e-Book

The Product Cloud Chapter Book

Introduction: A Cloud is Born

Disruption. It’s an often overwrought word to describe a normal change process. Yet in the recent history of digital products, it’s probably an apt description. In short order, we’ve seen the complexity of digital products increase, the massive growth of available product and user data, and a complete rethinking of how products are purchased and deployed.

Complexity has largely come from the addition of new screens. Digital products aren’t just designed for one device anymore. They have to work across an array of devices and retain context as users “multi-screen” between desktop, tablet, phone, and back again.

Data has become an enormous differentiator in digital products. The best products leverage specific user profiles, context, and behavior to deeply personalize the experience for every visit. To the end user this feels like the product “knows” them, and is adapting to their needs.

Software as a service (SaaS) has become so common that it’s basically the assumed deployment model at this point. The displacement of traditional software licensing and deployment has been swift and sudden. SaaS has made software adoption much easier, but it’s also dramatically reduced customer switching costs.

Taken together it’s easy to see how significantly the software industry has changed. This disruption is impacting how digital products are developed, and it’s giving rise to a whole new set of tools to support the product creation and improvement process. This e-book takes a deep look at how the new world of software is impacting product teams (product management, executive leadership, and user experience professionals), and the new software stack they’re leveraging to get jobs done.

The changing face of product management

No one has felt these shifts more than digital product teams. Product management today is a significantly different profession than it has been historically. The archetype of the turtleneck-clad visionary is giving way to much wonkier, data-driven experimenters. We see this in the way product decisions are being made, and how product teams are quantifying success.

A significant amount of the product management function revolves around decision making-deciding what to build, which features to prioritize, and which stakeholders to satisfy. In the past these decisions have been largely intuitive, or shaped by the most vocal stakeholder. Successful PMs were praised for their intuition and their ability to give customers what they didn’t know they wanted, rather than what they asked for.

Today, we’re seeing a shift to a much more data-driven approach. The growing availability of usage data coupled with broad user feedback is providing input into decision making, and justification for product direction. Questions like “How much is that feature actually used?” or “How many customers will get value from this?” are now a regular part of the discussion.

Often, success to the product team meant shipping product (or shipping product on schedule). The focus was on getting something out the door, with limited attention or follow-up once a product went live. This made some sense in the world of perpetual licenses, but not anymore. Today software isn’t sold once, it’s sold every month, quarter, or year over and over again as users renew their subscription. As a result, product teams are becoming much more focused on continuous delivery of user value.

Products and features that deliver progressively more user value are those considered successful. As a result, the approach to product and feature delivery is changing as well. New features and prototypes are often tested with small samples of users, or in variations, to quickly assess their value before shipping broadly.

The evolving product management toolset

The tools used by the product team have grown and evolved with the role. It wasn’t all that long ago that there were no purpose-built software tools that supported product management functions. Instead generic tools were leveraged-roadmaps were built in Powerpoint, feature backlogs in Excel, and everything from Sharepoint to Post-it notes on a whiteboard were used for project management.

Today, product teams have a much broader array of solutions that they can use. These tools are tailored to product creation functions, and as a result provide much greater utility. Quietly, a sizeable ecosystem of tools across a number of different categories have become available.

As with any nascent software ecosystem, there are a lot of point solutions, and half-defined categories. Are code repositories or issue tracking tools a relevant part of the PM stack? Possibly. As the new discipline of product management continues to evolve and harden the most relevant categories and tools will come into focus.

Towards an integrated product cloud

Integration naturally increases the value of any functional toolset as end-to-end workflows can be orchestrated across systems, with a common, shared data set. The tools supporting the product management role are starting to move towards a more integrated solution. This pattern mirrors what has happened in other functional stacks.

Marketing automation has taken cross-channel advertising and campaigns (along with analytics and attribution) and brought them together in integrated workflows for marketing teams. Large solution ecosystems that support sales activities live on top of, or leverage CRM data. The creation of each of these “clouds” has been driven by increasing complexity and change in the functional roles they support. And, each of these clouds has improved execution and efficiency.

As the product management role evolves, a product creation lifecycle built around data, feedback, iteration, and experimentation is taking hold. Each of the subsequent sections in the e-book will explore in-depth the key workflows that are part of this process. We’ll look at how they help product teams become more value-focused, and how specific tools and integration points are emerging to support them.

THE PRODUCT CREATION LIFECYCLE

As the focus of product management shifts from product delivery to value creation, a new approach to digital product creation is taking shape. It’s a deeply iterative approach that tightly closes the loop with users. It’s built around data, experimentation, and user engagement.

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