In the world of business and marketing, a product line is defined as a family of related products that are offered by the same organization, are priced differently, and vary from each other in ways that are noticeable to the customer. Product lines offer the opportunity to achieve economies of scope offered by the products’ similarities. Economies of scope refers to the savings possible when the same production processes can produce multiple products more cheaply in combination than separately.
The systems and software engineering fields have embraced these concepts, creating the discipline of Product Line Engineering. In this world, a product line refers to a family of similar systems that vary from each other in features and functions. Product Line Engineering is the approach used to engineer a portfolio of related products in an efficient manner, taking advantage of the products’ similarities while managing their differences. This includes all the activities involved in planning, producing, delivering, deploying, sustaining, and even retiring products.
A basic tenet of product line engineering is that it is extremely beneficial to consider the product line as the thing being produced, rather than the individual products. By exploiting product commonality while managing variation, engineering organizations can achieve improvements in effort, time, and quality. This enables a unified, automated approach across the entire life cycle – including engineering and operations disciplines; software, electrical, and mechanical domains; and tool ecosystems.
As PLE grew and matured, a specialized and highly efficient form emerged called Feature-based Product Line Engineering. Feature-based PLE relies on a managed set of features to describe the distinguishing characteristics that set the products in the product line apart from each other. A specialized software tool called a configurator applies the features that describe a particular product to the product line’s engineering artifacts (requirements, designs, tests, documentation, models, and so forth) and produces the artifacts specific to that product. Maintaining the shared assets for the product line, as opposed to each individual product, results in massive savings, as evidenced by numerous real-world case studies of applying the approach in some of the world’s most challenging domains and industries.
Adopting this approach offers strategic business advantages such as informed and deliberate cost-benefit decisions, higher quality, better margins, higher sales, and accelerated innovation. The strategic engineering benefits can include higher productivity, higher quality, faster time to market, and greater scalability.
ISO 26580 is the worldwide industry standard providing clear, industry-validated implementation guidance and patterns for Feature-based Product Line Engineering. This standard, written in collaboration with INCOSE, enables organizations to confidently adopt Feature-based Product Line Engineering