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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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.