Big Lever Software, Inc.


Second Generation Product Line Engineering for Systems and Software (Part 2)

Greetings from Dr. Charles Krueger, BigLever CEO:

Welcome to Part 2 of my newsletter series spotlighting Second Generation Product Line Engineering (2G PLE) for Systems and Software. The focus of this informational series is to provide insight into how these latest product line engineering (PLE) approaches have enabled companies across a diverse range of industries to more efficiently extend and evolve their product line portfolios, achieving new levels of competitiveness and profitability. (To see the previous issue, visit BigLever's newsletter page.)

Product-centric thinking impedes portfolio production

Throughout the first five decades of the product line engineering field, the methods and tools of the trade have predominantly promoted a product-centric perspective. The state of the industry today is a bevy of sophisticated product-centric development tools and processes that can be effectively applied to the engineering lifecycle of an individual product – from early inception through design, implementation, testing, deployment and maintenance.

However, these product-centric tools do not independently or collectively offer an effective means to engineer and deliver a product line. With product-centric tools, it is left as an exercise for tool users to craft the homegrown techniques for managing the “commonalities and variabilities” among products during the development of their product line portfolios.

The repercussions of taking a product-centric perspective in a product line setting are Illustrated in this graphic (click image to enlarge). The vertical gold bars highlight the product-centric focus on the development lifecycle of the individual products (A, B through N) in a product line. The red lines illustrate the complex, tangled and labor-intensive interactions, dependencies and coordination activities required to take advantage of what is common and to manage all the variations among the similar products as the product line portfolio evolves over time.

The crux of the problem is that the number of red interdependency lines grows by the square of the number of products in the product line, explaining why complexity and effort increase exponentially faster than the growth of the product line. Making matters even worse, the conventional product-centric traceability relationships between the different stages of the lifecycle for an individual product interact with the red product interdependency relationships, multiplying the complexity and introducing dissonance across the stages of the lifecycle.

These tactical development challenges are so large that they impede a company's ability to achieve strategic business objectives, such as hitting marketplace windows, offering competitive pricing while maximizing profitability, meeting product quality demands, and expanding the scale and scope of the organization's portfolio. Comparing the ad hoc, complex and labor-intensive nature of the product-centric perspective to the sophisticated means of production found in semiconductor fabrication or in automotive manufacturing makes clear that there is an extraordinary need and opportunity for dramatic improvements in product line engineering.

A shift in perspective to an efficient means of production

Organizations mired in the complexity, inefficiency and pain of product line engineering from a product-centric perspective experience a PLE epiphany when a shift in perspective reveals a simpler solution to the problem. Analogous to engineering a product line of hard goods, it is much more effective to view PLE product line engineering as creating a means of production – a single system capable of automatically producing all of the products in a product line – rather than viewing it as creating a multitude of interrelated products. The powerful, though subtle, essence of the PLE epiphany is the focus on that singular means of production rather than a focus on the multitude of products.

This graphic illustrates the single production line perspective for producing the same product line as shown above, where now the focus is on the means of production inside the red box. The same products, A through N (on the right side of the diagram), are automatically produced by a singular means of production composed of:

  • Feature profiles (top) that describe optional and variable features for the products in the product line, where each product in the product line is uniquely defined by its own feature profile – choices for each of the optional and variable features.
  • Shared PLE assets (left) such as requirements, architectures, designs, models, source code components, test cases and documentation that can be configured and composed in different ways to create all instances of soft assets and products in a product line. Variation points shown within these PLE assets support feature-based variation management.
  • Product configurator (center) that automatically composes and configures products from the shared PLE assets, using the feature profiles to determine which PLE assets to use and how to configure variation points within the assets.

As highlighted by the gold bars in the graphics above, tilting your head 90 degrees provides the critical shift in perspective, from the vertical product-centric focus of the first graphic to the horizontal PLE production line focus shown in the second graphic.

By shifting perspective to focus on the singular means of production rather than the multitude of products, the products are relegated from the primary focus to a consequential corollary of the automated means of production. The exponential complexity of manually managing product interdependencies is eliminated and replaced by automated production, resulting in dramatic increases in the number of products that can be effectively created, deployed and maintained.

With this innovative 2G PLE approach, the scale of a product line and the scope of diversity within the product line can be based on business opportunities and profitability rather than the complexity limitations imposed by a product-centric perspective.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this newsletter series to learn more about the innovative capabilities and order-of-magnitude benefits delivered by the latest PLE approaches.

Best Regards,

Charles W. Krueger
BigLever Software CEO

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