At our recent Velocity of Innovation (Velocity) event in New York, we discussed the dominant factors that contribute to a successful digital transformation program. And throughout that conversation the idea of designating a project owner, or product manager, for major digital transformation projects came up time and time again.
This is in keeping with the fact that digital transformation initiatives are topping the list of business priorities for CEOs and other business leaders. In fact, according to Gartner’s recent survey of CEOs and business leaders, CEOs are now often personally overseeing digital transformation initiatives.
“While business conditions are challenging, CEOs remain confident enough to sanction strategic investments, particularly when it comes to digital business transformation,” said Mark Raskino, vice president and Gartner Fellow.
The panelists at the Pythian Velocity event included our own CEO and founder, Paul Vallée; Rohinee Mohindroo, former CIO of Rakuten Marketing and independent consultant; and Samir Desai, CIO at Equinox Fitness Clubs.
While assigning a project manager to transformational IT initiatives is an obvious consideration, it may be a leap to understand the value that product management skills can bring to the table. But our panelists seemed to have already made that leap. And from our discussion, I took away five good reasons you should assign a product manager to your next digital transformation project.
1.You need a single focal point for your project.
“We did the committee thing for years. The committee approved the release and priorities. And we ended up developing features that were never used. It was clear that the product was rudderless as a result of that. We had to rethink our approach, and assign a product owner,” Paul Vallée said of Pythian’s recent internal development projects.
Vallée said his team recognized that because of the committee approach, their projects were often flawed, and that they really needed a single, senior product owner who understood exactly how the business worked. That person would be better equipped to determine which actions were being initiated simply because of history, or because “we’ve always done things this way”, and which approaches were really useful.
“We needed someone who had been with the business a long time and had been involved in establishing our practices in order to get to break through the inertia. Committees should be consulted. But at the end of the day, one person needed to be the leader on the file,” he said.
2.You need to review your project through customer lense.
Product managers are masters of innovation. Because they put the customer first, they will always ensure customers can benefit from the product or service. For this reason, our panelists and audience members agreed that the unique skill set of a product manager is critical to the success of any digital transformation project.
And according to Paul Vallée, the customer experience is strongly impacted by the level of effort they need to expend in trying to interact with your organization. “The number one criterion for whether a customer remains a customer once you have them is not actually the Net Promoter score or their level of satisfaction with the goods and services you provide, it’s a score called the Customer Effort Score,” he said.
And product managers are particularly well-positioned to track and incorporate this into the digital transformation plan. A product manager can make use of data to gain a better understanding of how a customer prefers to interact with the organization, and include that feedback within the product roadmap.
3. You need to make your project data driven.
Product managers are experts at making use of data coming from financial systems, CRM, marketing automation systems, and more — these systems help them drive the customer experience. Data from these platforms allows the product manager to measure the benefits of feature development against multiple factors such as profit and loss, and provides the insights needed to prioritize activities. CRM data is particularly useful in developing your understanding of target customer segments. And while CRM is a valuable tool to drive data needed for digital initiatives across the organization, a CRM project itself is an example of a digital transformation project that warrants its own product manager.
“At Rakuten Marketing, we actually created those product owner roles for our back office systems. We had one person for our Salesforce CRM implementation who was essentially managing a product roadmap for the project,” Mohindroo said.
She said that the company also had product managers for both financial and HR solution implementations, which are also critical systems for any data-driven organization.
4. You need to engage your customers through various digital touch points.
Product managers have the best skill set to ensure your customer is being engaged through various digital touch points including web, in person, mobile, or through other devices. It’s important to take the experience to the customer wherever they are. Product managers tend to have a good understanding of how to accomplish this by looking at the project through the customer lense.
Creating a frictionless customer experience is one of the key responsibilities of a product manager. And including the right digital technologies to reach them is critical to creating this experience.
“A lot of the initiatives around creating self-service mechanisms are really about reducing customer effort. A customer used to have to call in to talk to a person about an issue, now there are mechanisms to resolve issues on their mobile app, or there are tools to interact with the company and resolve issues through the company web site,” Vallée said.
5. You need to select the right technologies.
Product managers need to be very good at selecting the right technology partners. This is as true in a product development environment as it is for a digital transformation project.
According to Samir Desai, digital transformation is not a part-time job. He employs several dedicated product owners who focus their efforts on innovations in the market.
“Because choosing the right technologies is so critical to our organization’s success, we have product owners on our team who are dedicated and have the expertise to pilot and test new developments in leading edge technologies such as wearables,” he said.
The bottom line is that all participants agreed that Product Managers can be the key drivers of project success, and selecting the right one should be high on your list of priorities when kicking off any transformation project.
For further background on this topic, read my earlier posts, Defining Digital Transformation and Five Tips to Improve your Online Client Experience.
Velocity of Innovation (Velocity) is a series of thought-leadership events for senior IT management, hosted by Pythian. The format is a panel discussion in which Pythian leads conversations around today’s disruptive technologies. Topics range from big data and cloud to advanced analytics and DevOps. These events are by invitation only.
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