How Does Product Management Give you the Best Chance of a Successful Digital Transformation?

Moving from project-based thinking to product-based thinking is an essential part of delivering a successful digital transformation. What are the benefits of taking on such an initiative, and how does product management give you the best possible chance of success?

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is “the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises”, according to an MIT and Capgemini white paper. In their book “Digital Transformation. A model to master digital disruption”, Jo Caudron and Dado Van Peteghem said: “Digital Transformation is not about technology, it’s about the fact that technology, which is digital, allows people to solve their traditional problems and they prefer that solution to the old solution”. Gartner says: “Digital business transformation is the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business model”.

What does this mean in practice?

Traditional firms, born in the world before digital practices were foundational, are increasingly turning to digital methods to enable business success. In reality, that means investing in the following:

  • Social – making use of the global online discussion, engaging directly with customers and making it easy for customers to share their experiences
  • Mobile – enabling employees to use their mobile devices at work, or supporting the use of mobile devices when engaging with their customers and suppliers
  • Analytics – understanding market and customer behaviour and using that knowledge to make good business decisions
  • Cloud – using cloud-based applications to support day-to-day activities and provide services to staff, suppliers, and of course customers

It’s obvious that some companies see digital transformation as little more than a marketing exercise so that they can be seen as in touch with modern thinking. However, the companies who are successfully undertaking digital transformation are doing so by considering the digital needs of both their internal stakeholders and their customers. They’re achieving results by reviewing their processes, and incorporating change from the ground-up rather than trying to transform the business for the sake of appearance. This is a major undertaking which needs to be given every chance for success.

Why Take on a Digital Transformation?

The pressure to take on a digital transformation is both internal and external.

Firstly, there are competitive pressures. With 72% of executives experiencing competitive pressure to transform, according to Capgemini Consulting, there is huge interest in how to accomplish such wide-ranging change. In some industry verticals, “going digital” is happening so slowly that a successful transformation is seen as a way to differentiate an organisation from the competition. Companies who undergo change at a quicker rate (such as Walmart, Capital One, Sainsbury’s and Disney) are seeing the benefits of this in their reputation as well as their bottom line.

Internal pressure comes from the team members who are delivering company objectives. Regardless of company policies, employees are now so used to using their own devices to manage their day-to-day personal activities, they will either continue to do so when working (without the necessary security provisions required to comply with data privacy regulations and company policies) or become increasingly frustrated at the lack of mobile solutions available to them. Neither of these options is conducive to a happy and satisfied workforce!

Finally, there are customer and vendor pressures. Customers and vendors are increasingly using digital methods for communication and collaboration. By using methods familiar to third parties, businesses will become easier for customers to work with, and could even see time and cost savings as a result of improved relationships with their vendors.

How Does Product Management Enable Digital Transformation?

Capgemini’s white paper states that “successful digital transformation does not happen bottom up. It must be driven from the top.” Mandating change from the senior leadership team certainly increases the chances of success, but such a transformation still requires insights into what changes should actually be made, and why. That’s where product management comes in.

As product managers, we’re responsible for discovering “what” needs to be done, and “why”. We work with other teams in the organisation to ensure they understand the business priorities, and how they translate into desired outcomes. That overlap helps delivery teams to achieve the desired outcomes, whether they are technical teams like engineering or business-focused teams like marketing, sales and operations.

In this scenario, product managers are responsible for

  • Discovery of problems
  • Identification of opportunities
  • Measurement of potential benefits
  • Prioritisation of activities and changes

The Benefits of Product Management

By having a deep understanding of the landscape within their remit, product managers can provide a strategic product roadmap, outlining opportunities for improvement (problems to solve) along with suggested changes to the product or service. Each initiative should be linked to an objective or expected outcome, allowing you to measure the success of the changes. This document is a prototype for your strategy, and details “what” and “why”. This talk from #mtpcon speaker C. Todd Lombardo, who’s written and talked on the same topic, covers the basics.

Essentially, the roadmap acts as a communication document, allowing you to share details about your product strategy in a way that promotes debate, discussion, and iterative improvement. By facilitating discussions without the focus on dates and releases, the strategy is continuously refined, and has a greater chance of success when tested in the marketplace.

This is a new approach for many pre-digital companies, but new approaches are part of the territory when transforming a business. Becoming open to experimentation is a big part of what makes product management valuable in digital transformation, and is one of the key success factors listed in McKinsey’s white paper Unlocking Success in Digital Transformations.

Done well, collaborative product management results in a reduction in the risk that is associated with large-scale change. The decision-making process is focused on delivering the right outcomes for customers, suppliers, and of course the business itself, with responsibility for decision-making shared across a diverse group of well-informed stakeholders. The chances of success are increased when there is a better understanding of “what” and “why”, as the path forward through delivery is clear with well-defined outcomes. Surely this is the best way to deliver a successful digital transformation!

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