Charlotte Garrett

October 13, 2022

The Product Platform Rulebook

The Product Platform Rulebook is an open-access guide, developed by the Construction Innovation Hub and industry leaders, for various stakeholders within the supply chain to develop and deploy Product Platforms. The Rulebook aims to enable and promote the adoption of Product Platform approaches by providing guidance, tools, and a common framework for the industry.

The construction industry needs disruption, which the innovators and early adopters have initiated over the last few decades with the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction. But we now need guidance to build confidence in the approach for the majority to follow.

A Product Platform.

A Product Platform is often referred to as a ‘Kit of Parts’ which is a group of common and repeatable assets that can be configured and combined with interoperable components to deliver a range of distinct projects. The Product Platform Rulebook describes them as ‘Low variety, stable core parts’ and ‘Variable periphery parts,’ with the aid of an illustration depicting a group of trainers.

Whilst the trainer analogy works to simply explain the idea, it is important to understand that the ‘Kit of Parts’ represent not only a physical product but also, and more importantly, repeatable processes, interfaces, equipment, and structured information throughout the whole lifecycle of a product. The physical product is only the result of optimised and repeated processes from design, production, and assembly. By illustrating only, the physical product we can fall victim to the common ‘cookie cutter’ criticisms.

Above are three categories that are essential features of a Product Platform, and should always be represented and explained in the context of describing a Product Platform Approach to construction.

‘Standardise process not products.’

To elaborate on the trainer analogy, we should appreciate how the core and peripheral components in combination are driven by the repeatable processes and activities. By limiting the number of core assets, or trainer styles, we can limit the number of stencils, machinery and interfaces to gain efficiencies in capital, time, and resource. The peripheral components have been strategically selected to only disrupt minimal processes. In this case, the colour may only disrupt the process of procuring the raw materials and the management of the supply chain. The variable peripheral component does not change the geometry of the trainer and how it is assembled.

‘’One of the central challenges of platform development is determining which components and processes ought to be standardised, and where flexibility and customisation need to be retained.’’

A product can mean several things to various organisations within the client, project, and supplier domains.
We at KOPE think about a product as a system, which is the application of ‘system logic’ to a group of parts and components that result in a product that is supplied. A wall panel for example might vary in size and finish however, the ‘system logic’ around processing and assembly do not necessarily change. The method of fixing a sheet of OSB to a timber frame does not change and neither does the method of connecting a wall panel to another wall panel. The emphasis is on the ‘system logic’ and the hierarchy of its application.

The ‘Rules’

The 8 ‘rules’ and overlaying principles outlined in the Product Platform Rulebook are the best categorisation and articulation of what a Product Platform is to date. It is the beginning of a common structure for the industry to consistently adopt in any Product Platform Approach.

The ‘rules’ are more like ideologies that capture the essential features that must be considered and implemented whilst the principles act as a great mechanism for verification. The ‘rules’ are interlinked and can vary in applicability to the Product Platform being developed, with some more unconditional than others. Below are some constructive responses to a few of those ‘rules’.

‘Defined Interfaces’ is a topic that is discussed frequently across the MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) Industry as we all seek further guidance on how to improve the interrelationships of products by defining the interfaces and assuring the performance. We want to standardise and structure the way in which we define interfaces so that suppliers provide the right technical information, such as test data, in a consistent way. This then enables the project teams to easily access and identify the processes, feedback and performance information that will aid decision making and adoption.

Successful interfaces support all phases of the product lifecycle, and should cover details to support the design, operational and production phases. By standardising the interfaces we can improve interoperability of products across multiple projects. The Kitchen cabinet does standardise the geometry and physical interfaces of cabinets for assembly, however it only becomes a true ‘Platform approach’ when design and operational ‘rules’ and limitations around adjacency are also included; such as safe distances between sinks and sockets.  
(A great example of this is the Wickes ‘Ready To Fit Kitchens Planning Guide’)

‘Structured Information’ covers several critical aspects that cannot be forgotten or overlooked. It forms the foundation of all the ‘rules’ and the framework for creating a consistent and interoperable approach. Structuring information enables each of the user groups across all phases of a project to make informed choices, to feed in information and to design, configure and deploy products.

‘’Open standards, developed by ISO and BSI for example, share many of the characteristics of platforms... enables the industry to operate with degrees of commonality and standardisation, without inhibiting innovation and variety.’’

It also allows you to apply appropriate and proportionate security. Intellectual property is something that is mentioned within the guide and is another topic that the industry frequently discusses. The innovators and early adopters have invested significant capital in the development of their products and platforms, and naturally want to both support the industry in progressing whilst protecting their investment and retaining its value. The structuring of information can enable you to maintain IP by controlling the access by different users at various stages.

‘The circular rule’ loosely promotes sustainability and encourages meaningful consideration to the ’Cradle to Cradle’ lifecycle, it focuses significant attention on the idea of dis-assembly and re-use. The success of whether a product can be dis-assembled and re-used is reliant on the maintenance of the built asset in use and can also significantly inflate the upfront capital and resource to develop and deploy.
‘Dis-assembly without destruction of components’ is an ambitious ask and a distraction that may hinder adoption. First, we should focus on verifying the viability of a Product Platform in deployment and performance in-use and to focus our attention, at least initially, on the ‘Cradle to Grave’ approach. The ‘Circular rule’ should be considered contextually and holistically with all the Project requirements, the most suitable solution may not be capable of disassembly but may offer better embodied cardon values and allow for adaptability.

The Three Domains:

The three domains are an excellent addition to the document, by creating a clear understanding of the user groups in a Product Platform Approach we can better define fundamental requirements. Understanding user groups is key as different users have different needs and requirements. When developing software at KOPE we always take this approach by first defining the user persona's and their interactions, user journeys and user stories. This helps understand the different user behaviours and outlines what each user will stand to gain from the software/process. It is an important step that aids creativity and critical thinking when responding to a problem and reduces the risk in developing unnecessary aspects or characteristics of a solution.

Development Guidance

The development guidance is successful in encouraging key behaviours around conducting and documenting research, evaluation, strategic definition and outlining a business case. The next phase of this report should look to sharpen the detail on various market segments, client types and product types in the design development.

Summary

The Product Platform Rulebook will increase awareness and adoption, it already has, following its beta version released in May 2022, I increasingly hear my peers refer to a ‘Platform Approach’. It builds upon the Construction Playbook in affording confidence to invest in new products and technologies, with aggregated demand and better visibility, by promoting and providing guidance on a Product Platform Approach. It provides tools and establishes a common framework with consistent ‘rules’, structure, and language to support a collaborative approach across the industry. However, it’s success does all depend on the industry majority to adapt their behaviours and be willing to change.

The Product Platform Rulebook recognises the diversity of the market and the challenges of addressing all the users, processes, activities, and outputs however, in the following documents I would like to see a more balanced distribution of attention on the optimisation and standardisation of processes and structured information as well as the physical products.

‘’In manufacturing, the product is not the replicable physical item, but the process and the IP. The very makeup of how it is built.’’

The report has given me confidence in the future of our industry, and it has given me a great foundation to build upon. It is a good baseline guidance, and I look forward to future publications that get into the details such as the ‘’Development of Product Platform Deployment Manual(s)'' which I think will be central to successfully structuring information, as we bridge the ‘Development’ and ‘Deployment’ phases of introducing a Product Platform.

The Product Platform Rulebook is a progressive and well-articulated document that will educate and develop behaviours in a consistent way, and I am confident it will accelerate adoption across the industry and really drive change.

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