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Features, Product Strategy, and Product Lines

If you create products with reusable features, then you can offer the same features in multiple product lines and gain a cost advantage, but make sure the product lines offering those features remain aligned to the product strategy.

Great cost advantages can be gained by creating products with features that are reusable in other of your products in one line or another. The trick is understanding how the proposed and prioritized features align with product line strategies and how they support the overall product and/or corporate strategy.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." - Robert Orben

Secondary Education That Isn't

Among many other accolades, Hillsdale College in Michigan is one of Business Insider’s Top 100 Smartest Private Colleges. Its primary product of course is education. Much like other U.S. colleges the 170-year-old Hillsdale fundamental product strategy is to provide areas of degreed, in-demand study in concert with its mission.

However, Hillsdale’s educational strategy also includes offering non-credit lifelong learning opportunities free to the public. How can this organization which has refused government funding since its inception give its education away and remain financially viable and accountable to its donors?

One answer may lie in Hillsdale’s ability to reuse one of its educational features, easy-to-consume prerecorded lectures, in its public courses. For example, the twelve lessons in the free public course, Introduction to the Constitution, are effectively composed entirely of short, video-taped lectures by President Larry Arnn. These same recordings made once, are just as instructive and are likely presented repeatedly in its for-credit, instructor-led college courses on the same subject.

Product Strategy Rules

Rather than simply choosing a feature based on how many times it was requested or much revenue it might bring and making assumptions about how the feature should be used, walk through these steps:

Establish rules for including and excluding features in product lines according to the overall product and/or corporate strategy. For example, a lifelong learning strategy that Hillsdale may pursue to increase its educational marketplace visibility is to increase the appeal of its free online courses to the 65-85 demographic next year. Therefore, one inclusion rule might be features that “increase the usability of free public courses by 65-85 year-olds.”

Evaluate how well a proposed feature meets those rules. For example, a live chat while someone is watching a lecture online is a highly-requested feature. Does that or does that not meet the above strategy? How about an easy way to increase the volume of the video or zoom in on it, even though that was not high on the requested feature list?

Determine how much of that feature can be reused across product lines taking into account each product line strategy. Being able to easily raise the volume or zoom in on a video is not needed by young college students watching a recorded video while sitting in class (though the professor playing the video might find it attractive). But it might be useful to students attending the class online, remotely, especially if they are sight or hearing impaired.

When features are meaningful in and aligned to a product line and product strategy and have the additional benefit of being reusable across product lines, your cost position will improve, which increases your competitiveness.

Historical Research
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Wednesday, 22 November 2017
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