How to decide what to do when you can do anything
If you’ve been around the software industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard some variation of the statement, "It’s only software; you can make it do anything you want,” generally uttered with some degree of sarcasm. There’s certainly much truth in the statement, and from a product manager’s standpoint, this is both invigorating and terrifying, a true double-edged sword. “I can do anything I want? Great!” quickly leads to the realization that “Oh, now I have to figure out what to do.” As head of Product Management at Aras, I spend a lot of time working on processes to optimize our decision-making when prioritizing how to improve the Aras Innovator product. This involves balancing competing demands. For example, should we build features to attract new customers versus features that will please existing customers? A few large features versus many small features? Enhancements to our low-code platform versus enhancements to our application? You get the idea.
One approach we’ve built at Aras to help us with decision-making is the idea of Initiatives. Initiatives are long-lived (1+ year) efforts designed to drive strategic new capabilities into our product. Initiatives are defined and prioritized by our Product Steering Committee, a group of Aras executives that are constantly evaluating the market and deciding where to invest for significant new capability. Are these decisions made without customer input? Certainly not. We wouldn’t be investing in these areas without demand from our current subscribers. With such a broad product as Aras Innovator, with customer enhancement requests across the board, from Accessibility to Zero Trust, Initiatives provide a way for Aras Product Management to drive our development teams forward on key company priorities.
The start of 2023 marks a pivot between two strategic Initiatives at Aras. We are currently ramping down our Product Variability Initiative, which led to the development of our new Variant Management application and the underlying Configurator Services. This has been a multi-year effort involving many customers, with some sample applications along the way, providing useful feedback to guide us toward our end goal. The results of this Initiative have been significant:
- We natively integrate Variability Definition and Product Definition on the same platform.
- Decoupled Variant Planning supports variation across multiple domains.
- The Built-in Configurator supports customizable business logic.
- And all of this is accessed in a rich user experience.
With the second release of Variant Management (coming with Release 27 in May), we will be supporting additional high-demand product variation use cases that solve real-world problems. But if the Initiative is ramping down, does that mean no more enhancements to VM after this release? No! Initiatives are just a way to provide special focus to our product development, and we’ve found we can be more effective when we focus on a few topics.
Our Initiative called Low-code Modeling for UX is now getting an increased focus. The idea here is to extend our competitive advantage with low-code modeling, specifically regarding modeling the user experience. We want to simplify application development for the administrator while at the same time providing a more modern, easy-to-use environment for every user. One of the initial results of this Initiative is our new Dashboards capability, which provides multiple widget types which are configured using low-code modeling techniques to provide useful, rich information to help users perform their daily tasks. As we proceed through 2023, we will be extending the capability of Dashboards, including an important new reporting platform service that will work hand-in-glove with Dashboards. Reporting will bring low-code modeled tables and charts into the Dashboards framework, providing the necessary graphical feedback to support decision-making from the Aras digital thread.
But that’s not all for the Low-code Modeling for UX Initiative, and lots more exciting stuff to come. Look for more updates on this topic, including at our upcoming ACE 2023 event in Orlando the first week of May.
But before ACE, we invite you to attend my upcoming Demo Series presentation on What’s New in Aras Innovator. I will cover recent product enhancements in this presentation, including Variant Management and Dashboards. Not sure if you want to attend? Just take the initiative!