Best practices for managing complex product bundles

Many software companies targeting large and medium-sized enterprises struggle with planning and delivery of bundled solutions consisting of independent products. These product teams commonly consist of product managers and solution managers. Product managers are responsible for delivering products that have their own strategy, independent release schedules, and features required to meet the needs of their point-solution oriented customers. Solution managers are responsible for strategy, releases, and features required for delivering software solutions consisting of independent products bundled together to solve enterprise-wide problems. 

In all cases, the first step starts with understanding how to define your products in Aha!. For example, take care to define them as you market them, not as you break them down into development components. The next step is to create your product hierarchy. How you create this hierarchy will depend on which option fits your use case. There are two main types of scenarios for solution management:

  1. Option 1: All products are in the same solution, i.e.: no product exists in more than one solution and their releases are on the same schedule. This is a great fit for roll-up releases and will not be covered in this article. 
  2. Option 2: All products can exist in multiple solutions and may or may not have different release schedules (hint: it won't matter how you set up product lines and products)

We will cover only Option 2 in this article. 

When products are contained in multiple solutions

It is quite common for companies delivering business and enterprise solutions to bundle independent products as part of multiple solutions and for the products to have semi-independent release schedules from solution releases. Accounting for the one-to-many products-to-solutions relationship requires a different approach. The key players that need to orchestrate this are the solution and product managers working in concert with one another.  

Products are where the bulk of the development work gets done and solutions are how they get packaged up for customer segments. For that reason, it's easier to set up your products first. We'll cover two parts: Products and Solutions. 


Defining products and product lines

When getting started, we first recommend you add all of your products without thinking about your solutions just yet. You may still need to organize products into product lines. For example, you may have security, email and reporting products that all have their own strategy. To keep from being overwhelmed follow these steps.

  1. Set up all products first under Settings - Account - Configure product lines.  
  2. Create your product lines based on how you market to your customers. For example, you might have cloud products, network products, anti-virus products, video products, etc. 
  3. As you create each product line, add the products that belong. 

Map your products to one or more solutions

Now you need an easy way to identify which product features will belong to which solutions for your stakeholders. To do this, you'll need to create custom fields to hold your solutions, at three different levels in the Aha! data model as follows:

  • Solutions (Product)
  • Solutions (Releases)
  • Solutions (Features)

This is so that later on, you can tag each product, release and feature with the solution or solutions to which it belongs. 

Create a release with features for just your products

As a next step, add a release for a few of your products and bring the data to life. This is the very best way to check whether or not you've created a workflow that will make sense for your team before you go through the process of completing the rest of the steps to define your solution. 

  1. Tag each product with the solutions to which it belongs using the custom field you just created.
  2. Create a few releases within one or more products. Try to choose releases that are part of different solutions so you get a good feel for how this will work. Tag them with the solutions using the custom field you just created. 
  3. Create a few features in each release. Dummy features are Ok -- you can delete them later. Tag these with the solutions using the custom field you just created. 

Create a roadmap

Now you can visualize exactly how you can show product level releases and solution releases by creating a Features roadmap.

  1. Go to the Features Roadmap menu and select all of the releases you just created using the Choose releases drop-down menu on the left.
  2. Using Customize Releases, choose to show your custom field at the release level. 
  3. Using Customize Features, choose to show your custom field at the feature level. 

Your roadmap will display a list of the solutions each release addresses and individual features that are included with each solution. You can even filter by custom fields, so if you wanted to show only the solution for "Cloud" it's possible. This is only one of the many views you can create. Aha! analytics give you many options to customize views for each of your stakeholders. 


Managing the solutions

Now that you have your products set up -- and products are where the bulk of the development work gets done -- you will need to also manage the solution go to market. 

You should have your products organized already if you followed "PART 1" above.

  1. Add a product line of type: Solutions. Add all of your solution products to this product line. 
  2. Finally, create a product line of type: Company. Add both your Solutions and your Products product line to your Company Product line. 

This will not only organize your solutions and products into logical groups, but it will also pave the way for defining your solution and product roadmaps as a complete portfolio with strategy that rolls up to the company.

Your navigation dropdown will look something like this:

Managing solutions

You can manage solutions much the same way you manage products, but typically you only need a Product custom pre-defined tags field. It will contain a list of all products to allow you to tag each solution with the products it contains. 

You may also wish to change the terminology so that the menu options reflect that these are not product, but rather, solutions. 

Each release will represent your go to market for the solution with its own timelines, phases and milestones. It will contain any solution-related features that need to be developed that are outside of the product development.

Oftentimes, at a solution level you handle the go to market with specific feature level items to ensure that you have the full rich set of capabilities available. These may be the same for every release so you may wish to copy or clone your releases to save some time.

Because of the complexity of managing solutions and products across multiple teams, oftentimes you need to track dependencies between releases and between features. This can easily be done on the Releases Roadmap view. 

Investing in configuring both your products and solutions in Aha! will allow your teams to work happily in their day to day while still easily providing a way to track cross product and cross team dependencies. Keeping stakeholders in the loop will be easy by adding roadmaps and reports to Aha! presentations and then sharing them with the click of a button.

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