About the gap between hands-on product management and company strategy

During the last couple of months I have been asking myself again and again why there is such a big gap between a product owner and the company strategy. You might say: “wait, there is no gap there. How can you claim this?” I have had a couple of interesting discussions with people on different levels (from a startup CEO to C-Level executives). In many cases one gets to hear: “our company vision, strategy, business plan & top level product roadmap are done already. Now we need a CPO to execute it.” Well, at this point, I ask how did you guys come to this roadmap? Here are typical answers:

  • We have identified our competitors so we know what features we need
  • Don´t worry about this. Just make sure to execute
  • We need to achieve our business KPIs and this is what needs to be done to achieve them
  • We don´t want you to restart this discussion. We have no time to lose!
  • etc. etc.

So either these companies already have great product management (and therefore won´t need senior level support) or they need senior product management (but aren´t aware of it). In my opinion this comes back to a misperception of the Product Manager´s role. If we believe that there is a shortcut to understanding the problems of our users by iteratively building and testing potential solutions we are wrong.

Just read today an interesting chapter of the book “Services Marketing” by Zeithaml, Bitner & Gremler. It also discussed the impact on technology on services (along with their framework of four customer to provider gaps). The paths to get closer to what matters most to customers have changed fundamentally. Please keep in mind that technology is not an end in itself.

Therefore the Product Manager is definitely not the “tech guy” (I have already received this feedback after a discussion: “you are a very technical person” – those engineers who know me will be surprised about this kind of feedback, I am sure). A Product Manager should be the “glue” between all of these aspects.

As @BrianSolis has put it in a 60 second video (SXSW in 60 seconds): 2013 is all about making technology serve us instead of technology chase us. This is the moment of great product management. And believe me, these requirements will push companies to undergo transformation. Believing the Product Managers will only have impact on their nice little “feature sandboxes” would be like perceiving them as harmless paper tigers. If they are like that, it is time to fire them!


How to recognize a truly “digital” company

All discussions around “digital” and the trending role of a CDO don´t really elaborate on one point: what does it take to become digital? As posted earlier, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on Marketing. Plus, one must not forget that digital isn’t about simply being online, this is history. Companies need to use technology to solve customer problems better than others. I would like to focus on a couple of aspects in this post.

  1. SOCIAL: it is all about social. Social in the sense that it is all about human interactions making your digital products more relevant & efficient. This means dynamic (and not static) products. And, please, LISTEN to your users on social media. Listen to what they say, what they really care about, what they promote, what they ignore. Make sure, your mission has a credible purpose (yes, this is getting into the area of branding).
  2. (BIG) DATA: it is all about being able to compute large amount of data and to use it for more relevant & efficient experiences. Also this results in dynamic (and not static) products.
  3. OPEN: consider your destination website to go away latest in a couple of years. Users simply won’t go back to www.yourproduct.com. Think carefully about what really is your core asset and don’t try to market your destination site. Let users interact with your content, build dynamic and information that can be truly shared. But also let application developers build products based on your data. Build a “virtual product team”.
  4. MULTIPLE SCREENS: this is not about building your destination site for PC, laptop, tablet & smartphone. It is much more about 1.-3. Build experiences that are fluid and adapt. Product solutions are only up to date if they address a particular user problem. And, guess what: users are more and more getting the power of technology. They expect more and more and their behavior is changing rapidly.
  5. USER CENTRICITY: with all the potential of technology and design as described above you will go no where if don’t seriously change the way how you build your products. Focus on the problems of your customers that are worth to be solved. And then iteratively find a viable & scalable solution. Don´t fall into the “business trap” aka you believe you do understand the market by counting competitor´s features and calculation market shares. Take the extra product development mile. Either you do it now or later. But you will have to do it or you will die.  And: this is NOT a marketing task.

And please don’t make the mistake to believe that Facebook & Co. will go away. Yes, their usage is kind of declining in some markets. I remember a discussion with someone pretty senior in my previous company who literally said: “Jörg, don´t worry too much about social. Facebook is just a fashion. It will go away.” Even if Facebook went away, the points above won´t. Is your company really up to the digital challenge? As a CEO you have to care…