Bridging the gap between ‘smart’ and ‘products’

by Jeremy

The demand for intelligent products is growing to previously unimaginable levels. For example, the recent IDC Quarterly Smart Home Device Tracker stated that worldwide shipments of smart home devices alone would surpass 1.4 billion units in 2025 with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.2%. Any physical product that can be enhanced with connectivity will likely be in due time. However, the demand for intelligent products is growing beyond their production capabilities for many companies. 

Bridging the gap between ‘smart’ and ‘products’

One of the most common challenges to successful, intelligent product development and launch is the disconnect between the software teams that develop connected components and those tasked with manufacturing the traditional physical product. This lack of coordination leads to launch delays, costly mistakes, recalls, and dangerous effects on the market, potentially impacting brand reputation and eroding consumer confidence. It is often a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing—or how and when it’s doing it.

To fully enjoy the ROI that brilliant product manufacturing can yield, manufacturers recognize and overcome five common obstacles that prevent the ‘smart’ and ‘product’ sides from working cohesively: alignment, governance, predictability, visibility, and risk control.

Obstacle 1: Misalignment between physical product teams and digital development teams 

Competing rhythms, cultures, and methodologies between physical and digital product engineering and development lead to friction, delays, and higher production costs. The direct line between smart product strategy and execution is broken at the operational level.

The solution: The product realization process for intelligent, connected products requires alignment between departments, especially physical and software development. Allow each functional group to work how they want to while harmonizing deadlines, outputs, and KPIs.

Obstacle 2: Agreement on decision-making rules

The entanglement of multiple functions can leave governance unclear, resulting in conflicts of interest, power imbalances, high costs of restarts, and a lack of visibility into the smart product lifecycle. 

The solution: Establish a best-practice innovation management framework, ensuring who is responsible for what, the status of each facet of the development process, and whether the launch is on track. For large manufacturers and enterprise innovation management software, the face of your framework can automate new product development (NPD) processes and increase transparency for confident decision-making.

Obstacle 3: Meeting launch deadlines

Meeting market and customer needs for brilliant product realization requires a predictable, efficient product development process that transcends disciplines and corporate hierarchies. Manufacturing plants cannot plan robust investments in new product lines without predictable designs, timelines, and more. Similarly, product lines can’t predict future sales and revenue if launches are unsure and the scope of the product changes during the process.

The solution: Conduct comprehensive product line planning, tying together market segments, regions, and needs with the realization of features, products, and assembly. With an established innovation governance framework in place (see Solution in Obstacle 2), it’s clear if in-flight and future developments are on track to meet established deadlines.

Obstacle 4: See and manage product and feature data across disparate tools 

Product owners face disparate data and no way to leverage it to better understand market segment needs. They have an incomplete picture of the consequences of delays at the feature/project level within the product portfolio. Therefore, they can’t know what’s happening behind the feature development doors, including functionality, scope, delivery timing, costs, and resource needs.

The solution: A “single source of truth” is needed to gain cross-organizational agreement on product investments, launch timelines, and revenue expectations while coordinating physical and digital teams, product engineering and manufacturing, and third-party suppliers – all using different methods and systems. When all relevant data is visible in one place, it’s easier to respond sooner to the impacts of changes and delays.

Obstacle 5: Combine different ways of working with financial and risk management controls 

Disconnection in intelligent product development can bring costly mistakes, recalls, and unsafe products to market. It can impact brand reputation and erode consumer confidence in a company’s products. A lack of familiarity with the requirements and the regulations governing each function can worsen this problem, with potentially disastrous results.

The solution: Put an effective accountability process in place at every stage of the product realization process. Distribute decision-making across the entire innovation chain, not just manufacturing or engineering.

Clear communication and accountability are non-negotiable aspects of successful, intelligent product development. The market expectations are too high to allow blind spots that can delay launches or, even worse, compromise the quality and safety of products. Companies that implement solutions and policies that promote department-to-department transparency are the ones that will enjoy market differentiation and long-term success.

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