Best Practices

Product Team Prerequisites for Digital Transformation Success

As technology continues to advance, our preferences as users of these technologies do, too. Consider the evolution of our customer support preferences. In the past, many people only wanted to handle their issues with a product or service by speaking to a live human on the phone. Now, we get frustrated when self-service options like chatbots and automated customer service fail us, forcing us to talk to someone live.

The people who build and manage the digital tools we’ve come to rely on play an integral role in an organization’s digital transformation. For a company that’s looking to improve customers’ digital experience with their business, product leaders act as change agents, leveraging their cross-functional position to help the entire organization navigate these new priorities.

So, what does it take for these efforts to meet—or better, exceed—expectations? When it comes to successful digital transformations, there are certain characteristics that teams should hone.

1. Customer empathy

Digital transformation requires a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. COVID-19 proved that these can change in an instant, making it even more crucial to be dialed into your customer base. This means listening to customer feedback, analyzing how they use the product, and deliberately building with the end user in mind.

When asked what qualities to look for in the people responsible for building or managing digital products, David Cohen, former associate director of global brand equity solutions at Procter & Gamble, echoed this sentiment: “For this type of role, you want people that are empathetic and can really understand users’ or customers’ concerns, because when you understand someone’s needs you will be better able to meet them.”

A digital transformation initiative may require additional resources, so it’s important to think about fostering customer empathy within your existing team and to prioritize it in the hiring process.

2. Data-driven decision making

Product data is one of the most powerful tools at a PM’s disposal, and this information is especially useful when determining how to improve your customers’ digital experience. Knowing how users navigate the product will help you identify any points in their journey where they’re getting stuck, and which features or workflows correlate with positive customer outcomes.

Think about how you and your team can leverage data throughout the entire product development lifecycle—from discovery and roadmapping to feature launches, experimentation, and onboarding. More importantly, consider how you can put these insights into action to improve the experience for users.

At Brady Corporation, for example, product data has been extremely valuable in decision making and ensuring their engineering team is working on the right things. Since their workplace safety software, Link360, is used on an as-needed basis to support customer programs and maintain compliance, they’ve also created in-app guides that explain how to perform key actions in the product in order to ensure the digital customer experience is consistent and users stay engaged.

3. A product mindset

Now that every business needs to consider itself a digital business, there has to be a change in how they operate. Part of that involves adopting a product mindset. More commonly, this means shifting from the idea of projects to products. Whether your company is working to turn existing services into digital products or create new digital offerings from the ground up, these initiatives are not one-and-done projects, but rather products that require ongoing attention.

Since a product is always evolving, its success hinges on constant testing, measurement, and iteration. And regardless of if everyone working on your digital transformation initiative has a product title, it’s still important to adopt the mindset that the work we do on technology is never done.

4. Frequent experimentation

As mentioned above, constant iteration is one of the foundations of modern product teams, since PMs are tasked with running experiments and user tests in order to learn as much as possible about how their product is used. When it comes to digital transformation, though, the challenge for many companies may be getting teams comfortable with this type of frequent experimentation.

As Ami Brenner, a VP of product management, put it: “Getting better at experimentation will allow for more innovation, but the first step is to get people to be okay with running experiments and even running a failed experiment.”

Experimentation also helps uncover new opportunities for innovation that you might not have realized otherwise, which is especially crucial as you’re working to better serve customers through digital channels.

5. Collaboration across teams

The product team is a natural connector among teams. They’re the ones connecting the work and priorities of engineering with teams like marketing, sales, and operations, and for an internal product, they often champion rollout and training and serve as a resource for colleagues in other departments. Since digital transformation initiatives require buy-in from the entire organization, this collaborative nature is key to success.

In fact, when asked what qualities are important in the people responsible for building or managing digital products, Bob Zurek, CTO at patient engagement platform Millennia, highlighted collaboration skills: “I think one thing that’s very, very important is passion—a passion for what they do, a passion for what they’re building. I think the other thing is great collaboration skills, because they have to interact with a lot of different people across the organization, never mind the target audience. You have to have good soft skills.”