Maziar Adl - Product management, digitalization & the supply chain crisis
Maziar Adl is the co-founder and CTO of Gocious, an intelligent product management software platform for discrete manufacturers.
In this episode, we discuss how manufacturing product management is impacted by the ongoing supply chain crisis and the accelerated move to digital, and how product managers are adapting to these disruptions.
We discuss the role of agility in this context and explore the differences between project and product managers. In closing, Maziar highlights how manufacturing is embracing software and how this requires hardware and software teams to start working together more closely.
Links & mentions:
“So now you have the software team that wants to continuously push, but the hardware team has to build the hardware for the software to go on it. And so there's these two paces of work and you have to bring them together and make them work in tandem. What we've seen a lot is that the software teams and hardware teams in a lot of companies we talk to are separate.”
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, Content and Community Manager at Agiledrop.
Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Maziar Adl, the co-founder and CTO of Gocious, an intelligent product management software platform for discrete manufacturers. Today we'll be talking about how product management, particularly in the field of manufacturing, needs to adapt to the accelerated digitalization and the ongoing supply chain crisis, both of which have been very persistent trends since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, basically. So welcome to the show, Maziar. It's really great having you with us today. And can you start off by telling us a little bit about Gocious and the work that you do there?
Maziar Adl: Thank you for having me. So Gocious started in 2018 as a company that the mission was in general to help product managers in their day to day activities. We saw that product management as a role is becoming more and more important, central in all sorts of industries and practices. Specifically, at the time, the product management role had been growing in importance and improving their processes when it came to services and software industry.
But we saw the same kind of capabilities and the need to start spilling into other industries. And manufacturing for us was very important. We saw a lot of gaps in manufacturing when it came to product management and in different tiers, whether it was strategic or more tactical, you could see that there are some gaps in product management as a whole for providing the right tooling. So we decided to focus our attention to this sector and bring them the tools that are on par with other industries in the market.
Since then, we've been pursuing this, and I'm happy to announce that just recently we've been working since November with a major manufacturer, and we're very excited to announce that we're coming out with a completely new solution we call the Product Roadmap Management, which is our way of helping specifically the manufacturing industry or industries that have complex products to set their roadmap and their strategy of their products in general.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks for this intro, and we'll make sure to add the link to this tool that you just mentioned in the show notes once the episode goes live.
Maziar Adl: Thank you so much.
Tim Butara: Okay, so now let's move into the meat of our discussion for today. And let me start off by asking you this. How has digitalization and digital transformation that we've both been kind of personally affected by heavily in the last two years. How have these been affecting product management in manufacturing? What are the main differences if we look at the situation now versus the pre-Covid times?
Maziar Adl: So I think those are two separate questions. One is that digitalization movement started before Covid pandemic hit. Digitalization was simply because of the enablement of a lot of new technologies like cloud computing, IoT, and things like that that came to the surface. So now you have a lot more data to consume, and you have a lot more information closer to the product or closer to the customer that you could bring together.
And as a result of that, a lot of what now we call Industry 4.0, the ideas were set at that time because of these capabilities. But the focus was mostly in maintenance, day to day operations, increasing the maintenance, I guess, efficiency of manufacturing, that was the main area. But then little by little, there were patterns that you could deduct on customer behavior, how people are using your product and what are they using, what are they not using as much in different demographics.
And that's where I think product management will benefit the most; understanding from these, I guess, IoT or sensors on the products, on what the behavior of the consumer is, what they really care about and what they don't. But then the question is now, how do you consume all this data? How do you take advantage of this data?
And that's where you need dashboards, you need platforms that will help you not just understand what this data is telling you, but also to be able to act on it and bring the people together to disrupt your own product, so to speak, and to kind of make changes to the product to keep it in line with the market and for the customer’s need.
Tim Butara: Well, the way I see it, it would be very difficult to do product management efficiently if your teams are not connected, if the data is not handled properly, if the case is that not everybody has access to the data or not everybody has access to the same data. And I assume that in something like manufacturing, this would be even more important than for a purely digital product.
Maziar Adl: Totally. So which gets me to the second part of your question. What has Covid impacted? So before it was, the focus was mostly, let's understand how these products are being used, what are the issues with these products. So we have a lot of sensors and to be able to consume all this information. But now the second question is, okay, with Covid and pandemic, you now see people scattered all over the place. In a span of two years, people have moved around a lot, and the concept of remote work is starting to become the norm.
And keeping people connected, keeping people together is becoming more and more relevant. And so exactly like you mentioned, you still need a source of truth. You need to keep the people connected. And this requires new ways of working. Not that it wasn't there before, but now the population of the people who are working remotely and disconnected in a long period of time, so in the past, even if you are working remote, you might have come to one office every now and then to meet. Now it's almost completely remote.
So you have to keep people together and having environment that allows them to come together and see the same data or understand when to provide updates, when to step in and knowing that you have all these remote connections. And these are different time frames. People live in different time zones. So it's very important to have everybody connected through this digital technology.
Tim Butara: Yeah. So it's basically a very similar problem and very similar change to what we've been seeing across the board, across all industries. Right. We've seen this move, I mean, the main issue or the main challenge to address and to overcome now is this transition to new ways of working. You mentioned remote, before, even if it was remote, it wasn't distributed usually, but now it's both remote distributed, hybrid. There's all of these new factors and wedges that interplay. So, yeah, that's a very good point.
We’ve kind of covered digitalization now. What about the supply chain crisis? How has this impacted the work of product managers and what have you seen as the most successful practices for getting through it, for navigating through it?
Maziar Adl: So supply chain has two aspects to it. The supply chain crisis has short term and long term impact. If you look at the supply chain issues, the short term is – obviously, product manager can't sign and come up with a completely new product. But the operations manager or people who run the factories and procurement, they have to establish a new channel, be more flexible on switching suppliers or having the proper relationships to get priority on the supplies that are coming in. So that's day to day operations.
But when it comes to product management, they're looking a little bit longer horizon. And what that means is that there has been obviously the chip shortage. Everybody now knows that this is not going to be resolved in a short period. This is going to take a year or two years; sometimes, some people say in some cases it can take up to three years for the problem to resolve.
So a product manager has to figure out from now to three years from now what kind of products and improvements they have to make and also look at their strategic plans and see what adjustments they have to make to make sure that the products get out the door and the products are useful for the consumer, even though they require changes. Or they might need to make some compromises in pushing the new features until the chips eventually show up.
But the most important thing is to be able to readjust the priorities and push it out. I saw some manufacturers actually do that, whether it's changing the configuration based on the loads that are coming in. So, for example, if suddenly they're running out of a certain color for a vehicle like cars, they might switch and say, okay, we're going to produce, let's say gray first and then black later, even though it was supposed to come in the right sequence, meaning based on the orders coming in, whichever order came first, they would process that order first, but now they're starting to change and they're looking at the configurations.
Again, that's short term. The question is, what is the product manager going to do? The product manager has to see if this is a longer term issue, if the color black would just not be available for another year and a half. And so now for the next year's cars, they have to make adjustments and make sure that the strategy is there. Otherwise the car will simply not go out and you're going to have more customers essentially unhappy for not getting exactly what they want.
Tim Butara: That does sound like it could pose quite a lot of problems. And I mean, the first part, I assume, is probably really efficiently answered with the introduction of some sort of agile methodologies, agile practices. But how would these same methodologies or how should they go about planning for the long term or using these practices to plan for the long term?
Maziar Adl: Very good point. So there's two and they're a little bit in a conflict. But there are two things. One is that exactly like you mention, being agile and flexible on your strategy. So usually manufacturers with complex products, they’re required to plan ahead. What I mean is that their planning horizon can be anywhere from one year to ten years. So sometimes some of the platforms or the things they build needs to be planned ten years– on average, three to five years in advance.
So that strategy is now set. If there's, I guess, a risk in realizing that strategy, let's say in year three, then they have to act now, but they have to be flexible enough to realize that, and they are bold enough to come in and say, we have to make changes. A lot of times when a strategy that started, let's say five years ago and now it's three years into execution, suddenly a disruption happens. There's a big inertia that doesn't allow people or doesn't make the people want to say, hey, look, this is not going to work. We're going to get delayed. We got to make dramatic changes and park certain things and bring them back into track once things go back to normal.
So that strategy that having that canvas, that A), you realize it and notice it and are able to raise it, and B), you have the team that can come together and solve the problem, that requires a certain amount of agility and flexibility. So by agility, we're not talking about pushing things to production every two, three weeks. This is about having the ability to make changes when it's necessary. Regardless of how much capital you spend, you have the team to come and objectively look at the situation and make sure that you're always honing in on the objectives and realizing your business and customers’ needs.
Tim Butara: I think this is another area where Covid has made a huge change, actually. Right. Because prior to Covid, planning ten years in advance, we'd be like, okay, it might not be perfect, but at least we'll be able to somewhat rely on the plan. But right now, I would be having a really hard time if I was a product manager planning for two years ahead, let alone ten years in the future.
Maziar Adl: Exactly, totally. And I don't think it's now just Covid, it's just there's so many disruptions that are coming together as a result of it that people are constantly watching out to see how they can mitigate different risks.
Tim Butara: Yes. That was a very important add on. Yes. So this actually leads perfectly into the next question. Taking all of this into account, all the disruptions, all the changes that we've just discussed, all the new trends, what's the one most important mindset shift that product managers need to make if they want to emerge as the winners during this period of time?
Maziar Adl: So I think there's two things. One is that product managers– and I don't think there's anything really new in this. It's just that for lack of a better term, they have to up the game. Most of the companies rely on their visionary leaders, like the CEO or the general manager, to set the direction and the team around him, the immediate team around, to set the direction of the company. And a lot of times they also set the direction of the products.
Today, however, whether it's the leader that makes the final decision or it's in the hands of the product managers, product managers have to be able to collect and gather the most recent data and keep it consistent and bring the integrity together and also step up the game to provide advice or if they have the empowerment to make decisions, to make the decisions in a very informative and knowledgeable way, but also to have the communication skills and for lack of a better term, in larger companies, the political skills to get, rally people around them, similar to the leadership, to drive the product to its destination and keep the product on track.
I want to draw a big contrast here. This is a little bit different than a project manager. Right. So project manager, on the other hand, a project manager wants to hold the project steady. They don't want changes in their product. They want projects. They want everything to land on time and budget. They want to be rigid. Once the project is approved and it's implied the project manager holds the ship steady and makes sure that everything comes and lands on the right time on budget.
But when it comes to product manager, I actually think the role is a little bit against that. In other words, the product manager is focused on disruption. The product manager's job is to look every day and see if the product is meeting business objectives. And if it doesn't, then they have to disrupt the project and they have to get in and work with the project manager to make the changes necessary. So that's where the balance comes and the project manager has to be empowered– sorry, product manager has to be empowered to take those steps and have the information and the platform to be able to go with confidence and make those changes.
Tim Butara: I absolutely love this analogy and a great distinction, very great distinction between a product manager and a project manager, because at first glance, the two terms seem almost interchangeable, with one being specific to product development and the other just being for any kind of project. So a very simplistic analogy would be: a product manager is more like a driver of a traditional vehicle, whereas a project manager would be someone driven in an electric vehicle which is able to drive automatically and without any input from the driver.
Maziar Adl: Exactly.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Really cool piece of insight here. This almost brings our discussion to a close. I just have one final question for you, Maziar. And I know that it's one that I just mentioned, that it's very difficult to answer because it relates to the future of the field that we're discussing and how it will progress. And I just said 5 minutes ago that it's much more difficult to predict things for the future now. But let's try, let's try and share our thoughts on this now, in any case. So what do you think, all of this product management in manufacturing, will look like once digitalization slows down, the supply chain crisis is calmed, is appeased? If we can hope, we can count on that happening in the foreseeable future, of course.
Maziar Adl: So in my mind, we've crossed a line, a chasm. I think it's hard to bring it back. And also you have to realize that in a lot of manufacturing, and it's mostly bigger manufacturing systems with complex platforms, software is starting to get more and more ingrained in the design of the hardware. So even though before it was just your iPhone and let's say tablets or laptops, that you could just put software and make it anything you like.
And no two people's laptop is the same, right? So everybody has their own application. Laptop is a general platform that you can make it whatever you want, the product, you can make it whatever you want by the software you install on it. But things like cars and industrial machinery or other hardware, they were a lot more rigid, once you bought it, that's what you got with the set of features.
Now more and more products are getting the software into their system, which means that after you buy the product, the product can keep changing without you buying another one, right. So you have the product in your hand, just by updates and installations that you get, your product keeps improving or changing, and you can even maybe use the same product in new circumstances or new ways.
So more and more that kind of idea is coming into the manufacturing. So more and more manufacturers are saying, hey, maybe we should just build platforms, not the whole product, and change the platform, change the product in the hands of the customer as they're using it. So a good example is a Tesla car. You're driving it, you sleep at night, the next day it's autonomous because they download the software. Right. So you have the same car, but it's completely different how you use it in 24 hours.
So those are examples of how digitization in manufacturing is going. Well, what does that mean? The pace of change on your manufacturer's product is going to keep up, and more and more change is going to come to the products in a shorter period of time. And again, going back to that – leadership, they just can't keep up. You do need these product managers that are in more quantity, I guess, to be able to handle all this information and then work with the leadership to understand the general direction of the company and what metrics they need to hit to line up the product as a result.
So after the supply chain issues are done and some of the digitalization is complete and you see some of this now in place, the new generation of products come to market that are, again, very software centric, you're just going to see a clash between, I guess, so to speak, software people that are wanting to work fast and move things faster because it's much easier to deploy software compared to hardware. Hardware needs logistics, as you say, supply chain; software needs a button and it goes everywhere.
So now you have the software team that wants to continuously push, but the hardware team has to build the hardware for the software to go on it. And so there's this two paces of work, and you have to bring them together and make them work in tandem. What we've seen a lot is that the software teams and hardware teams, in a lot of companies we talk to, are separate. They're kind of like two different systems. I think they have to start becoming more and more cross functional to work together and then keep the cadence in each or understand each other's cadences to kind of have integration points and plans to bring the hardware and software together more seamlessly.
Tim Butara: These were some really excellent points. I'm glad I asked this question. And great notes to finish on. Just before we wrap up the call, if our listeners want to reach out to you or learn more about you, what's the best way to do that?
Maziar Adl: So I really encourage everyone to come and see our website, gocious.com, gocious.com. And also you can always reach me, email@example.com. And also you can reach out to our director of business development on customer success, Adam Schalke, firstname.lastname@example.org. So either way you can contact us. Now on the website, also we have Contact and you can book a demo, which you talk to one of us and you can see a piece of the work that we're doing. We're very excited for the things we have coming in the near future.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Thanks so much, Maziar, for joining us today. It's been a really great conversation. I really enjoyed it. It's been fantastic. Thank you.
Maziar Adl: Thank you, Tim. Thank you for having me on the show.
Tim Butara: Well to our listeners. That's all for this episode. Have a great day everyone and stay safe.
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