Product Management and Digital Transformations

Steve Johnson
Product Growth Leaders
4 min readMar 15

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Many companies today are engaged in some form of transformation. They’re called different things: agile transformation, digital transformation, transition from project to product, product-led transformation, adopting “product thinking.” You can almost tell what books and articles your leadership is reading based on their proposed transformation.

No matter what you call it, transformation is organizational change.

However, transformations too often fail.

Transformations often fail because they focus on adopting a specific method within a single department. Firms hire a training company to conduct a two- or three-day seminar to learn the method. And then are surprised when transformation doesn’t happen.

Because training is just one part of a transformation.

Training ain’t transformation.

Why transformation fails

Transformation fails when one or two departments — typically development and product management — adopt a methodology in isolation.

One team planned an agile transformation to “fix development.” But it turned out the development team was already agile. Their problem was the leadership, who wanted schedules and estimates and ROI calculations for each feature. And they were constantly changing their minds on the product strategy.

The agile team lead said, “We’re practicing what we call ‘requirements aging.’ We don’t work on anything for a month — to see if it gets replaced by a new #1 priority.”

Product teams have adopted agile, but the organization is still working the old way.

To use a favorite consulting line, “How’s that working for you?”

Creating products or content or code is a craft, not a science. You never really know how long a creative endeavor will take. How long does it take to create an article or a song or a feature?

As they say, “Nothing seems difficult to people who don’t have to do it.”

Today’s empowered product teams research the market, build a backlog of problems to solve, and then work on the most important items based on business priority. This holds true for product features, development efforts, and marketing tasks.

Yet the leadership still issue mandates on scope and schedule. Marketing teams still insist they must know the specifics of all the features months in advance. Salespeople and services teams still demand feature commitments to close deals. Every team wants specific dates for features in the roadmap.

Companies adopt a digital transformation because the old ways no longer achieve desired outcomes. After all, isn’t that what’s driving your transformation?

Transformation is a process, not an event.

Transformation is organizational, not departmental.

A guide to transformation

Transformation can be a complex process that involves a significant change in an organization’s culture, processes, and technology. Here are some keys to a successful digital transformation.

A clear and compelling vision

A successful digital transformation requires a clear and compelling vision that aligns with the organization’s mission, values, and strategic objectives. This vision should be communicated effectively to all stakeholders, and inspire and motivate them to embrace the change.

Executive leadership and sponsorship

Digital transformation requires strong executive leadership and sponsorship. The leadership team must fully commit to the transformation and provide the necessary resources, support, and direction to ensure its success.

A comprehensive strategy

A comprehensive strategy is essential for a successful digital transformation. This strategy should include a roadmap that outlines the transformation’s goals, objectives, and milestones. It should also include a plan for addressing potential challenges and risks.

A culture of innovation

A culture of innovation is critical to a successful digital transformation. Organizations should encourage and support experimentation, risk-taking, and collaboration. This will help create a culture that is open to change and can adapt to new technologies and ways of working.

Agile methodology

Agile methodology is a project management approach that emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and continuous improvement. This approach is particularly useful for digital transformation projects because it enables organizations to respond quickly to changes and adapt their plans as necessary.

Data-informed decision-making

Digital transformation generates a lot of data, and organizations should use this data to make informed decisions. Data-informed decision-making helps organizations identify trends, opportunities, and potential issues, enabling them to optimize their operations and improve their customer experience.

Employee training and development

Digital transformation requires employees to develop new skills and ways of working. Organizations should provide training and development opportunities to ensure employees have the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the new digital environment.

Rethink your objective

I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. — Dwight D Eisenhower

What is your goal for transformation? Do you hope to do what you always did but somehow faster? That’s easy: hire more people. Otherwise, you must reconsider your transformation objective: Be responsive to changing business and market needs.

One of the key tenets of business agility is “responding to change over following a plan.” That means plans are fluid. They change. You cannot predict the availability of deliverables months in advance if you change those deliverables frequently.

If you want to make a change that sticks:

  • People must know why they’re changing.
  • People must have the skills and tools to change.
  • People in all teams must support the change.

Transformation is a process. It requires alignment and support in all departments. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Align your team objectives and processes to transform from what you were to what you want to be.

For more, download our free eBook How to Achieve Product Success.

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Steve Johnson
Product Growth Leaders

author, speaker, consultant, guitar player. Removing chaos from product management since 1996. Learn how at www.productgrowthleaders.com