A Simple IoT Framework for Product Managers

Product Management for an Internet of Things product can be very daunting and confusing, even for the most seasoned Product Managers. That’s because IoT products are more complex than your average product, since you need to consider the complexity of five layers of technology: device hardware, device software, communications, cloud platform, and cloud applications.

Not only do you need to make critical business and technical decisions at each of these five layers, but you need to make sure this myriad of decisions is consistent with your overall strategy and consistent across the five layers. This exponentially increases the difficulty of managing an IoT product.

IoT

To help Product Managers tackle this complexity, I developed a framework I call the IoT Decision Framework.

This IoT framework provides a structured approach to creating a robust IoT product strategy. What I mean by that is, this strategy is all about making decisions. The IoT Decision Framework helps you understand the areas where you need to make decisions and ensures consistency across all of your strategic decisions.

The 5 Layers of the IoT Technology Stack

The greatest challenge of managing an IoT solution is that there are five layers in the IoT technology stack, and decisions need to be made at each layer.

In my previous post, Internet of Things: A Primer for Product Managers, I describe these five layers in detail. For reference, the five layers are:

Those two layers alone are usually enough to keep any Product Manager on their toes. So you can imagine how adding three extra layers becomes exponentially more complex because you have to make decisions at each of these layers and make sure your decisions are consistent across all five layers.

As an IoT Product Manager, it can be very daunting to know where to start or how to organize your thoughts. One of the hardest parts is knowing which questions you should be asking.

The Solution: An IoT Framework for Product Managers

The IoT Decision Framework provides you with a structured approach to uncover the questions you need to ask and navigate across the various departments to make the best decisions for your product.

Think of it as a map to help you discover all the necessary considerations as you build your IoT business plan, roadmap, backlog, etc.

The IoT Decision Framework focuses on six key Decision Areas you need to consider for any IoT product. These areas are:

  1. User Experience (UX)
  2. Data
  3. Business
  4. Technology
  5. Security
  6. Standards & Regulations

Each bubble in the IoT Decision Framework is an opportunity to use Product Management tools to make decisions and discover gaps—tools like market research, design research, customer development, prioritization, Lean, NPI, etc. This framework is not a replacement for any of those. On the contrary, it provides you with a map and a structure for your discovery process.

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The Decision Areas of the IoT Decision Framework

It is very important to go through the IoT framework in order. Each of the Decision Areas are organized so that the information you collect in one area informs the subsequent area. I recommend you start with the UX Decision Area because your goal is to understand your users needs first and then move to the other Decision Areas.

Let’s take a closer look at each Decision Area of the IoT framework.

1. User Experience (UX) Decision Area

In this area, you need to understand who your user is, what their needs are, and what would make for a great experience at each layer of the stack. Don’t worry about the technical details at this point. Just think about what this person wants, not how you will deliver it.

Plus, you’ll want to consider the needs of secondary users, like your internal Fleet Operations team, developer partners, sales team, installers, and more.

2. Data Decision Area

The goal of the Data Decision Area is to help you define your overall Data Strategy. In a nutshell, you need to decide how data should flow through the stack to fulfill the user’s needs.

For example, what type of data does your device need to produce? How much data should be transmitted to the cloud and how often? Do you need to perform analytics at the edge, in the cloud, or both?

3. Business Decision Area

The goal of the Business Decision Area is to help you determine whether your product idea has financial potential. In other words, will you be able to make money?

Based on the user and data decisions you made in the previous decision areas, you can now begin to make business decisions that will feed into your business plan and financial projections.

For example, you’ll need to decide your overall business model and which layers of the IoT Technology Stack you will monetize, as well as understand the costs of providing your service at each layer of the stack. You’ll also make critical business decisions such as whether to build or buy each layer of the stack and whether to open APIs.

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4. Technology Decision Area

Based on the decisions you made in all previous areas, it is time to work with your Technology teams to decide what technology is needed at each layer to deliver the final solution. The key here is not to choose the technology yourself, but to provide your Engineering team the information and requirements they need to choose the best technical solutions.

Together with Engineering, you’ll identify which sensors, device hardware, and device software are needed. You’ll design a communications topology and decide on communications protocols.

You’ll work with your team to choose a cloud platform based on data needs and performance requirements. And you’ll decide on the form factors of your cloud applications that best fit your user’s needs.

5. Security Decision Area

Once you’ve worked with your teams to select the implementation technology, it is time to decide how to secure each layer of the stack.

The goal of the Security Decision Area is to help you think about how each layer could be compromised and how to respond when your devices are hacked. You’ll also need to decide whether you’ll implement security testing in-house or with a vendor, and how to protect your product from being hacked from inside your own company (by employees or unwanted guests).

6. Standards & Regulations Decision Area

During the last stage of my IoT framework, you’ll identify the standards and regulations that will affect your product at each layer of the stack, based on your type of product, customer, and industry.

For example, does your industry have a standard data format or communications protocol that will enable your product to talk to other devices? Do your customers require you to meet certain device safety or cloud security requirements? What laws must your product comply with at each layer?