Product Line Engineering and Organizational Change
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Product Line Engineering
and Organizational Change

Organizations who see the benefits of Product Line Engineering (PLE) often approach the problem through a singular perspective focused on the technology involved and the engineers to deploy it. However, technology and engineers can’t do it alone. They require other critical supporting roles in a much larger picture.

In the many years we have been helping organizations successfully adopt PLE, we have come to know a fundamental truth: Unlike many other technical disciplines, PLE cannot be applied by individuals working independently, but must be embraced by whole teams, projects, and organizations. PLE cannot be achieved with tooling alone, but must be part of a business strategy sponsored and actively owned by executive leadership. 

In other words, fully successful adoption – which brings about the full savings and competitiveness gains for which PLE is known – requires organizational change, which must be carefully planned and orchestrated. 

Organizational Change for PLE Success

Fortunately, organizational change is a field of study with a large body of knowledge and practice behind it. Unfortunately, organizational change is hard and has many failure modes. 

The inertia of product silos, protecting product ownership, inadequate funding models, and shortsighted focus on just the next product all may undermine successful transition. Resistance to change is a natural human tendency in any organization. As a result, organizations often (in the words of a colleague) “are too busy to save time and can’t afford to save money.” All of these failure modes need to be addressed and mitigated by committed leadership.

Technology, of course, remains the centerpiece of the overall PLE success picture. But what we observe over and over again is that technology alone is not enough.  

Successful adoption requires an organization to change the way it builds its products. It requires an organizational structure in which development happens inside the PLE factory instead of on individual products. It requires processes to be adopted and enforced that institutionalize sound PLE practices, prohibit anti-patterns, and maximize sharing of knowledge and assets. It requires organizations to commit funding to stand up the PLE factory, and to train the organization to run the factory and utilize its outputs.

These changes cannot be brought about by engineers alone, no matter how enthusiastic or technically savvy. To underpin the organizational change to PLE, we engage with an organization’s business leadership, management, and technology leaders to produce and institutionalize three key artifacts:
  • A Living Business Plan owned by executive leadership; this establishes precise need, importance, urgency and vision for PLE. It provides the over-arching vision for the organization’s transition to PLE.
  • An organizational Concept of Operations, executed by management; this is a living plan for the day-to-day execution of PLE practices. The ConOps establishes the operational concept that will realize the PLE vision.  While many are familiar with the notion of a ConOps for a system, this ConOps considers the overall PLE organization as “the system” and lays out its operational implementation of PLE practice. 
  • A Spiral Adoption Plan for creating, staffing, and operating the PLE factory over time. The Spiral Adoption Plan defines the incremental path to achieve the transition to PLE practice. The increments are spirals; each spiral charts goals in business, organizational, and technological areas to ensure a holistic and robust march to PLE adoption.
I’ll spend the rest of this newsletter issue discussing a few of the concepts that play an important role in the Living Business Plan. Many of these have been described in the organizational change literature — for example, some of the many books by John Kotter — and validated by our experience helping organizations adopt PLE.

The Guiding Coalition

A key ingredient of organizational change is identifying and empowering the Guiding Coalition.

The Guiding Coalition comprises respected business, management, and technical leaders with the power essential for guiding the organizational transition to PLE. This group should work together as a team to guide the transition and remove any roadblocks that are threatening to impede progress.

The Guiding Coalition becomes the visible role model for the behavior expected of the organization,  demonstrating unwavering commitment to PLE as the organization’s chosen path. Its job is establish the vision, urgency and importance, communication, funding, process templates, engineering platform, assessment, and sustainment of PLE.  

Importance and Urgency

Why PLE? Why now?

An organization with no compelling reason to change won’t change; inertial forces will always defeat good intentions. It is critical to establish the motivation behind the transition, and why it’s critical to make the transition now. Examples of importance include key driving factors, such as:
  • We must increase our competitiveness in the marketplace. 
  • It is taking us too long to deliver products.
  • We cannot hire enough skilled staff to support our product line portfolio expansion.
  • Future business is at risk because of our current approach.
Beyond importance, however, is urgency. Creating and instilling a sense of urgency throughout the organization is the most critical enabler of organizational change. Once more, with feeling: Urgency is the most critical enabler for organizational change. For example:
  • If we do not change, we will lose our core business, close this plant, and lay off or transfer everyone who works here.
  • We have bid five upcoming contracts assuming we have a PLE capability.  The first award is expected in four months.
  • Our staff size was just decreased by 25% in the last round of budget cuts, but we need to continue to support the current portfolio — and grow it.

Vision for PLE Strategy

With the statements of importance and urgency in mind, what is the organizational vision for adopting PLE? What will the organization look like when PLE is the normal way of doing business? What will its competitive position be?

It is important to articulate and capture that vision, its core messaging, and any compelling visualizations available to motivate and inspire individuals and enact the change to PLE.

Communication Strategy

How will the vision, and the progress in achieving it, be communicated throughout the organization? Having a vision for PLE is essential but what you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. The best communication strategy is “early and often,” using all the means as your disposal: Blogs, webinars, wiki pages, all-hands meetings, newsletters, supplier conferences, videos on the company’s TV monitors, posters in the hallways, and more.

A robust communications strategy signals that this is not business as usual, not just another initiative that can be ignored until it fades, and that executive leadership is committed to making PLE successful.

Funding Plan

How will funding to stand up, operate, and sustain the PLE factory be provided and managed? For example, if the organization is funded by different customers’ purchase and ongoing maintenance of different products, how will those separate funding streams be parlayed equitably into an overall funding source for the PLE factory? The funding plan addresses:
  • What are the “colors of money” that apply and must be managed?
  • What activities will each one cover? Who will charge to what?
  • How will PLE savings be re-invested in the PLE factory?

A Watershed Moment for PLE

Modern PLE depends on industrial-strength cutting-edge technology to power the gains in engineering performance for which PLE is known. But the technology is part of a larger picture that includes an organization’s management and executive leadership, working side by side with the engineers.

This is a watershed moment for PLE. This marriage of the technical with the organizational represents a discontinuous jump in the maturation of the industry. It empowers practitioners and change champions with a new and powerful strategy to bring PLE to bear in their organizations. It provides companies with a complete and holistic solution that encompasses technology, methodology, and organizational change, all working together to lead to PLE success.

At BigLever, we call this holistic approach onePLE™. With onePLE, organizations have all the essential tools, right where they are needed most — in the engineers’ cubicles, the managers’ offices, or the executive conference rooms.

Best Regards,
Dr. Paul Clements
BigLever Software Vice President of Customer Success

About this Newsletter

As BigLever Software's Vice President of Customer Success, Dr. Paul Clements helps BigLever customers understand and apply the latest product line engineering (PLE) approaches, create optimized deployment plans, and establish successful ongoing PLE practices. In this From the PLE Frontline newsletter issue, Dr. Clements shares his insights, observations, and important lessons learned from interactions and collaboration with customers.

We appreciate your interest and welcome your feedback regarding your organization's PLE challenges and issues.


The International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) has long been a premier driving force behind maturing the discipline of systems engineering. Now INCOSE is putting its considerable prestige and accomplishment behind PLE as well.

The INCOSE PLE International Working Group is 100 members strong and still growing, with a robust agenda of PLE education and outreach activities planned and underway. 

Also, this July is INCOSE’s 2016 International Symposium in Edinburgh, UK, which includes a rich selection of PLE-themed events and presentations. A PLE Networking Dinner will be held the evening of July 18, and a dedicated PLE track on July 19 will feature a dozen papers (two from BigLever and our colleagues at Lockheed Martin and IBM, respectively) and a Roundtable regarding PLE challenges and opportunities.  

Finally, the PLE working group will hold its working session on July 20. You should not pass up this chance to attend a world-class PLE event in a world-class city.

We hope to see you in Edinburgh!

BigLever and Method Park

As mentioned in the main body of this newsletter, PLE organizations need a PLE Concept of Operations that lays our the organizational structure and then puts that structure into motion by defining PLE-related processes, such as how to fix a defect, or add a new feature to the product line. 

Now, BigLever and Method Park have teamed up to create a framework for using Method Park's Stages Process Management System to model, automate, and manage PLE processes. This will enable companies to improve cross-functional communication and alignment in PLE deployments by having everyone work to the same, consistent, well-defined, and visualized set of processes.

For more information, please contact John Carrillo at

Webinar: PLE – Increasing Competitive Advantage by Reducing Complexity Across the Lifecycle

As the sophistication of manufactured, software-intensive products continually advances, the associated engineering and operational complexity and risk grow right alongside the business opportunities. This complexity spans the full lifecycle – from portfolio planning to engineering, manufacturing, sales, and service.

This webinar — presented by Michelle Boucher, Tech-Clarity analyst, and Dr. Charles Krueger, BigLever Software CEO — addresses the need for a unified approach across three key disciplines: PLE for managing product variation, application lifecycle management (ALM) for managing software-intensive systems, and product lifecycle management (PLM) for managing mechanically intensive systems and operations. This webinar provides insight into:

How forward-thinking organizations are achieving competitive advantage through innovative PLE approaches that fundamentally change the way product lines are engineered.

How embedded software, combined with the ability to tailor products through PLE approaches, enables organizations to streamline development efforts and boost profitability.

How to leverage the combined strengths of PLE, ALM, and PLM to achieve whole factor improvements in efficiency, cost reduction, time-to-market, product line scalability and quality.

Strategies for reducing variant management complexity by establishing a "single source of feature truth" for all software, electronic, mechanical and operations artifacts across the engineering V.

How a unified feature-based PLE approach facilitates better interoperability across software, electrical and mechanical teams, and improves cross-functional alignment between engineering and business operations.

>> View the webinar.

Careers at BigLever

As the PLE field grows, so does BigLever. We are currently seeking candidates to join our Customer Success team, working in close collaboration with our customers' world class technical and business leadership to plan and execute the industry's highest-impact PLE deployments.

This is a high profile opportunity to lead the execution in BigLever's customer service engagements, including solution pathfinding, business and technical leadership mentoring, and practitioner training.

>> Learn more.

About BigLever Software

BigLever Software™ is the long-standing leader in the Product Line Engineering field. BigLever’s holistic onePLE™ solution delivers the leading-edge technology, proven methodology, business strategy and organizational change expertise needed to efficiently transition to and operate a game-changing PLE practice.

The company’s state-of-the-art PLE methods and tools provide a unified, automated approach for feature-based variant management. This approach extends across the full lifecycle including engineering and operations disciplines; software, electrical, and mechanical domains; and tool ecosystem.

Some of the word’s largest forward-thinking organizations across a spectrum of industries are leveraging BigLever’s PLE solution to achieve competitive advantage through order-of-magnitude improvements in productivity, time-to-market, portfolio scalability, and product quality. For more information, visit

Contact BigLever: 
Copyright © 2016 BigLever Software, All rights reserved.

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