Product managers for bar code scanners have it pretty good these days. Their products are in high demand by companies such as Amazon who operate the large warehouses that contain thousands of items, each identified by a unique bar code. These scanners, often called a “brick on a stick”, are used thousands of times each day by workers as they locate and select items from storage to be shipped. However, this is not good enough and the product managers are planning some radical transformations for their product’s product development definition.
Why Are Product Improvements Needed?
I can almost hear you saying “why is there any need for change, the scanners that everyone has seem to work just fine.” You are correct that when you order a product form Amazon, it sure seems to show up at your house very quickly. Sounds like this would look good on a product manager resume. However, retailers like Amazon are putting pressure on other distributors to do everything faster and more efficiently. What this means is that everyone is taking a close look at their bar code scanners.
In a typical warehouse, a worker might use their bar code scanner roughly 3,000 times during a typical 8-hour shift. The use of one of today’s bar code scanners requires the worker to both extend their arms and rotate their wrists over and over again. In addition, many bar code scanners have pushbuttons that require the worker to stop at times and select a button. All of these actions take time and time is the one resource that in a warehouse nobody ever seems to have enough of.
Additionally, it turns out that being a warehouse employee is a rough job. Not completely due to bar code scanners, but definitely helped by them. As warehouses struggle to fill more and more orders using just the staff that they have, workers are being afflicted with repetitive motion injuries such as carpel tunnel syndrome more and more frequently. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Transportation and warehousing industry has the highest rate of occupational injuries.
How Will The Products Be Made Better?
Clearly the bar code scanner product managers have a challenge on their hands. Their current products are popular and as warehouse shipping grows in importance to companies like Amazon, the need for their product is also going to increase. However, they need to deal with the challenges that their customers are facing in terms of workplace injuries from repetitive motions and trying to reduce the time needed to complete an order.
One of the first issues that the bar code scanner product managers are tackling has to do with the possibility that bar code scanners are contributing to worker injuries. One novel approach involves the creation of a baton with both a touch screen and camera that allows workers to “see” the item that they are scanning. The hopes are that innovations like this will allow workers to no longer have to either extend their arms or rotate their wrists therefore reducing the possibility of injury.
Another key design issue that is being worked into the next generation of bar code scanners are changes that are designed to speed up the process of selecting items. One manufacturer of bar code scanners has gone ahead and removed the pushbuttons that used to be on their unit. Now selections are made via a touchscreen that is part of the device. Initial tests of this new model in a warehouse have revealed a 10% – 20% increase in workers ability to quickly pick items off of the warehouse shelves.
What All Of This Means For You
It is the dream of every product manager to have a product that customers both want and need. Bar code scanner product managers find themselves in this position as the importance of product distribution warehouses continues to increase. However, customers are dealing with workplace injuries as well as trying to speed up their processes at the same time. How can bar code scanner product managers use their product manager job description to help them out?
Clearly the bar code products are going to have to change. The device has to be fundamentally changed so that workers no longer have to either extend their arms or rotate their wrists to use the product. Making these changes to the product will save countless workplace injuries. Additionally, as warehouse firms try to compete with Amazon, they need to do things faster. This means that a worker needs to be able to locate and select a product quicker using their bar code scanner. The removal of pushbuttons and the addition of touchscreens may just solve this problem.
The bar code scanner product managers are showing that they’ve done a great job of listening to their customers. Instead of just sitting around and waiting for sales to start to decline, these product managers are taking proactive steps to solve a problem before it shows up. I’d say that they are well positioned to help Amazon start to deliver the things that you order on the same day that you place your order!
Question For You: Do you think that bar code scanner product managers should go to a warehouse and try to do the job of the product pickers as research?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
There’s one aspect of being a product manager that we don’t spend enough time talking about. Killing products. Yes, you heard me correctly. We talk and talk about what we can do to make our products more successful; however, we need to understand that every product comes to the end of the road eventually. When that happens, we need to do the humane thing and put it out of its misery. You’d think that that would be the end of the story. However, sometimes after we’ve done away with a product, they come back to life.