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Power in the Hands of the Portfolio Manager

Cathy Martin
By Cathy Martin Vice President, BigLever Software

Just look at the blitz of television commercials about new car models and the dizzying array of new features to satisfy all types of drivers, and you can see that product portfolio managers have their work cut out for them.

Automakers must produce millions of vehicles per year, each with thousands of parts and different capabilities, including a slew of next-generation features and advanced technologies. Given the growth of these features, along with ever-expanding options to meet different driver lifestyles, portfolio managers must select the right assortment for each consumer persona. This occurs at the beginning of the product lifecycle—the product portfolio planning phase—when they must carefully evaluate which new innovations and capabilities will be incorporated into their products. These decisions are critical to stay competitive and determine where their resources should be invested.

So how exactly do portfolio managers accomplish this?

Much of their planning involves research and analysis of the market demand, competitive landscape, and available resources. At the same time, they must also understand which features are compatible with a specific product line and which can work together. They also must consider how they can extend the product line and manage its evolution.

To meet these challenges, leading automakers are turning to Feature-based Product Line Engineering (PLE), which allows organizations to plan, engineer, manufacture, deliver, maintain and evolve product lines much more efficiently. These automotive manufacturers are realizing that PLE reduces complexity by establishing a “single source of feature truth” for an entire product line—eliminating the need for multiple variant management mechanisms across the engineering and operations lifecycle, and across organizational functions.

With Feature-based PLE, the organization creates a “Feature Catalog,” which contains all the features for the entire product line, and a superset of digital assets (from across the lifecycle), which are equipped with these feature options. PLE provides an automated production system that assembles and configures these shared digital assets based on the features selected for each product variation.

PLE addresses the key challenges that traditionally have plagued portfolio managers, such as:

Lack of visibility: A product line can comprise millions of different vehicle “instances” in tens of thousands of unique configurations. This has made it difficult to gain a clear, consolidated view into the available product options for effective decision-making. With PLE, features become the “common language” for expressing, engineering and managing product diversity across the enterprise.

Siloed thinking: Currently, most automotive designers and engineers see the products through the lens of “parts”—which parts (or materials) are needed for building certain model configurations. Portfolio managers see products in terms of the options that they can offer to meet a particular market need.

Feature incompatibility: As portfolio managers evaluate new features and capabilities to add to a product line, it’s essential to have a clear view into their compatibility with existing products in the portfolio. PLE helps managers gain a full understanding of the constraints that come into play when integrating new capabilities with existing product systems and subsystems.

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