Product Engineering is More Than Just Development; It is a Comprehensive Strategy

As we progress down the route of product engineering, we find that engineering is the simplest aspect. A product has numerous dimensions, such as market segmentation, sales strategy, tools and technologies, engineering processes, product lifecycle management, etc. In this article, we examine the main functions of the product life cycle, as well as the key difficulties and best practices associated with managing products.

The following are dimensions of product engineering:

  1. Market Alignment: The act of crafting a marketing message that is effectively in line with the target group it is meant to persuade is known as market alignment. What it means is that given a budget, what needs to be prioritized across market needs, future needs, customer needs, and delivery needs? How do we arrive at a mix that can be taken forward? How frequently do we reprioritize? Market alignment looks to answer these questions.
  2. Product Management: Product management is an organizational function that directs each phase of the lifespan of a product, from development to positioning and pricing, by placing the customer and the product first. Here are the pertinent questions that managers answer around the development stage of the exercise, if, say, for example, they’re working on automobiles for a price-sensitive market: How do we ensure that the product is flexible for different customer needs? Would the consumer prefer a gas-powered or battery-powered vehicle? What is customizable and adaptable throughout the building of the vehicle? What is reusable in the assembly process and what is not?
  3. Platform Management: This stage focuses on providing a platform to standardise and enforce commonality across multiple products. This can encompasses infrastructure, containerization, databases, devops tools, and easy usage for development as its tools.
  4. Platform Architecture and Design: Utilize the appropriate tools and technologies, taking into account currency, compliance with current and future needs, open source, partner management, and design. The design must take into account component interoperability, modular and integrated positioning, customer configurability, performance, and tools. Evaluation of ever emerging technology options and Technology change management is a significant but frequently overlooked topic. Technology obsolescence and the introduction of new technologies must be continuously evaluated and included in the road map.
  5. Product Development: A test-driven approach where use cases are implemented based on the platform provided. This needs alignment with platform design and architecture. Key aspects are quality, continuous integration, and automation of testing for different scenarios.
  6. Quality Management: An independent team here certifies the product across different dimensions such as security, user experience, regression testing, and customer-focused testing. Customer-focused testing needs to assume different customer needs that need to be configured. This can be across customer segments (retail and enterprise), geographies, and regulatory needs. Security includes static and dynamic testing.
  7. Platform Operations: It supports different customers on the platform.

Key challenges that the Product Engineering team constantly face are:

  1. Given a budget, what products should be prioritized?
  2. What should be the focus: developing new modules or enhancing current offerings?
  3. What should be the strategy: build or partner or a mix of both?
  4. Upgrade path and lifecycle: How to upgrade the existing customer? How to handle customizations? What is the business case for upgrades from a customer perspective? What products (/versions) can be retired? How many different versions can be supported by the product team?
  5. How much quality and security is acceptable? What kind of certifications are required?
  6. How should the IP be protected, and how should infringements on other IPs be avoided?
  7. How can architecture evolve based on industry and technology trends? How can the engineering teams be trained on emerging trends? How should the existing technology be upgraded?
  8. How much effort should be spent in each category across market trends, customer needs, and delivery team needs that are quality/efficiency focused? What is the correct mix?
  9. How can the product teams be insulated from customer issues and escalations to ensure progress?

Some best practices for product engineering:

  1. An organization structure that has ownership across product management, sales, marketing, platform management, architecture and design, development, customer implementation, and platform operations, including customer support. Optionally, customer success teams can be created separately or be rolled into product management.
  2. A transparent process by which the product management creates a roadmap collaborating with architecture and development teams. This will  ensure the commitment is sustainable and has certainty. An agile process fits very well here.
  3. Platform management that provides tools and devSecops processes is a critical success factor. This will greatly alleviate the challenges faced by development teams and accelerate the team onboarding process. This will also greatly reduce the risk of heroes and broaden the team skills.
  4. Quality processes that automate as and when development is complete will provide a lot of confidence to customer facing teams.

In conclusion, the product team requires a great deal of tenacity in order to persevere through many challenging curves, motivate people throughout the journey, strike the right balance between sales and product capabilities, have strong engineering practices, and be closely associated with customers in order to incorporate their feedback into the product roadmap.

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