Riding the waves of agility, rapid software development and customer centricity, digital product management is increasingly taking over waterfall-like processes. The shift from traditional to digital product management is well explained by the crucial change of the product lifecycle in the digital era. With a shorter time to market, increasing customer demands and the constant availability of information and platforms to make purchase decisions, companies are facing an immense field of competition. This leaves many organizations with the challenge to adopt a digital product mindset to deliver fast and great customer experiences.
Digital product management is greatly influenced by changes in technology, society and marketplaces. In this article, I will zoom in on the trending topics that currently define, influence and shape the practice of digital product management in 2017.
Metrics and data
If you’re working in a product team, this usually means that you are connected to every part of an organization. Informed decision making is key if you want to protect what’s in the best interest of the product and the customer needs. Facts and figures will shift the decision-making from politics to where the money is actually coming from. Since the amount of data has grown exponentially in the past years, and companies are becoming increasingly data-driven, we are spoiled with the question, which metrics should we use to keep track?
The type of metrics you will have to use depends strongly on the business goals. Are you looking for financial metrics to satisfy stakeholders, or engagement metrics to help you understand how customers are reacting to the product? Try to focus on the performance of the product by identifying KPI’s, and not on the management performance itself, or sales statistics and marketing if you are not responsible for these areas. What really helped me throughout my professional experience is to use the ‘One Metric That Matters’ approach because it forced me to continuously sharpen our core focus together with the (product) team. With a simple point of focus in mind, we could prevent ourselves from getting (too) distracted by other business departments and their product needs, and lose our core vision in a worst-case scenario.
Customer validation has become more important than ever, especially in a product driven environment. Continuous validation of their needs is key to determine the right product-market fit and meet demanding customer expectations. Therefore, organizations are increasingly involving their customers in a more personal and human way to listen to customer feedback. The key challenge for a product manager is to understand customers by actually listening to them and accept that we can’t always predict their behavior by only using data and analytics. This sounds like the most logical thing to do in any business, right? Well, it’s not. During the 2016 London MTPCon, David Cancel (CEO of Drift) held an amazing presentation including many corporate examples, on what can happen when companies don’t listen to their customers. Many companies like Lego, Ford and General Motors learnt this the hard way.
There is a clear shift visible in the mindset of companies trying to implement a customer-centric model in their organization. It’s no longer sufficient to think that developing agile software will somehow directly connect you to your customers. Methods like ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Google Venture Sprints’ are becoming increasingly popular because it helps companies to build products based on the right category of customer feedback and interaction. Knowing which customer issues you are dealing with makes all the difference in choosing the right customer validation model: user experience (if this, then what, but how), product marketing (differentiation, USP) or positioning (target customers).
Transparency and trust
An important trend in successful product release is the emphasis on honest and transparent product development. The more transparent you are, the more customer trust you will earn on the long-term. This ancient moral value has become very critical in the age of digital interconnectivity where no action can be left local, unexposed or secret. As the authors of the book ‘Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage’ already pointed out back in 2012, if you produce an unfair or sloppy product, the whole world may find out in hours, if not minutes.
So don’t leave your customers hanging with the question ‘what’s the catch?'. Consumers appreciate honesty and will reward it through their loyalty to your product and brand. Companies need to let go of their fear for competition by revealing product plans and their hesitation to involve customers in an early development stage. Being transparent to your customers about your product plans has many benefits. Involving them in an early stage might i) avoid trouble on the way, ii) reveal new opportunities for your product or, iii) encourage early adopters to buy your product because they’re becoming part of something that has yet to come. This transparent customer relationship will also help you to improve your product roadmaps because you are avoiding assumptions, hypotheses without validation and messy MVP’s that will inevitably contribute to product failure.
Prioritizing valuable over value
Seasoned product managers will definitely underline this: customer value means business value. In a prioritization process product managers are faced with the challenge to determine the value of stakeholder requirements and decide on how to balance between efforts, costs and customer outcome. In a product driven culture, organizations are no longer prioritizing financial business value above benefits that are valuable for their customers. Consumers don’t think of products as a set of combined features, but rather as a tool that supports or affects their life in some way with a specific goal or purpose. When selling a product, it’s important to remember that consumers are not interested in features but they want to know the benefits and how it will improve their life.
My preferred method to prioritize features is to start working from the overall product strategy. A customer-driven product strategy helps me to make sure that the customer needs are in the right place given the market needs and business objectives. By applying a customer-centric product strategy, I’m answering all the right questions to determine the customer needs and translate them to features to satisfy those needs, instead of being chased by the most demanding stakeholders (and their requirements). Of course you can no longer set a product strategy in stone, yet I still believe that delivering true customer value should be the bullseye of your dartboard.
Agile and Lean
The practice of Agile and Lean methodologies are no longer limited to scrum teams or (tech) start-ups. Organizations of all sizes and industries are using these methods to their benefit by tailoring it to their business goals. The practice of Agile plays an important role in digital product management as it connects multiple business departments to scrum development teams. Agile practices have made it much easier to connect teams, disciplines and various stakeholders in the process of creating portfolio walls, product roadmaps and organizing product requirements. This multidisciplinary collaboration and improved transparency creates a better understanding of customer needs. Now that Agile and Lean approaches are also used in marketing and sales teams, it has become much easier for the product manager to connect multiple areas in product development.
Xebia recently published a Digital Transformation & Acceleration survey performed in the Dutch market. This survey explains a digital maturity model showing that the most successful companies, are the ones with an integrated agile culture and mindset within their organization. For these organizations, an agile mindset contributes to a culture of (technical) innovation and real-time decision making. And these are the best circumstances to successfully implement a product driven mindset.