·  2 min read

Planning For Product Platforms

Right now, I’m looking at a bookcase full of books about Platform Strategy.

Some are about B2B or consumer Platform companies we’re all familiar with: Apple, Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Salesforce.

Some are about the founders of them: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry and Sergey.

And, of course, the books about the pioneers of information technology: J.C.R. Licklider (The Dream Machine is a must-read), Gordon Moore, and Douglas Engelbart.

There’s a common thread. Most are about the evolution of computing platforms.

Yet, one of my favourites isn’t about computing. It’s a 13 page essay, published in the Summer 1998 MIT Sloan Management Review, written by Karl T. Ulrich. It’s about the Auto Industry.

Cars. Station Wagons, Family Sedans, and Sporty Coupes. Hardware, not software.

Planning For Product Platforms is a worthwhile read for product managers, engineers, and business development teams either working for “Platform” Software companies, or building value atop Consumer or B2B Software Platforms.

Karl focuses on four Fundamentals of Platform Planning:

  • Components
  • Processes
  • Knowledge
  • People and relationships

”Taken together, these shared assets constitute the product platform.”

He uses clear examples from the camera industry - Kodak vs Fuji - to tee up the approach. He describes the benefits and challenges of platform planning. Applying the fundamentals and methods to the Auto industry is made real through excellent illustrations, like this one.

Figure 3 from Planning for Product Platforms, by Karl T. Ulrich

Evaluating and understanding how to establish a process that includes a Product Plan, Commonality Plan, and Differentiation Plan would likely achieve not just faster creation of value for customers of software Platforms.

It will also likely improve cross-team collaboration between teams and stakeholders within any Consumer or B2B Software Platform company. And, in the process, reduce the overall cost of product development and customer value creation.

I recommend taking some time to read, re-read, and understand Planning for Product Platforms.

You can follow Karl on Twitter at @ktulrich and read more of his papers, articles, and books on his website.

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