From Zero to Hero: How Product Management Can Transform Your IT Department
Utilizing the Product Management discipline yields big results
“Give me $3M dollars and I’ll build you a million-dollar solution” said, no one ever. Yet, running IT with a cost-center mentality often leads to this kind of thinking. And while there have been great improvements in IT project success rates over the last few years, in 2019, Mike Sisco of CIO reported that even an optimistic 35% failure rate is a serious issue for IT organizations, who need to shrink this down to 10%, to be operating at a 90% success rate.
And while on-time, on-schedule rates have improved, “the alignment between business and IT has gotten much, much worse,” according to Minda Zetlin of CIO. IT often experiences sporadic innovation, lower than expected solution adoption, poor customer satisfaction, high support costs, and fails to deliver compelling roadmaps for future growth. On top of this, competitors continue to outpace you. These results are not the fault of your engineering or delivery teams—they are the result of how you establish, fund, and track your expected outcomes.
What’s really at stake? Revenue & Growth
IT has grown up from simply driving organizational efficiency into becoming a revenue enabler. Digital transformation is the path to new markets, new business models, and new revenue. Technology is the critical link in this new economy, and IT leadership is poised to lead innovation into this frontier.
Whether connecting existing data to new revenue streams, such as digitizing a product or service; or selling data-driven insights, to running a platform business, or even moving into new channels such as online retailers, a modern IT department is the key for a company to transform its business, allowing them to compete and thrive in the coming years.
Critical to this success is the ability to successfully bridge IT with business, identify the problems with the greatest business value, and prioritize the work of technology teams to deliver the right results at the right time.
Enter Product Management
Utilizing the Product Management discipline can enable IT departments to operate like a business, creating more value than they cost, and proving it quarter after quarter.
Product Management is a strategic discipline that emphasizes a single owner of an asset from strategy to delivery to end of life. This role bridges IT and business, speaking the language of both while delivering continuous measurable business value through technology.
On the business side
Product Managers develop a deep understanding of the problems, opportunities, and strategic needs of the BU. This goes far beyond “ticket-taking” of requests—it involves defining personas, jobs-to-be-done, problem statements, and quantifying the business opportunity of then solving these problems. Finally, they plot the path of change management needed to maximize adoption.
On the IT side
Product Managers involve technology teams early on, providing deep insights into the BU problems, allowing technologists to innovate the solutions. As a team, they then go on to define the roadmap for future value creation. Product Managers develop the P&L (V&L really, for “value & loss”), ensuring that IT Leadership has the information they need to build a competitive portfolio of solutions.
PMs stick with the asset
Finally, Product Managers stay with their asset, performing ongoing trade-off decisions to reduce barriers to adoption, and ensure maximum business value creation over the entire lifecycle of the asset.
Product Managers are either businesspeople who are technically fluent, or technology people who are extremely well-versed in business. Product Managers in the technology industry often have both an engineering degree and a business degree.
Do you really need Product Management?
Here is a quick quiz for your asset leaders:
- Can they describe their asset’s business outcome (value created) for the company?
- What metrics are they using to track this business outcome?
- How is the product performing today against these metrics?
- What are the most important things to do next (their roadmap) to move these metrics?
- How does the asset contribute to organizational goals and strategy?
IT Leaders need this critical information to prioritize work and acquire the resources needed to build global platforms that will drive future business. And while these basic questions often cannot be answered by either IT or the business team, they are exactly the kinds of questions Product Managers think about every day.
Common problems we encounter include:
- Projects that had initial success metrics in place, but no one remains after delivery to track and report on those metrics or prioritize ongoing updates.
- Product Owners who know the value their customers are looking for, but don’t know how to convert this into value for the whole organization, and thus are unable to prioritize at a portfolio level.
- Product Owners who are in ticket-taking mode—they don’t know why they are defining some features, just that they were told to do so. No research into the problem or business value, no innovation, no prioritization is taking place.
- Teams who are using scrum as a time-boxed development tool to deliver on a preset solution definition in a project charter. There is no room for re-prioritization based on changes due to competition, shifts in strategy, or environmental changes in the business units.
- No one is allocated to build a change management plan to ensure successful adoption.
The overall theme is a lack of leadership at the asset level. None of the above conditions will deliver ongoing business value aligned to strategic goals, nor will they allow IT Leadership to measure current conditions, evaluate ROI, or intercept a problem before it becomes a failure.
While Agile focuses on customer outcomes such as usability, performance, and maintainability, Product Management ties customer outcomes back to key strategic business outcomes. These include new revenue, security, consumer engagement, or replacing outdated infrastructure, thus ensuring that all work remains focused on the customer problems that have the highest return on investment.
Does Product Management make any real difference?
According to Andy Rowsell-Jones, a Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, groups that make the shift to a Product Management mindset have realized:
- Closer engagement between IT and business
- More consumer-centric culture in IT
- Accelerated delivery of new features, and more
The question becomes, can your organization afford not to become product-centric?
Finding the right solution for you
For technology people who want to increase their business skills, our Certified Product Manager
Online Course and Exam teaches you how to build a business case taking a strategic perspective, define personas and the problem space, how to build roadmaps, and how to drive product adoption.
For the business-minded
For business people who want to increase their technical fluency, our Agile Certified Product Manager and Product Owner Online Course and Exam teaches you Agile fundamentals, how to break down a roadmap into release cycles, how to write epics and user stories, and how to work with Scrum, Kanban, and other Agile teams effectively.
If you need a combination of the two, we’re happy to build a custom course for you to target your specific needs.
About the Author
Colleen O’Rourke is a Principal Consultant/Trainer at 280 Group.
Colleen has 20 years of experience in the technology business, working in engineering as well as program and product management in startups to Fortune 500 companies. Colleen’s diverse experience includes complex CAD software platforms, project management SAAS systems, and hardware products and consumables manufactured in the US. 280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.