If 'digital transformation' could be defined by just one of its constituent parts, it might well be digital product management.
So, what is digital product management and how can it be implemented?
What is digital product management?
A business without digital product managers:
Defined by waterfall processes, the I.T. department is isolated somewhere behind a locked door.
Speed and safety of I.T. development is prioritised. These metrics are considered proportional to efficiency (and ultimately revenue) with less regard to customer satisfaction once requirements documents have been created.
This means that a lot of important decisions are taken by an employee that isn't incentivised to improve customer experience. That's almost expediency in the eyes of some product management zealots.
A business with digital product managers:
Teams are held accountable for understanding customer needs and improving products or experiences to suit.
Product management teams focus on creating minimum viable products (MVPs) quickly and then iterating ahead of full release.
The development environment must facilitate product managers' involvement, individuals who should have both business and tech nous.
How is it implemented?
1. Define your digital products
Businesses need to define their digital products. For a bank this could be a mobile banking app, a deposit machine in branch, the website homepage etc.
These products are often identified through distinct customer need (banking on the go, avoiding queues) or business need (reducing call centre dependency, or speeding up service).
How will improvement to these digital products be measured? This is another consideration - perhaps an increase in conversion rate, a change in customer banking habits etc.
Econsultancy's blog could be defined as a digital product
2. Pair product managers with parts of the customer experience
This could mean assigning a product manager to money transfers within the banking app, for example.
Product managers here have freedom to both iterate existing functionality, as well as conducting more fundamental changes if they're shown to be achievable and valuable.
For example, this product manager might recognise that a wholly separate mobile method of transfer would be preferred by users.
3. Create and test MVPs
End users are involved early on in the testing phase, providing feedback on product utility that could provide a counterpoint to the views of internal stakeholders.
Businesses transitioning to this style of iteration often begin with a siloed project in a lab environment, demonstrating proof of concept before moving into the broader business.
Image via Lean Startup
4. Foster developer and manager interaction
Frequent two-way interaction between product managers and developers, who are preferably co-located, is the only way to ensure that customer needs are met in the production process.
This necessitates developers and managers who understand each others' roles and can therefore approach development in the same way.
5. Measure and incentivise performance
Conversion rates and direct customer feedback are more important than their preceding business outcomes (such as platform change).
That's to say that appropriate customer-focused metrics should be in place to determine the success of any new or improved product.
Outcome for the customer is prioritised above clean handovers and untouched specifications. Failure, as we all know, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be defined in the right way (and as quickly as possible).
Who is a digital product manager?
Digital is maturing quicker than employee skills. That means tech-savvy businessmen and business-savvy techies are still gold dust.
Digital product managers can be C-suite in waiting, such should be their grasp of technology, user experience, agile methodology, finance and marketing.
Interpersonal skills are also important, given the sprawling nature of a product manager's role (liaising with multiple departments).
Why take this approach?
Failure is faster and more diverse, leading to greater innovation. This ultimately should lead to increased and possibly new revenue streams.
Customer loyalty is engendered by a business that is transparently innovating. Brand advocates are further brought into the fold and frustrated customers are heard.
An agile environment is also more exciting and empowering for the best and the brightest recruits.
For more information on digital transformation, see the Econsultancy digital transformation hub.