For years, the manufacturing industry has been on the crest of a technological wave. Manufacturing has taken the reins in introducing robotics on the manufacturing floor and produced innovative software that simplifies managing products. But where has manufacturing led us with the deployment of Artificial Intelligence in both product and production? Gone are the days of messy bulletin boards, piles of paperwork, and face-to-face conversations.
While many aspects of product making have changed, some product development principles will remain the same to make products consumers love. These core principles include knowing the market, testing the product, seeking user feedback, and making decisions based on evidence and data.
Savvy marketing can help get a product in front of more consumers, but if the product does not solve their problems — no amount of marketing will make it fly off the lot.
Changing Cycles of Product Planning in Manufacturing
A century ago, creating and launching a product was rather straightforward. A team would develop an idea for a product, make it, test it, get feedback, improve it, and then send it out to the world. The next iteration would either refine that product, add new features, or combine a bit of both. As the world became more globalized, companies began to put more effort into tracking customer feedback and adapting to new markets.
The latest leap forward in the product planning cycle is the rise in hardware and software integrations. Product teams must now plan and manage both software development along with hardware development. This result is more complex roadmaps and a need to shake up and rethink product management strategies.
Combining Software and Hardware in Products
It’s been a minute since the first computer was introduced to the world, and while we may not be getting around town on hoverboards just yet, we are seeing a new world of possibilities in recent years. Artificial Intelligence is a buzzword in every industry, from manufacturing to digital marketing to health and wellness. The rise in smart appliances, vehicles, gadgets, and software means that many aspects of our lives are now programmable by voice control or automation.
It’s an exciting world to live in but a complicated one to design.
While it’s one thing to enjoy the benefits of A.I. products, it’s another to be on the team behind delivering them to society. Manufacturers seeking long-term success must adapt and plan to create products using the new technologies and continue to manage them effectively using new processes.
How AI is Changing the Product Management Landscape
One of the driving forces for hardware with software features is the demand for A.I. Consumers want their lives to be easier. If they can have window coverings that automatically adjust based on the amount of sun exposure, phones that write emails for them, or even cars that parallel park themselves, they’ll feel as though their lives are much easier.
Matching the Demand for Artificial Intelligence Products in Manufacturing
To match the demand for A.I. products, many manufacturers are investing in integrations with their physical products, but they’re also learning how to integrate their internal teams. Software and hardware development teams operate on different timelines, require different market research, and have separate metrics to track. Coordinating the different scopes of work and aligning the timelines into the overall product roadmap is a challenge that the leading manufacturers are doing well.
The top concerns involved in managing both software and hardware teams include the following:
- Coordinating the timelines of both teams
- Mapping and managing the dependencies between components
- Keeping all product teams informed
- Sharing one source of truth for roadmap updates and progress
- Adjusting any timelines for unexpected delays
- Having a plan in place to manage the software after the product launch
Changes in Timelines in Product Development
Anyone who doesn’t have connections to the manufacturing world may not think about how most appliances, tools, and devices are made. But anyone owning a computer or mobile device has likely experienced a software update, even years after purchasing the device.
While people often feel these updates happen at the most inconvenient times, those updates deliver new and improved features without requiring the user to make an additional purchase — in most cases. New customers buying products off the shelf will automatically receive that new software when they start. They so will users that previously purchased devices from the company that supports the software.
When the hardware portion of a product is launched, the hardware design and engineering teams can monitor the performance, gather feedback, and plan new changes for the next physical launch. Meanwhile, the software design and development teams benefit from improving their work while consumers use and enjoy the physical device.
New Methods of Roadmapping in Manufacturing
One part of rapidly changing product management is how product roadmaps are created and managed. Companies require innovative software to manage multiple product lines and complex milestones between software and hardware components. Organizations with the right tools in place and experienced product managers who know how to build strong relationships with all stakeholders are better equipped to manage the changes in scope that this complex type of integration brings.
Connecting the Software and Hardware Management Teams
The right tools are useful, and so are the right leadership skills. Product managers must oversee the product roadmap, but they must also manage relationships with everyone involved. Having the skills to connect everyone effectively can make or break product planning. There are several ways that product manages or product operations managers can coordinate their teams effectively, including:
- Using one source of truth for information and updates
- Facilitate regular meetings either virtually or in-person
- Present clear information in a manner that each department understands
- Maintain a high-level view of roadmaps
Knowing the Trends in the Industry
While the current demand for products is to incorporate smart technology and A.I., the top product management teams will keep their eye on emerging trends and be aware of the next big thing in manufacturing. Continuous education, skill development, and training will benefit any product manager to stay competitive.
How A.I. Impacts Internal Product Teams
A.I. is not just an in-demand feature for consumers but also an in-demand feature for the management and planning of products. Every week it seems new applications are using A.I., including ones that can improve communication and data management, many of which can be used by internal product teams or very shortly.
Giving Product Managers Back Their Time
A significant portion of a product manager’s time is consumed by internal communication. Daily, product managers are overloaded with emails, chat messages, and phone calls regarding the products they oversee. An A.I. software platform could free up their time by providing basic information to anyone who inquires.
For example, for anyone who has questions on the status of a product, when a certain milestone will be achieved, which components are used in which products, or updates on delays, rather than going to the product manager for answers, an A.I.-powered chatbot could provide the answers instead.
A.I’s Better Way to Deliver Answers on Your Data Roadmap
Even though all this information would (and should) be found on the product roadmap, having a chat feature that delivers answers based on the data in the roadmap would reduce unnecessary communication between managers and team leaders. This integration into the actual management process could save a product team hours spent on back-and-forth emails, messages, and even casual meetings.
Of course, a chatbot could never replace informative product meetings. Timely meetings and clear presentations would still be necessary to keep everyone informed on proposals, changes, or delays. A chatbot could fill in those gaps for all the in-between questions and inquiries.
Other Ways Manufacturers Can Benefit From Using A.I. Internally
Managing products is one way that A.I. can be used internally for manufacturers. There are also a host of other applications that could save time and energy. Here are just some ideas to set the scene.
Predictive text is great, but what about using A.I. to help with other types of written communication, such as drafting reports, writing emails, and outlining pitches for new product ideas? Not all product managers enjoy writing, especially concisely and clearly. A.I. software, such as Chat GPT, can help make written tasks easier.
Powerful Data Analysis
Gathering data on markets or consumers is one type of task, but sorting through and analyzing the data for useful information is another. A.I. systems could save tons of time by sifting through the data and pulling out key takeaways to inform product decisions better.
Similar to how researchers, journalists, and data analysts benefit from AI in their profession, so will product management teams and customer-focused teams.
Factory floor operations are already experiencing transformation due to robotics combined with A.I. applications. Technological advances and the Internet of Things have made factory floors safer, more efficient, and more productive for many years, from the assembly line to floor inspections. They will continue to do so as the tech advances.
The Shifting World of Product Manufacturing
The product management world is shifting and adapting to technological advances. The pursuit to keep up with consumer demand and the goals to stay competitive with internal processes and tools are shaking up the industry on all levels. The scope of product roadmaps is changing, new teams are working together, and communication remains a top priority.
Product operations management is growing, and supporting software is expanding to match the needs of ambitious companies. Product roadmap management software helps product managers capture long-term roadmaps, update multiple teams regardless of location, and track component dependencies between product lines. With the right tools, companies are better equipped to support the growth in developing products that utilize A.I., smart technology, and the Internet of Things.
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