Industry 4.0 is Reshaping the Product Manager Role

Industry 4.0 is transforming the product manager role with agile work techniques, real-time insights, and AI/ML assistance.

The only thing constant in business is change.

This adage is also true of the modern manufacturing process and the closely tied product manager role. Within the past several years, product managers have seen the world around them change and their day-to-day role shift to the tune of more data generating real-time insights, AI/ML assistance for interpreting data, and the rise of agile work techniques.

In fact, the advent of Industry 4.0 – the digital transformation of manufacturing and production, fueled by new technology and data analytics capabilities – is in turn transforming the product manager role. Here’s what manufacturers should expect to see as product managers step into a new industrial era:

Data fuels agile production processes

Technology and tools have differentiated each era of manufacturing, from factory equipment before the turn of the century to smarter machinery within our lifetime. Data and smart analytics will power the next industrial revolution. How manufacturers capture, analyze and utilize data will determine success in the age of Industry 4.0.

Processes that have worked for software and high-tech companies in the last decade have now made their way to the factory floor. Powered by sensors and internet-enabled devices, manufacturers can get real-time information about both manufacturing equipment and products built for the end-user. Ultimately, this means product managers can both build smarter and build better.

The ability to use technology to create digital twins of manufacturing processes has already helped product managers speed efficiency and optimize equipment within their manufacturing process. By modeling different data inputs on a digital twin or testing scenarios gleaned from data insights, manufacturers can change a product or even and entire business with virtually no waste. With more layers of insight about how products are performing in the hands of their customers, data has helped product managers make better decisions.

Better collaboration for product teams

Organizations that can’t integrate massive amounts of data struggle to truly harness innovation. Helpful data may be trapped within an organization’s silos, where one part of an organization can’t learn from another. Across an entire manufacturing process – which may take years from inception to product completion – organizations can’t afford to be challenged by not leveraging their data.

Analytics, aided by AI/ML, in Industry 4.0 will bring cross-functional teams together and transform future-ready organizations from siloes to one integrated system. Manufacturers will no longer feel a strong divide between the back office and the factory floor. Because many manufactured products and processes today rely on software as much as hardware, companies need sophisticated teams with advanced degrees in software and coding as well as engineering and technical, industry-specific knowledge. Product teams will not only thrive but need to survive on cross-functionality and collaboration.

Product managers feel their impact faster

With greater agility, more data and more efficient team collaboration, product managers will see the results of their work even faster in an Industry 4.0 environment. Throughout each step of a production process – even if steps take months or years – agile techniques require engineers and product management teams to consistently report on results. This defies the traditional gated product management model of systematically gathering requirements, making a design, do the development, test and finally release to market. Instead, these teams constantly iterate on products and prototypes to keep products in tune with real-time data and the needs of the market.

This ongoing iteration on production steps generates ongoing improvement on the product, faster market reaction time and leaner manufacturing techniques. This growth begets more excitement and motivation with a company and attracts more ambitious people to the team. A better and more engaged team stays focused on the best results and greater agility, in turn.

With Industry 4.0, production changes happen as the market changes, and product managers won’t need to plan with a 10-year runway to launch a new product. As a result, we will see more meaningful products come into the hands of customers in a timelier manner. Companies that are quickly responsive in production are best poised for success as consumers desire products and services that meet their needs, oftentimes before they even know they need something. Not only do product managers benefit from an Industry 4.0 environment – everybody wins.

Maziar Adl, CTO of Gocious, is building an industry-first SaaS solution to future-proof billion-dollar decisions for manufacturers, to enhance their product planning decisions through a rich set of data and analytical insights.

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