Data visualization is the graphical representation of information. Elements such as maps, graphs and charts that help identify patterns, trends, and exceptions. The bottom line is it makes data more accessible and easier to understand, and therefore act on.
In the realm of product management, “data visualization,” as such, doesn’t exist or is very rudimentary. Most product planning teams use flat tools such as Excel and Word, making it tough to segment and analyze the data, and even harder to collaborate with stakeholders and demonstrate correlations and comparisons.
Manufacturers often use data visualization in a limited way, such as managing the production floor, or via CAD drawings in engineering—and not so much in the actual product planning for product definition and configuring for the optimal feature families.
Main barriers for product visualization
Product management plays an instrumental role in companies driven by their products for organizational growth and strategic market advantages.
Given the superiority of representing information graphically, especially for the more complex products with multiple configurations, why haven’t product teams inside manufacturers jumped to implement better tools?
A few factors—as well as some of the ways they are evolving—come to mind.
• New systems were viewed as too costly.
• Data was not accessible, meaning, it used to be stored in closed systems; however, that is now changing. Information across the organization is operational now. For example, via data lakes are being established, facilitating usability and sharing.
• The core goal for manufacturers used to be more simplistic. Operations revolved around the production line, with a narrow focus on the number of widgets produced. As such, product management had been undervalued and under-resourced. As more manufacturers are now shifting to a strategic view of how to stay competitive in today’s market, product strategy is becoming significantly more important to a company’s growth and sustainability.
The role of data in product planning
So why is data so critical in today’s manufacturing?
Higher hit rate on products
By making data visual and tracking it continuously, you can make decisions that are more informed. You will have the ability to look at factors such as specifically what brought value in the mind of the consumer, what features stood out most, and ultimately what drove their decision to purchase. The ability to make evaluations like this will reduce your investment risk and help you position products at the most optimal price-to-value ratio for a specific set of features compared to the competitive set. To accomplish this at scale can only be done through meaningful visual insights into data tracked over time.
Visibility into data (e.g. feedback from customers that purchased a product) allows you to see what would happen to the perception of value to the customer, given different product configurations. Assessing various configurations and associated variables will provide insight into how each may affect your profitability potential, speed to market, and additional key factors that can make or break a product release.
Driving substantial growth
Naturally, incremental product changes and/or upgrades are a part of the innovation in your business. However, relying on small tweaks is unlikely to deliver true revenue growth. In seeking to drive true progression, bolder moves are needed; such as launching new products, testing new markets or discontinuing old products. Such decisions would benefit from visualizing information around product planning along with the complex factors involved—from feature sets to market fit.
Bringing product to market faster
Flexible data (e.g. able to be configured and quarried), shared across the organization, and visual in nature (e.g. maps, graphs) will have a direct impact on your ability to act on it in an informed way. Ensuring your organization is set up with the processes and tools will help you go to market faster, sometimes with critical competitive advantages. Having a consistent pulse on the market – from shifts in demand to innovation potential - is key to responding to it in advance of competitors. Large enterprises who have been traditionally slow to react to the market have become laser focused on developing faster processes, and view speed as a significant advantage among newer competitors in the marketplace.
Keeping pace with advancements
• Increasingly, software is playing an important role in products that have previously been hardware-only, such as refrigerators, or had nothing to do with technology, such as clothing. In fact, the global Internet of Things (IoT) market is expected to reach a value of USD 1,386.06 billion by 2026, up from USD 761.4 billion in 2020 during the forecast period (2021-2026).Products have become more technologically advanced. For example, brands across all verticals have inserted microchips in products that contain software connecting to internal software to better monitor for quality control and collect data. Commonplace devices collect vast amounts of data, much of which can be used to make better decisions about future products a manufacturer will be investing in.
• Technological progress can also lead to manufacturers rethinking how they operate. For instance, you no longer have to wait five years for a product design to make it to market. Now, you can release a product with plans to make software updates in real-time (e.g. updating chips and firmware with new capabilities). This is true not only for products that are technical at their core (e.g. computing devices, such as laptops and cell phones) but also in a much wider swath of industries, such as industrial equipment, medical equipment, aerospace, automotive parts, as well as many consumer goods—from connected home devices like doorbells and thermostats to plush toys.
The world around us is changing rapidly. Consumer and B2B client expectations for all things “newer-better-faster” are putting pressure on businesses in all industries to adapt. Manufacturers who are slow to fall in line run the risk of falling behind, losing out to competitors, or worse. The move to start treating the product planning function as a more strategic area is imperative. This doesn’t have to mean an additional investment in headcount or top-tier consultants; focusing on updating internal processes to prioritize project planning and onboarding specialized tools to empower product planners can make a huge impact in remaining competitive and fueling growth.