Product Platform Development. Managerial Issues in Manufacturing Firms
Doctoral thesis, 1998
This thesis deals with product platform development - the development of a set of subsystems and interfaces that form a common structure from which a stream of derivative products can be efficiently developed and produced. A platform approach to product development can reduce lead time and product cost throughout a firm's internal value chain by reaping benefits from economies of scale. However, product platform development also represents an intricate challenge for established manufacturing firms because of its large development scope and interdependent architectural reconfigurations of elements in both products and processes.
Although the platform concept has received an increasing interest in recent years, not much research has explicitly investigated the process of creating product platforms and its managerial implications. Earlier research often highlights isolated and successful empirical examples without attempting to discuss the more general managerial implications of product platform development. The overall purpose of this thesis is, therefore, to study product platform development in order to understand its generic characteristics and to explore managerial issues. Three principal questions are addressed: (1) how can product platform development be distinguished and operationalized, (2) what are the central managerial issues in product platform development, and (3) how can a company go about the shift from single-product development to product platform development?
Empirical investigations in two longitudinal research projects in the Swedish manufacturing industry serve as a basis for the findings in this thesis. The first research project focused on four product platform development projects that were followed from product concept generation to production ramp-up. Different managerial aspects in the projects were studied over three years. The second research project focused on a firm that was undergoing a shift from a single-product development to a product platform development approach. The shift was explored over a two-year period in a highly interactive research approach which yielded rich managerial insights concerning such a shift.
The thesis depicts product platform development characteristics and stresses two managerial challenges. First, an architectural reconfiguration of elements in platform development represents a delicate challenge concerning parts-whole relationships. The managerial implications of such challenges are illustrated and explored. Second, the trade-off between parts standardization across a family of products and demand for distinctly unique end-products has to be embodied in the platform. Managerial insights into this trade-off in product platform development are empirically provided and discussed. Additionally, the thesis presents a simply designed matrix-based tool that can support the potentially difficult shift to a product platform development approach. The tool enables visualization of the firm's product assortment and makes it possible to calculate how much of a platform's potential product variety is utilized in practice.
product platform development