Keeping Product Management Simple and Efficient

Product Proliferation and complex ordering systems
I know I want one but I’m not quite sure which one - was the constant thought of customers who wanted to buy our cutting edge, world beating system products.
Each product had a number of options designed to solve every conceivable problem– however along with every conceivable option came a complex (and long) order code, that if mistyped would result in you receiving a product that would not quite be fit for purpose.

How not to make it easy for your customers to do business with you
The customer was then faced with the challenge of working out the complex order code (an order code designed by engineers for engineers). The order codes where not problematic in the early days when we produced a handful of system products but we soon became the victims of our own success as the product range rapidly grew , become more and more popular but consumed a lot of man hours to manage. Sales order processing often made mistakes copying the complex order codes from a fax into a spread sheet before they emailed it to the manufacturing plant (70+ mile away) to be build. The order code on the spread sheet would be re-keyed into a database prior to the hardware being built tested and shipped to the customer.
The results of a complex system
Often a system integrator was responsible for building and configuring the system at the customers site and would find out half way through the project that there would be subtle feature(s) missing from the products – usually as a result of either the incorrect order code being quoted in the fixed order or the complex order code being mis-typed somewhere along the line. This would result in an angry customer contacting the company and demanding that the products be either swapped out or that a customer support engineer come and reconfigure the firmware and/or hardware on site (which could be anywhere in the world). The net result to the company:

  • Loss of reputation,
  • Possible loss of repeat orders,
  • Decrease in ROI,
  • Frustrated sales team,
  • De-motivated workforce and an
  • Over stressed product manager.
Consulting the user(s) when implementing no-brainers
Some of the answers to the above problems are no-brainers to define but very difficult to implement. One of our main competitors had similar problems with order codes and decided to simplify them for the customer (with out any consultation)- this ended up alienating those system integrators, who often would be responsible for defining a solution and placing orders, that had taken the time and energy to learn how to navigate around the complex order code system. This caused some of them to look else where for a solution provider.
What the expert says
No wonder Ron Ashkenas writes, in his article Simplicity-Minded Management in Harvard Business Review’s December 2007, that Product Proliferation is one of the causes of unnecessary complexity in organisations. He states that:
“Each innovation has a ripple effect throughout the enterprise, requiring changes in manufacturing and the supply chain, pricing, marketing materials, sales and service training, and so forth. What’s more, most large organizations are better at adding new products and services than they are at pruning, so the SKUs mount. The resulting complexity is difficult to manage – and can be troublesome for customers, too.”
Lessons I learnt was to keep everything that surround the product as simple as possible and therefore make it easy for your customers to do business with you.

See also: How to keep Product Management Simple and Effective

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