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Sloan School of Management

Managing Product Platforms: Delivering Variety and Realizing Synergies

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Product Platforms: A Source of Competitive Advantage webinar with Dr. Bruce Cameron

Next dates

Jul 11—12
2 days
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
USD 3700
USD 1850 per day
Nov 14—15
2 days
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
USD 3700
USD 1850 per day


This course introduces participants to the concept of “commonality" or product platforms—the sharing of components, processes, technologies, interfaces and/or infrastructure across a product family. Successful product platform management software allows companies to develop better products more easily, improve product family planning and lifecycle management, and increase corporate profitability.

Companies from Airbus to GE use product platform strategies to deliver more variety to their customers and compete more effectively. For example, Black and Decker uses shared motors and batteries across a range of power tools. These firms realize quicker new market entry and reduced costs but, in order to do so, they must orchestrate complex, multi-product development projects. Recent research suggests that many firms fail to earn a return on their platform investments. This work has uncovered that many firms face systemic pressure to diverge from their platform sharing. Several cases studied realized less than half of their platform sharing goals. Are these failures the result of a flawed product platform management strategy or poor execution? This course focuses on helping companies develop strong platform strategies and execution programs by teahcing participants how to understand the managerial levers necessary to operate in complex environments. Participants are exposed to a range of strategies, from product platform, to supply chain platform, to industry platforms. The course content draws on case examples from a diversity of industries, and is designed to engage executives, with explicit sessions for sharing and discussing industry experience.

At the conclusion of this program, executives will be equipped with a clear understanding of:

  • Named platform strategies and past corporate examples
  • Criteria for evaluating market conditions in which the strategy is appropriate and not
  • Identified management levers for use in complex programs
  • Key performance indicators for successful platform development
  • Benchmark savings and investment sizing data from other firms
  • Knowledge and examples of failure modes from past platform efforts
  • Differentiate industry platforms, supply chain platforms, and product platforms

The course teaches the management of product platforms through a combination of lectures, case studies, breakout sessions, and group problem solving. Case studies covered in the course include Nokia, Lockheed Martin, GE Healthcare, and Volkswagen. Topics covered include the strategic marketing of product families, financial evaluation of platform proposals, building incentives for distributed platform execution, structuring development programs, and supply chain platforms. Participants will analyze the difference between a company-centric platform strategy and a more open “industry platform“ strategy such as at Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and other companies. We analyze the differences in intent between product platforms and industry platforms, and identify the boundaries of their product platform strategy. Participants will also identify the management levers related to their supply chain, as a function of the boundaries of their platform strategy and the firm’s cost structure.

Sample Schedule—Subject to Change


8:30AM - 5:00PM 1. Overview Introductions, commonality benefits and challenges, the platform quiz.

  1. Choosing a platform strategy

Evaluating the market, identifying the customer case for platforming, building a market variant map. Case study: Komatsu

  1. Building the platform business case

Sizing the required platform investment, growth projections for niche markets, distributing the benefits among variants and divisions, evaluation of cannibalization risks. Case Study: Fiat

  1. Identifying technically feasible platforms

Understanding the linchpins of a platform architecture, identifying opportunities for commonality, defining modules and architectural cuts, managing divergence in product platforms. Case study: DG Flugzeugbau


8:30AM - 4:30PM 5. Organizing for platform development and execution

Evaluating your organization's platform capabilities: mapping decision rights, defining organizational co-investment, and functional ownership of benefits. Shaping incentives in decentralized and centralized platforms. Key roles and responsibilities. Case study: Rail Equipment

  1. Using platform management levers

Using financial, technical, and organizational levers to shape platform execution, including reuse databases, supply chain contract strategies, the variant impact matrix, and transfer pricing. Case study: Participant case

  1. Evolution of platform thinking

Differentiating between product-centric platform strategies and supply-chain platforms versus industry platform strategies that create an ecosystem of innovation partners, and defining the management levers for each strategy. Participant exercise

  1. Summary of platform management

Capturing action plans for participants

Who should attend

This program is designed primarily for leaders in strategy, marketing, product development, procurement, and supply chain management roles. It will be of particular benefit to executives from technology-driven industries with engineered products and services:

  • Automotive, high tech, manufacturing, railway, heavy vehicles, aerospace, defense, electronics, machinery, healthcare
  • OEMs and suppliers


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