Maximising your Digital Transformation Outcomes with a Product Mindset

Delivering products that delight customers and shareholders is a little like running a rollercoaster (or the waltzers – whatever you prefer). At the consumer end of the process, it’s a thrill. At the provider end, it shouldn’t be. The product should be exciting – the process to deliver it should be thorough, predictable, dare I say: “Boring”.

For a long time I’ve been advising public and private sector organisations on how to best deliver value in their digital transformations. This work has usually been a healthy mixture of coaching and hands-on delivery (showing and coaching how to do it, not telling) so that people can see for themselves what’s possible, what to aspire to, etc.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a client going through a transformation of its own. Initially brought in to turn around a strategic programme, I soon found myself asked to act as Chief Product Officer leading a product organisation of around 35 people. Working as part of the executive team really helped me to get a deeper appreciation of, and empathy for the challenges that leaders face in delivering transformation.

Over the years, I’ve noticed similar patterns, I’d like to share them here with you so that you can look out for them and seek to address them:

Ensure alignment to your organisation’s goals

Many organisations don’t communicate their vision across all teams effectively and/or they haven’t established the goals and metrics they’ll be using to measure success.

The result is a vacuum of leadership that leads to confusion and misalignment. Worse – it’s not uncommon to see some technology teams attempt to fill that vacuum with work they deem valuable, but this has a high chance of not delivering what’s best for customers or what will deliver optimal business value.

To fill this vacuum, product leaders need to drive clarity with the C-Suite as to what the business Goals, OKRs, and KPIs are. Using this information, it’s incumbent on product leaders to validate work in process or in the portfolio against these metrics (use a ready-reckoner Value Prioritisation framework to speed this up).

With a prioritised portfolio you’re close to a practical roadmap (you’ll need to build this with your delivery capability and get buy-in with internal stakeholders and customers). Communicate this vision and roadmap every chance you get: at all-hands meetings, at team meetings, and in ‘show and tell’ sessions.

Delight users whilst you balance business benefit and leverage technology

If your product delights your users, it uses the available technology well, and is profitable, you’ll end up with another iPod: a product that people crave that prints money.

We often find that in the rush to deliver a hypothetical business case with the latest technology, the actual user need is missed. In this scenario you don’t get an iPod – you get a Zune. If you don’t remember the Zune, that’s the point.

Find out what your users (customers and staff) want to get out of using your product. What is the end purpose of using it? What is going to keep them using the product? What’s going to get in the way?

Deliver ruthlessly to your goals – Quickly ditch what doesn’t work

For each project/product/initiative on your roadmap make sure your feature delivery is aligned to the overall portfolio value prioritisation framework. Ask yourself: “Is this requirement taking us closer to or further away from our organisational goals?”

Lean heavily on hypotheses with leading and trailing metrics, such as: “If we improve the user experience of our wallet, our customers will put more funds into their accounts (leading indicator), and this will drive up ARPU (trailing indicator)”.

If you find that a change is negatively affecting your leading indicators, you can course correct at the next release. Speaking of which…

Build prototyping into your delivery methodology

What could be worse than getting to the end of your delivery project only to find that your concept doesn’t work technically or your users don’t like what you’ve built?

An important element to mitigate against this is to build prototypes of the full solution you want to quickly de-risk your software design, or to build interactive prototypes and show them to potential customers to quickly determine if you’re building something they would love.

Can your technology and delivery management capability step up?

How quickly can you make changes to your customer-facing proposition? Can you release daily? Hourly? Or is it monthly? Quarterly? Typically, shorter release cycles are a result of good development standards and automation in the deployment pipeline.

Agile delivery methodologies emphasise responsiveness in planning and delivery, and this is sometimes used as an excuse not to do the hard work in planning and executing well. Excellence and diligence in delivery management are essential.

Develop a culture of curiosity – and don’t be afraid to say, “No”

Work with your product team to ask “Why” even more than they do. If your commercial stakeholders are demanding a feature that clashes with your roadmap – you can ask why. What are the opportunity costs of building this feature? Is the demand for the feature caused by a real problem with your product or are there other commercial considerations coming into play (e.g. are customers demanding obscure features as part of a contract renegotiation)?

Product professionals often self-select into the career because they like solving problems and delighting customers. At the same time, traditional “IT” departments have sometimes allowed themselves to be seen as “The Department of No”.

This can be a heady mixture for the sort of Product Manager that wants to prove themselves to stakeholders. Product sits in that strange intersection where practitioners need to understand technology deeply, but also must work hard to see themselves and be seen as another business stakeholder.

Challenges will always be part of the process, but by having a well-thought-out and considered approach, effective digital transformation led with a product mindset can deliver true revenue growth.

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