Big Lever Software, Inc.


Introducing Gears 7.3: Meet the New Gears Matrix Wizard

Greetings from Dr. Drew Stovall:

BigLever Software has released version 7.3 of its industry-leading Gears Product Line Engineering (PLE) tool featuring a totally re-designed Matrix Wizard. The new Gears Matrix Wizard gives you instant access to the information you need – and provides the natural control you want – to make product definition selections efficiently.

Need some assistance? The Matrix Wizard also provides an analysis of every option to ensure that your products, and your product family trees, are exactly right.

Now: Product Definition Made Simple for Product Managers, Product Marketing, and Product Definition Teams

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Gears has always been the standard for helping product line engineers build the product line infrastructure -- that is, the feature models and shared assets that define the complete space of a product line. As shown in this PLE factory illustration, those engineers work on the far left side of the diagram. They build the shared assets and endow them with variation points, so that they can be configured by Gears to build product-specific instances.

The new Matrix Wizard was designed expressly for the "Product Line Management" role, shown on the top of the illustration. These are the portfolio managers, product managers, and marketers that need to understand and plan the evolution of the product line. The Wizard gives these individuals more control and assistance in managing product definitions.

Introducing the Gears Matrix Wizard

To build a product, the Gears user "walks across" a matrix, selecting profiles that have been made available by the asset engineers. That sounds simple enough, but:

  • What choices does a profile really represent?
  • How do you avoid choosing a profile that conflicts with another profile?
  • How do you defer a choice now, until a later stage in the product definition?

The Matrix Wizard can solve these problems (and more) through a powerful collection of tools and views that expose the information needed to answer these questions for each product in a portfolio.

Profiles that can be selected for each matrix cell are automatically displayed along with a description of the profile, whether or not it's valid, and (if not valid) why not.

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Information at your fingertips

The Matrix Wizard's product navigation controls allow you to quickly find the next cell that you need to work with. Progress bars show at a glance how much work you've done and how much work remains.

The Matrix Wizard Profiles List lets you explore the profiles offered by each element. At a glance, you can see the available profiles, if they are valid choices, and the guidelines (explanatory descriptions) provided for each. From the list, you can launch a new window to explore the feature definitions provided by each profile.

The new Wizard also seamlessly integrates with the Multistage Configuration capabilities provided by Gears. (See the sidebar for more about Multistage Configuration.)

The Wizard can help you navigate among the matrices that constitute a product family tree, make selections or down-selections at each level, and propagate those choices to lower-level matrices to ensure product family consistency. Thus, Product Family Management becomes a fully supported activity.

The Wizard facilitates systematic production definition by helping you navigate to the next cell of interest, with a single click. The interface eliminates unnecessary steps, brings up information as needed, and supports organizational process flows. Users have all of the information they need, at their fingertips, to make informed error-free choices regarding the management of an entire product family or family of families.

Help for small product lines, too

The Matrix Wizard was designed for product lines in which product definition is a labor-intensive task in the process flow, and especially for product lines with many cross-feature constraints that every product must honor. Now, building products in those environments is easy, and possibly even fun.

For those with small product lines -- small numbers of products, a small number of choices needed for each product, or few feature interaction constraints -- the Matrix Wizard is equally helpful.

And if you're accustomed to simply clicking on a matrix cell and availing yourself of the pulldown menu, no worries: You can continue to do that.

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The Wizard is there if you need it, but doesn't activate unless you ask for it.

Houston, we don't have a problem

Using the Gears Matrix Wizard is like a Mission Control console for your product line, except that it's much less expensive (and you don't have to go to Houston). If you would like more information about the Matrix Wizard, or to see a product demonstration, please contact us at


Best Regards,

Drew Stovall
BigLever Software Vice President of Engineering