The worlds of software product-line engineering, application life-cycle management and product life-cycle management are converging, as the costs of software and hardware reach parity and as software becomes a more important factor for differentiation and innovation in physical products.

With 16% growth per year in product lines and product scope counterbalanced with the decreasing size of engineering teams, the need for efficiencies in development processes and asset management become even more marked, according to Charles Krueger, CEO of BigLever Software. The company makes Gears, a product feature configurator that helps bring together engineers and the business side to advance the product line.

Krueger noted that development tools support engineers, and dissonance occurs when businesspeople try to interact. Being able to roll out a product with new features in a competitive manner is “an organizational transformation; it’s not only a tool issue developers would care about,” he said.

BigLever is releasing Gears 6.1 with a graphical feature model that businesspeople can understand and that meets engineers on a middle ground, Krueger explained. “The engineer’s view of a feature model was in data declarations. That was not an efficient means of communication for businesspeople.”

Gears 6.1 provides a graphical view of decision trees in which brand and feature choices can be made, where engineering can see if the necessary features exist, and where those features are. For the business, the benefits of SPL are economy of scale, cost savings from efficiency, faster time to market and profits, and better quality, Krueger said.

This three-way convergence of product-line engineering, application life-cycle management and product management has led to the disabuse of the notion that SPL is associated with waterfall development methods. “In a product-line scenario, things are changing in the product line,” said Krueger. “New products need new features, or certain features need to be extended to other products. You have to be agile in an SPL world. Business and engineering have to dance together in a way that’s very agile.”

The new release of Gears brings an enhanced code editor used by developers for expressing variation points in code with graphical representations of the requirements, code or test-case variations, Krueger said. Gears can be told that if feature X is included in a particular product model, that a certain requirement must also be included, he added. Gears integrates with third-party requirements tools, editors and code repositories.