Four Critical Product Management Responsibilities in Digital Transformation

Last year I posted on 20 bad behaviors of agile product owners and separately on how to handle difficult product owners. The product owner and management roles may be the most difficult ones in the organization when facing the need to transform, develop multi-mode customer experiences, leverage new technologies, match capabilities against growing customer expectations, and insure against cannibalizing legacy businesses while growing new digital businesses.

Many organizations that elect to develop product management and ownership do so to better understand changing market conditions and customer opportunities. They charge product managers to grow revenue by developing new products, prioritizing incremental product improvements, developing new markets for existing products, partnering with product distribution partners among other tactics. The expectation is that Product Management will evolve the disciplines required to engage customers, prospects and the enterprise to recommend a series of investments to drive the organization toward strategic and the most promising growth opportunities

Product Management - The Hub of Digital Transformation


When I think of the transformation function in companies looking to transform and develop their digital businesses, the product management function is the hub of this enterprise-scale change management program. Many organizations structure the product management that way and they don't have direct organizational responsibility over sales, marketing, operations, or product development. They have to lead through governance and influence with enough support from executive management to drive strategic changes. In a digital transformation, Product Management is a pivotal practice needed across all stages of the transformation.

But what exactly are the responsibilities of product management in digital transformation? Here are some key focus areas -


  1. Review Customer Experiences Through a Digital Lens - What are customer needs and opportunities through different digital touch points? In other words, how will customers take best advantage of the product or service through web, in person (retail), mobile, social experience, or through devices (IoT, wearable, etc)? Product Managers should consider developing SWOT analysis to visualize both the opportunity and competitive threats posed by new digital experiences and propose a series of experiments to better quantify and prioritize digitally driven product changes.

  2. Collaborate to become more Data Driven - Product managers can't do their job effectively without strong data coming from the financial systems, CRM, marketing platforms, and platforms driving the customer experiences. The P/L of the product needs to be easily generated and tracked along multiple dimensions to help develop insights on the impact of investment and prioritization of activities. CRM activity and reporting needs to be oriented toward growth so that product managers can better understand target customer segments, promising sales tactics, and activities that lead to closed/won. Marketing platforms have to demonstrate where there is success by channel, segment, message, and other factors. Product Managers needs to answer the question, What Does the Data Tell You, and have to be the sponsors of change that make the organization more data driven.

  3. Drive Change in Internal Digital Capabilities - It is a significant mistake for Product Managers to look outside for new Digital capabilities and partnerships without considering internal options. In many cases, these options - whether it be in technology, marketing, operations, or sales need to evolve with the changes digital business requires of the organization. Product Management needs to develop relationships with functional leads, build awareness of future digital needs, partner to drive change, and promote investments when requires. They have to aid in the transformation of their colleagues - so that Marketers become digital marketing experts, Technologists become application development, SaaS, mobile, and data experts, and Sales become smarter and more efficient in selling digitally.   

  4. Reconsider Partnerships in the Evolving Digital Ecosystem - Product Managers need to consider how to become the mastermind of connecting internal capabilities with the complex ecosystem of potential partners that may be able to participate, contribute, or take ownership of elements in both the supply or delivery chain. But this isn't a trivial undertaking. Potential partners no longer deliver services in uniform ways that can be compared apples to apples, and the maturity of their services can't be evaluated without sufficient analysis and due diligence. For product managers to be successful evaluating digital partners, they have to consider partnering with internal and external experts in finance, technology, operations, and marketing to evaluate opportunities.

You see that these responsibilities balance activity between customer, internal, and external changes - all evolving targets as digital transforms customer need and industry dynamics.


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5 Things CIO Should Do in First 100 Days of Leading Digital Transformation

I am now one year into my third CIO role where digital transformation was a top priority. It's hard enough to jump into an organization as a new CIO and make an impact in year one and much harder to either lead or be a team member in a transformation program.

Bu that's exactly what I've been tasked to do, and my last several posts come from insights across all three organizations. My post on What Digital Practices Are Needed for Digital Transformation should give CIO and leaders a sense of when specific skills are needed. I've also posted on selecting platforms for digital transformation, and a bit on how to kickoff discussions on digital transformation.


First 100 Days In A New CIO Job


If you're in year one into your role as a CIO or technology executive, this post is for you. It will give you a sense of some of the things you have to look for and change in your first year in order to either lead or be an executive in a transformation program. In fact, chances are you'll have to do some of this in the first 100 days if you're hired with digital transformation as an expectation or stated goal.


The key to year one is a balance of execution (agile), finding efficient ways to learn the keys to the business, developing new talent, challenging the financial status quo, and evolving to a data driven organization. Here are the details:

  1. Find the Agile On Ramp - Even organizations that are already practicing agile, there's a maturity, consistency and culture that needs to be cultivated over time and experience. As I've said in previous posts, agile is a key practice to enable transformation. If the organization isn't practicing agile, then look for teams and projects to develop a beach head practice. If they are practicing agile, then look for teams that are leading in execution and see how to best utilize their skills and their experiences. 

  2. Don't "Learn the business", Develop Relationships - In my experience, it can be difficult to learn all the nuances of a business especially if it has different product lines and customer segments. I find it more beneficial to develop relationships with key customer facing people in the organization and learn the business through their experiences. The key is to find the "right" people - those that are very open to sharing information, or will take you on a customer call, or have ideas that challenge the status quo and may have innovative ideas that can translate to new products and services.

  3. Find the hidden talent - Transformation often requires a steep increase in the number of initiatives and projects being run in parallel. To pull this off, the CIO needs to find individuals with talent and leadership qualities that with mentoring can take on new responsibilities. This means getting to know the organization below the leadership level. Who can you rely on to be the next product owner, technical lead, or business analyst if you want to accelerate new programs?

  4. Review the financials - The hardest part of transformation programs is getting executive buy in, identifying financial returns for investment, and finding funding sources for programs. The CIO has to review with the Finance team IT spend and spending across the firm for places to reduce costs or shift spending to fund transformation projects. Don't expect to find a full business case or ROI just from cost savings, your objective in the earlier days is to find sufficient funding to get the transformation program started.

  5. Identify Underutilized Data - Many organizations collect a lot more data than they can analyze and use for decision making. Review what tools and data finance, marketing, and operations teams are utilizing and identify gaps - data they should be collecting or already have and need to leverage. Then consider developing a self-service BI program as a method to increase the analytics and data science capabilities of the organization. You'll need the data for later rounds of transformation and you'll need the organization to be more data driven in order to succeed in a digital business world.
This is on top of some good advice for CIO in their first 100 days from Gartner, McKinsey, CIO, and other sources.

By the way, this assumes that the CEO and the Board 'get' the digital disruption and the need for digital transformation. If they don't, you have some work cut out ahead of all this to get them understanding the digital trade winds and new ways to think about the business.

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What about Bob? Baby Steps - A Guide to Digital Transformation

You are not going to transform overnight by developing a strategy in PowerPoint and communicating a master plan. You're going to have to take baby steps to get there.

I'm showing a memorable scene from a classic movie. Bob's got issues, and psych Leo Marvin introduces him to the baby step framework. Baby steps to the door, out the office and into the elevator for the very first time. Even small steps can be scary and the scene ends with Bob screaming the entire way down the elevator ride.

But these small steps lead to Bob's transformation and turnaround. Yes he needs a lot of help and mentorship along the way, but his improvements come as he figures things out for himself. Leo doesn't solve Bob's problems or trains him he provides him the tools, frameworks and mentorship for him to slowly transform by managing his fears and learning new skills.

Baby Steps to Big Transformations


Digital and other forms are transformation are no different and only occur when people, organizations and even industries take baby steps toward a hard to define future. It's why I start every transformation with establishing an agile practice because baby steps can be accomplished at every standup, every sprint, and every release. Not just steps forward, but the ability to see, listen, re-evaluate and pivot left or right based on customer feedback.

It's also why Self Service BI and other Citizen Development programs are key to digital transformation. As a CIO, I can't solve everyone's issues or chase all the opportunities but can provide frameworks (agile for all departments!), self service tools, governance and standards to better enable innovation, data driven practices, or efficiency. 

Perhaps there is a third message. If you've seen the whole movie you know that Leo eventually loses his mind; the aggregate impact of Bob seeking help and Leo not getting the vacation he needs. No one said transformation is easy.

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What Practices Are Needed for Digital Transformation

At the end of last year, I asked a fundamentally simple question that's difficult to answer, Should You Try Calculating ROI on Digital Transformation. My answer is yes, but the question is when, to what level of investment, and to what extent.

It's a difficult issue for those driving transformation because the first questions normally asked by seasoned business executives are around costs and ROI. Those driving the transformation know that without some testing of the strategy, expertise in platforms, and maturity of practice, it's really difficult to provide financial estimates with any degree of accuracy.

What Digital Practices Are Needed - And When 


I developed this very simple framework to help define key digital practice areas and when to invest in them as part of a digital transformation.



  • In early Planning Stages it's critical to align executives leading the transformation on vision. It's also important to begin establishing technology platforms through proof of concepts and to develop Agile practices which I believe is fundamental to any transformation. When the business demands financial estimates, it's best to provide cost estimates as "investments" and avoid the trap of calculating ROI and other longer term KPIs. To get "buy in", executives need to market the transformation internally so there are sufficient internal champions and supporters.

  • By Early Execution Stages, hopefully you've won over enough champions to support an investment. Focus now needs to shift to the Customer and understanding needs, personas, market opportunities, and competitive factors. This is in line with developing Product Management disciplines which are key to digital transformations where customer need and opportunities should drive priorities and investment. On the technology side, teams need to mature agile practices (see my posts on Agile Estimation, improving agile team velocity, agile architecture, and QA in agile) and begin DevOps practice areas. This is also the place to start partnering with Marketing on automation and with Sales to instill operational disciplines - no sense transforming if these departments aren't getting ready to sell to digital audiences. Financial analysis should now include cost driven ROI and other KPIs, but revenue projections in this stage is still too early. And in order to achieve an ROI on cost driven deliverables, leaders must focus in getting internal early adopters of new technologies and practices to help drive efficiencies and other operational improvements.

  • In Later Execution Stages, Product Marketing, Digital Marketing, and sales operations become critical in order to test revenue generating ideas and let prospects and customers shape strategy and execution. Organizations will need maturity in digital Sales, and Marketing in order to develop digital businesses. It is also at this point when ROI from transformation investments should include revenue and top line growth.  

  • Transformation occurs when the digital business is outpacing its legacy roots. Digitally transformed businesses typically develop an ecosystem that blur the lines between supply chain, partner, customer, crowd, and employee and both strategy and execution are heavily influenced by this ecosystem. It's at this point where financial maturity needs to drive business decisions on customer segments to target, legacy businesses to shutdown, pricing, bundles, and incentives.

This a highly simplified framework to illustrate that transformation practices need to be staged. The hard part is convincing leaders and the board to be patient with early investments because calculating and then demonstrating ROI can't be accomplished in quarters. Hopefully you are working with a CEO and Board that 'gets' digital disruption.

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2015 Top Posts on Social, Agile and Transformation

In case you missed my end of year countdown, here is the top 5 posts of 2015 on Social, Agile, and Transformation. You can review the longer list and a full year recap on my last post, 2015 Digital Transformation Formula := Agile + DevOps + Data Science = Culture Changes.

Happy 2016 to all my readers. More to come this year on all these topics and maybe a couple of more!

Readers! I love to hear from you. Feel free to comment here with questions or recommended topics or contact me @nyike.


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2015 Digital Transformation Formula := Agile + DevOps + Data Science -> Culture Changes

I covered several topics this year that all relate to efforts CIO, IT Leaders, developers, and engineers should consider in transforming "IT" and leading the business through a digital transformation. On the engineering front, transformation requires more collaborative and agile practices, so I completed a number of posts on Agile and introduced several posts on DevOps. I also continued writing on becoming a data driven organization and the impact of big data, data science, and other data practices has on an organization's ability to transform.

If Agile, DevOps and Data are the practices needed for transformation, then culture change needs to be one of the underlying objectives. So this year, I wrote several posts on how the practices can either kickoff or cultivate changes in how people think, behave, and collaborate. One way to do this is to embrace citizen development and self-service BI platforms and practices to better enable business and operating units.

Finally, my posts toward the end of the year homed in on digital transformation practices.

See you in 2016!


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Should You Try Calculating ROI on Digital Transformation

If it is digital transformation you are seeking, you're probably not going to see the results in the quarter after you complete your first major milestone.

Digital, technology organizations have adapted to agile practices in order to make incremental improvements to the products and processes they support. Product managers have adapted to release Minimally Viable Products and capture customer feedback in order to make better prioritization decisions on how to enhance offerings. Digital marketers employ a toolkit of web, mobile, and social analytics to capture customer engagement and maximize return on marketing investments. All these practices aim to adjust product and practices to improve customer experience, drive revenue, secure offerings and other more substantial pivots.

The Paradox of Calculating ROI in Digital Transformation


But financial practices and thinking remains stuck in quarterly performance objectives and measurable ROI objectives. And therein lies the paradox
  • If milestones delivered through digital transformation can't drive significant quarterly performance changes, then financially driven organizations and leaders will drive digital teams to present longer term ROI projections.
  • Developing multi-year strategic plans, product roadmaps, or technology plans is difficult for many organizations and including financial projections adds complications especially if you are trying to drive a data driven organizational practices. These financial models must include assumptions and projections in years 2-3+ that create significant variability and uncertainty. Assumptions on impacts of  new competitors on revenue, macro markets and technology trends, estimates on workflow or productivity improvements, adoption rate and pricing of customers buying  new revenue programs, and other assumptions.

Digital Transformation ROI or Digital Practices?


So this leaves me a closing question
Do you build ROI stories on projections and financial assumptions knowing all the pitfalls in trying to develop reasonable models that the organization buys into, or do you rely on vision, strong execution, and agile practices to adopt to market conditions and customer feedback to drive you to a cloudy digital business future?
I'm still pondering this one but believes the answer requires a balanced effort between vision, agile execution practices, and nimble financial methodologies. But... (more to come)
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