Product Platform and Product Family Design: From Strategy to Implementation

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Lead Instructor(s): 

Olivier L. de Weck
Timothy W. Simpson
Bruce Cameron


Jul 31, 2017 - Aug 4, 2017

Course Length: 

5 Days

Course Fee: 





  • Registration opening soon

It is highly recommended that you apply for a course at least 6-8 weeks before the start date to guarantee there will be space available. After that date you may be placed on a waitlist. Courses with low enrollment may be cancelled up to 4 weeks before start date if sufficient enrollments are not met. If you are able to access the online application form, then registration for that particular course is still open.

This course has limited enrollment. Apply early to guarantee your spot.


This course explores how product architecture, platforms, and commonality can help a firm deploy and manage a family of products in a competitive manner. We will examine both strategic as well as implementation aspects of this challenge. A key strategy is to develop and manufacture a family of product variants derived from a common platform and/or modular architecture. Reuse of components, processes, and design solutions leads to advantages in learning curves and economies of scale, which have to be carefully balanced against the desire for product customization and competitive pressures. Additionally, platform strategies can lead to innovation and generation of new revenue growth by intelligently leveraging existing brands, modules, and sub-system technologies. We will present the latest theory as well as a number of case studies and industrial examples on this important topic. We will engage the course participants through interactive discussion and hands-on activities. Recent strategic issues such as embedding flexibility in product platforms as well as the effect of platforms on a firm's cost structure, organization, and market segmentation will also be presented.

Takeaways from this course include:

  • Describing the evolution of industry from craft manufacturing to mass customization and how it drives product development.
  • Grasping fundamental concepts in product architecting such as customer needs identification, requirements formulation, functional decomposition as well as function-form mapping during conceptual design.
  • Understanding the platform concept and be able to prioritize drivers of modularity and product platform design.
  • Enumerating metrics for quantifying commonality within a product family.
  • Identifying major contemporary methods and tools for product family and platform design.
  • Describing how optimization can assist during platform and product family design.
  • Discussing strategic issues such as platform portfolio optimization, embedding flexibility in product platforms, the organizational impact of platforms as well as strategy selection based on net present value calculations.
  • Leveraging platforms for identifying new market and product opportunities to generate revenue growth.
  • Extracting key lessons from industrial case studies.
  • Participating in discussions regarding the challenges that they face in the context of their own product families of industrial and consumer products.
  • Pointing to the latest published literature in the field.

Who should attend:

This course is targeted towards executive decision makers, product managers, marketing managers, product line strategists, product architects, as well as platform and systems engineers in industrial and government contexts. Such individuals will have to strategically position their products and systems in a competitive marketplace and define modular and scalable product architectures, utilizing standardization, commonalization, customization, and platform leveraging strategies to maximize cost savings while increasing the capability to offer a variety of customized systems and products. A basic background in mechanical and/or electrical engineering, as well as some business and accounting experience, is beneficial but not required.

Computer Requirements:

Laptops or tablets are required for this course, and should have PowerPoint or similar presentation software. Pre-reads will be made available to participants 3-4 weeks in advance of the start of the course.

Program Outline: 

Program Outline

Day 1
Background & Motivation; Platform Definitions & Principles

1. Introduction

2. Background and Motivation
    Industrial Manufacturing Paradigms

a. Craft Production ( - 1850)
b. American System of Manufacturing (1850-1900)
c. Mass Production (1900-1960)
d. Lean Manufacturing (1960-1990)
e. Mass Customization (1990 - )

Lego Game - Round 1: Mass Production

3. Fundamental Platforming Concepts

a. Estabishing a Platform Mindset
b. Platform Definition and Approaches
c. Platform Leveraging Strategies
d. Module- and Scale-based Product Family
e. Examples
f. Interpretations, Advantages, Disadvantages

Interactive Exercise 1: Product Family Dissection

Day 2 (Full day with dinner)
Product Architecture & Modularity

4. Product Architecting
     Methods and Tools

a. Object-Process-Methodology (OPM)
b. Design Structure Matrix (DSM)

Case Study

Product/System Architecture Framework

Roles and Responsibilities of the Product/System Architect

Lego Game - Round 2: Production with Variety

5. Product Decomposition and Modularity

a. Product Architecture Decomposition
      Principles of Decomposition
      Examples: Automotive, Aerospace, Consumer Product

b. Modularity and Interfaces
      Abstraction, Interfaces, and Product Complexity
      Modularity Drivers and Styles of Interconnection
      Modularity Metrics
      Modularity vs. Integrality
      Case Study

Interactive Exercise 2: Product Decompositions and DSM Mapping

Participant dinner at a local restaurant (included as part of the course)

Day 3
Commonality, Platform Design & Optimization Methods and Tools

6. Product Platform: Maps & Metrics

a. Product Family Maps
b. Defining a Platform Strategy

Platform R&D Metrics

7. Commonality

a. Advantages and Disadvantages
b. Commonality Discussion (Jigsaw Method)
c. Commonality Indices

Lego Game - Round 3: Platform-Based Production

8. Product Family Architecting

a. Single-Use Camera Example
b. Product Platform Planning
c. Generational Variety Index
d. Product Family Optimization

Interactive Exercise 3: Product Dissection and Commonality Analysis

9. Platforming Software and Services

a. Microsoft Example
b. MATLAB Example
c. Modularity and Cyclicality in Software
d. Software Architecting

Day 4
Strategic Issues & Platform Flexibility

10. Platform Strategy Selection

a. Review of Financial Metrics and Discounted Cash Flow Methods
b. Product Family Strategy Selection
c. Product Families based on Multiple Platforms, Platform Extent
d. Integrated Platform Strategy Model Development
e. Case Study

11. Flexible Product Platforms

a. Motivation for Product and Platform Flexibility
b. Flexibility in Manufacturing
     Cousin Parts
     Modular Tooling
Postponement Strategy
c. Flexible Product Platform Development Process (FPDP)
d. Case Study
e. Lego Game - Round 4: Production with User-Defined Platforms

12. Platform Strategy & Organization - Guest Lecture

a. Competitive Advantage
b. Market & Strategy
c. Divergence
d. Management Levers

Interactive Exercise 4: Platform Redesign

Day 5
Organizational Issues, Industry Trends, & Next Steps

13. Organizational Issues

a. Alignment of Product Architecture and Organization
b. Time Constants
c. Case Study for Organizational Realignment
d. To Platform or Not to Platform?

14. Industry Panel & Discussion

a. Selected Participants Invited to Serve on Industry Panel
b. Discussion: Industry Needs and Future Directions

15. Final Group Presentations

a. Product Family Overview
b. Market Segmentation
c. Commonality Analysis
d. Platform Identification
e. Observations and Suggested Improvements

16. Course Certificates

a. Summary of Key Concepts and Literature
b. Handing out of Course Certificates


Note: Various case studies and examples are interspersed throughout the workshop to highlight concepts or emphasize applications of platforms. Among the examples are the following: Consumer products such as Black & Decker: electrical power tools; Sony: Walkman; Lutron: lighting systems; and vehicles such as Boeing: commercial aircraft; and VW, GM: cars. Industrial equipment and facilities: BP oil & gas exploration, NASA spacecraft and launch vehicles.


Course Schedule: 

View 2016 Course Schedule (pdf)

Registration is Monday morning, 8:15 - 8:45 am.

Class runs 9:00 am - 5:30 pm on Monday, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm Tuesday through Thursday and 8:30 am - 4:30 pm on Friday.

8:30 am - 10:00 am - First Session 
10:00 am - 10:30 am - Break 
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Second Session 
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm - Lunch 
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm - Third Session 
2:30 pm - 3:00 pm - Break 
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Fourth Session 
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm - Daily Summary and Wrap-up

Participants’ Comments: 


"The subject matter was fantastic, and well taught. For me it was a tremendous learning experience as it was my first introduction to the theory behind the topics. Most importantly, the subject matter was highly relevant to my needs and interests."


"This course is a must for any professional who is interested in developing an effective product platform or product family. This program quickly lays foundations of system architectures and then gets into the how and why of applying those architecture concepts into a platform, module, or product family. This information also gives tools to the practitioner to develop a commonality plan, along with its rewards and challenges, for implementing for my own use."


"Very pertinent to today's business challenges in product development."


"This program helps you to appreciate another perspective to system designing. Before this program, my initial view of product platform design was based on the relationship of components and their functions. As the program progressed, I learned to realize that commonality can be defined on a number of dimensions, focusing on a number of attributes to meet a number of goals.”


"As a systems engineer I found the content to be relevant and useful to my system architecture responsibilities. Some of the methods and tools, while not new, were presented in new ways that expanded their usefulness. Methods to quantify complexity and commonality were especially useful.”


"I think the course is a fantastic overview of product platforming and covers a broad range of concepts, methods, and tools.”


"The material was exactly what I was hoping to see. I learned about new tools that can be used for other parts of my department that will provide improvements to project deliverables in the future. It was drinking from a fire hose, but included exposure to new information that I do not believe I would have found on my own.”



This course takes place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We can also offer this course for groups of employees at your location. Please complete the Custom Programs request form for further details.


Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings, and tools (30%) 30
Latest Developments: Recent advances and future trends (25%) 25
Industry Applications: Linking theory and real-world (25%) 25
Other: Product dissection/reverse engineering (20%) 20

Delivery Methods: 

Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format (70%) 70
Discussion or Groupwork: Participatory learning (20%) 20
Labs: Demonstrations, experiments, simulations (10%) 10



Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience (60%) 60
Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field (30%) 30
Advanced: In-depth explorations at the graduate level (10%) 10