Kicking Off A Whole Lotta Research On Productization

A big part of my research agenda for this year is productization. Many app dev teams see productization as a way to innovate better, achieve more sustainable results at a lower cost, deal with some of the tough challenges downstream, and in general lead a happier and more productive life. The allure of productization varies across different types of organization, as do the approaches. Therefore, to do the product justice, we're going to look at five different settings in which app dev teams are striving to productize their work:

  • Companies that have customer-facing applications on their websites. The classic example is online banking, but there are plenty of others. Some of these applications are tools for existing customers, while others are mechanisms for interactive marketing.
  • IT departments. In this case, productization is a way to improve the long-term return on technology investments, by treating them as products and assigning them a product owner. 
  • Services companies. Productization may reduce inefficiencies in developing and delivering offerings, as well as marketing and selling them.
  • Embedded software. The ubiquity of software as a component of a larger product (car, medical device, etc.) creates new challenges in defining what the product is, and where software development fits into it. That's one reason why PTC, a product lifecycle management (PLM) vendor, was interested in acquiring MKS. (Other than their shared interest in TLAs.)
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Would You Know A Product If You Saw One?

Over the weekend, I attended the Silicon Valley Product Camp, one of the yearly un-conferences for product managers in the US, Canada, and beyond. During one of my sessions, a look into the role of product management in the innovation process, I posed some basic questions to the audience. What is innovation? As a group, we had lots of potential definitions. What is a product? This question elicited almost no answers.

That result wasn't a surprise. For years, we've been hearing about how difficult it is to define product management. Perhaps that has something to do with the difficulty of defining the thing that product managers manage. We think we know products when we see them, in much the same fashion as Justice Potter Stewart famously defined obscenity, but we're a bit challenged to put into words exactly what they are. We can easily define them in the negative, such as consulting offerings that aren't products or IT projects that aren't products. We've all heard that products have life cycles, which isn't nearly as Darwinian as one might expect. (Many ideas that don't deserve to become products, do. Many that deserve to die, don't.) But, if pressed, we're at a loss to define what products are.

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