If you want to be a bad product manager, build your platform as you’re building your product. You know you want your products to work as a system (as described in Make Your Products Part of a System) and to do that you need to build a platform. The easiest thing to do is to build the platform at the same time you’re building your products. That way, you only have to undertake one project, and by doing it all at once you’ll make sure that you’ll include all of the requirements you need. Plus, you need to get your products out as soon as possible, and you don’t have time to wait while a platform is being built. By building everything at once you can save some time and get to the market faster.
If you want to be a good product manager, build your platform, then your products. Making your products part of a system is a good idea and having a common platform is the easiest way to help everything work together and be part of one family. It would seem to make sense to build the platform at the same time as the product, but there are two major reasons this can cause problems:
It is possible, once a common platform is built, tested, and proven successful, that the time to market for incremental new products based on that platform will be significantly reduced. However, according to [Brandon Ekberg, business manager of the software & meters business unit of Eaton Corporation’s electrical group], that advantage tends to exist more in the realm of theory than in practice. “Problem is, I’ve never had the luxury of stepping back and building a platform from scratch without deliverables attached. Instead, you wind up trying to build the platform and release the end user products at the same time. If there’s anything I’ve learned, is that if it’s at all possible, go and build the platform, perfect the platform, document the platform, test the hell out of the platform, and then bring it back into your product groups for adoption. Because what typically happens is that you have a December deadline and you wind up finishing that platform development at the end of October or November and still try to make your December release. And that’s really difficult. That’s hard on everybody.”
So what is a product manager to do? Here are a few suggestions:
This is certainly a challenging aspect of product management, and since these types of scenarios play themselves out “behind the scenes” within organizations, there are fewer case studies and examples of successful platform-product projects. The best way to increase your likelihood of success is to explicitly detail the reason for building the platform, the expected benefits, and the obstacles to achieving them. That will allow you to have an informed discussion with all of the relevant stakeholders to determine the best way to proceed.