDealing with product complexityWorking with a cross-functional teamMaximising value in-market
It can be tough, and Product Managers need to be clear on their visionary and strategic role in order to help their colleagues and the organization to be successful.
About the author
Ian Lunn is a recognized global thought leader in product management and Founding Director of Product Focus, a leading global provider of product management courses in the UK, US, and Europe. He has over 30 years of product management and marketing experience with technology-based companies, ranging from digital start-ups to multinational businesses.
About Product Focus
To find out more about the role of Product Managers within the manufacturing industry visit Product Focus. For over 16 years, Product Focus has been helping businesses and individuals to deliver world-class product management. Their team teaches the skills and provides the tools to excel in product management and product marketing. With a focus on technology-based products, they offer private training for companies and public courses for individuals in cities across the UK, Europe, and the USA.
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