While digital transformation is at risk of becoming a cliché, the principles that undergird it are anything but. At its core, digitalization or digital transformation are processes that enable businesses to serve their customers virtually - including businesses and industries that would never have given a second thought to a virtual presence in the past. If the global pandemic has done nothing else, it’s shown every business owner the importance of being able to digitally interact with their customers at any time.
This is why investment into digital transformation is expected to grow from $1.2 trillion in 2019 to $2.3 trillion in 2023. As such, companies that previously haven’t spent much time thinking about technology are now increasingly investing in understanding how technology is developed, how quickly it can be integrated into their business and how well it responds to customer needs.
Digital Product Management (DPM) is an evolving set of practices that are intended to address the shifts occurring in technology management because of digitalization. DPM is really a story about the way that people perceive spending money on technology. For a long time in technology spending, people would decide they needed something from the technology shop – a piece of software or a system – to accomplish a particular goal. They would then go through a pretty rigorous process of figuring out what they needed, who should work on it, what it was going to do, how much it would cost, and so on. They would then run it through multiple layers of approval, develop a project charter and send it through one or more steering committees to get it funded.
This process was not change friendly. Any time an adjustment was needed, it necessitated going back through the same process again because the funding might change. It was a rigorous, onerous process that emphasized funding control over getting things done. As companies increasingly embrace the new digital world, they’re recognizing that these business operations need to materially change in order to support the ever-evolving digital mode of operation and interaction with customers.
How DPM Impacts Enterprises
Regardless of the type of business model a company follows, the ultimate goal is to create synergy within the organization so that everyone is working together. This is especially true with digitalization, because it breaks down geographic barriers, enabling companies to change, monitor and integrate technology from anywhere in the world.
For instance, a company in Europe might decide that it wants to deploy a common mobile experience across all countries that are involved in its organization. Instead of allowing offices in different countries to choose their own technology, plans and processes, the company might decide it’s better to have one common experience across all countries.
Once the company decides to make the change and roll it out companywide, it now has the challenge of coordinating the various component pieces across siloes and business units. It needs a new model for managing the investment because each business unit is now investing in a co-funded operation vs just being responsible for its own. In addition, a mobile platform has no definitive end date; it’s an enduring asset that will last as long as we can make it work for us. That lack of clearly delineated end lines marks a complete shift from a project-management model to a product-management model.
Moving from project management to product management is not as simple as changing labels. You can’t simply change project managers into product managers or say that you once funded projects and now you’re funding products while continuing to do the same processes. Instead, companies must recognize that real change is required.
How DPM Creates Real Change
The four key facets of identifying a product are:
- A product is sustained: A product is any recurring investment into technology that has an indefinite lifespan.
- A product is managed against a strategy: There is somebody (or a group of somebodies) who's responsible for its care, upkeep and success, and this person (or people) is (are) also responsible for communicating that the product delivers value.
- A product has a common audience: A single product should serve a common, consistent group of stakeholders that can be easily identified in a few words or phrases. This facilitates understanding about who the product’s customers are – key contributors to the product’s strategy.
- A product has a common delivery organization: A single product should have an entirely dedicated delivery organization. This enables firms to make a single funding decision at the beginning of the fiscal cycle to fund that delivery team vs. making constant funding transfers for every change made to a product because resources are flexing in or out.
Real change requires companies to identify their products and their product managers, which sounds obvious and easy, but it’s not. One of the major benefits of Clarity is its flexible nomenclature that allows a company to call its products by any name, including value streams, platforms, capabilities and more.
For instance, a government organization might think it doesn’t have products and, thus, struggle understanding how to incorporate DPM. However, by drilling down with specific questions about funding – What do you fund? What do you call the things that you fund? How do you distribute your money? – the organization is able to identify its product as what it calls “capabilities.”
The next step is to determine whether there are product managers vs. project managers overseeing the product. Project managers are tasked with finishing a particular job and then moving on to something else. By contrast, product managers are responsible for the indefinite, long-term care of the product.
Next, identify who the stakeholders are that are served by the product, as well as the delivery organization that is responsible for producing the product. By going through all of these steps, any company can identify its products and begin reaping the benefits of DPM.
Benefits of DPM
Digital product management has a number of benefits, including:
- DPM removes considerable layers in the governance process: Project management requires users to articulate every detail of what's going to be delivered, justify it at length and fund it, and any changes require that process to be repeated over and over again. By contrast, product management ensures stakeholders are in agreement that the product adds value. As such, they commit to funding it for an entire fiscal term.
- DPM keeps stakeholders in the loop: The stakeholders that provide funding for a product need to maintain accountability to understand how the money they provide is being used. With Clarity, stakeholders can conduct regular roadmap reviews, which show what has been accomplished and what’s being planned next. Stakeholders can engage with product management, review their roadmap and provide feedback.
- DPM fosters agility: Instead of getting bogged down in processes, DPM enables changes to be made on the fly. Users can move things around during the roadmap review and see the impact of different changes. Doing so improves time to market and simplifies the Capex process. Additionally, it frees up time for product managers to focus on delivering value for customers.
Brian Nathanson is a recovering certified Project Management Professional now serving as the Product Management Lead for Clarity in ESD ValueOps at Broadcom. Before joining the Product Management team, Brian worked with dozens of large enterprise customers over a decade as a Clarity Technical Sales Engineer. In his life before Clarity, he worked with state and local government customers on projects to integrate their mainframe financial systems to the World Wide Web (as it was known back then). Brian has his Masters of Science in Engineering from Penn, where he focused on the application of portfolio principles to technology decisions – a passion that he continues to pursue in his current Clarity role.