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Parallel Processes: Physical Product Creation and Software Development

Software development and product development may not be as different as you think. If you’re a product-focused IT leader managing both, consider these parallels.

Historically, software and physical product development have been treated as two completely separate worlds. Each has its own processes, its tools, its lingo. 

Yet more and more industries, from consumer electronics, high-tech, medtech, and beyond, increasingly require a harmonious coexistence of both domains. Products like televisions and medical devices, for instance, are no longer merely physical. They've evolved into complex, intertwined systems of physical product and software, each playing a critical role in the overall product experience.

Heather Multhaupt, for example, is VP of Team Services at Alert Innovation—the creators of the Alphabot system, a software-based robot that aids Walmart’s grocery fulfillment in stores nationwide.

With such a massive undertaking, it’s no wonder she’s prioritized training her software team to work within the product lifecycle management (PLM) solution:

“It’s important to me to make sure software engineering is in the PLM system, and I'm really happy to say that we have them fully into the PLM framework.” 

Evolving Products = Enhancing Experiences

Built-in software in physical products opens up a world of continuous improvement and extension of product life. Unlike the rigidity of physical components, software is flexible and adaptable, providing an avenue for ongoing enhancements without requiring a complete product overhaul.

According to a Fast Company article by Ray Hein, chief strategy officer at Propel Software, "Companies need to think more like other industries that traditionally focus on delivering long-term successful outcomes and services rather than a one-and-done product—and they better adapt quickly or risk becoming obsolete in the near future as their competitors embrace this new model."

The adaptability inherent to software development proves advantageous for customers, providing them with a product that evolves with their needs and the advancement of technology. This essentially extends the lifespan of the product, turning a one-time purchase into a long-term investment, thereby fostering deeper customer loyalty.

Moreover, this constant software evolution allows businesses to integrate customer feedback directly into the development cycle.

This real-time responsiveness to customer needs and preferences not only improves user experiences but also creates a virtuous cycle of engagement and loyalty. Customers feel valued, understood, and are likely to stick with a product that consistently evolves to meet their needs.

Taking into consideration the lower operational costs and potential new revenue streams (such as premium features or software-as-a-service models), it's no wonder the most innovative businesses have started integrating software into their physical products.

Better Together

The two worlds of software and physical product development aren’t as far apart as we think, especially if they need to coexist within the same product—and indeed within the same company.

Consider the synergies that can be achieved when software developers and product engineers work in tandem. When they utilize a shared system, it minimizes the chances of miscommunication, reduces potential roadblocks, and promotes a shared understanding of the product life cycle. It's a proactive approach to developing an organizational culture where collaboration is not just encouraged but embedded in the daily workflows.

Further emphasizing the value of this cohesion, Beth LeClerc, VP of Business Systems Architecture & Web Services at Savant Systems, adds, "All the people that deliver on the business system applications—they don't just learn how to write code or engineer software, they truly get immersed in the reasons why we're doing things. There's this holistic understanding of what we're doing as a business that is just as important for a developer to understand as it is for a sales and marketing person to understand."

In other words, when all team members are aligned around a shared understanding of not only the 'how' but also the 'why' of their products, it fosters a stronger, more collaborative environment for innovation. It’s not about software development versus product development, it’s about finding the intersection where both teams meet and can work together most effectively.

As the landscape of product development continues to evolve, the organizations that adapt to bring their teams together under a shared umbrella of understanding are the ones that will lead the way.

Innovative Products Require Innovative Solutions 

By adopting the speed and flexibility inherent in the software world and applying it to the realm of physical products, cloud-based single-platform solutions are reshaping the way companies approach product lifecycle management. And, in the end, it’s all about helping businesses create better products, faster. 

Start a conversation today to learn how Propel can help you streamline your software and product lifecycles.

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Post by
Kishore Subramanian
CTO, Propel

Kishore hails from Google, where he was a Sr. Software Engineer. At Google, he most recently worked on a Java/Kotlin library for the Google Assistant and led key areas for the Files Go Android App and Google Web Designer. His previous experience includes senior engineering roles at Motorola Mobility, JackBe and Agile Software.

Fun Fact: Kishore led the team that built Agile PLM's first web-based user interface.

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Kishore Subramanian