With the fast advancements in digital technology, we are all facing rapid change from our personal lives but also in our professional careers. We see process, skills and new positions emerging every day to support this increasingly digital world. In fact, over the past 10 years, the share of households with access to the internet in the European Union (EU) has increased steadily to reach 90% in 2019. And now with a push for remote working, that number is likely to continue growing. One of these new in-demand skills is Digital Product Management. For decades, companies that design new products have managed the creative, execution and commercial process through shared management between the various departments, sometimes leaving the coordination to a manager. However, the creation of digital products now responds to different logics.
What is Digital Product Management
Digital product management is the activity of overseeing a digital product from initiation to execution, and beyond. It means managing the creation and launch process of a digital product but also the monitoring of user satisfaction. These “digital products” are apps, software tools or digital platforms.
A few years ago, the development of a digital product, such as a software or a website, was strongly influenced by attention to safety, functionality and stability in its operation. The objective for example of creating a warehouse management software was to use a programming language, trying to eliminate non-essential functions to create a linear code, and the product was delivered to the customer.
Currently, digital transformation has turned the process upside down. Today the new digital product is designed by identifying the characteristics that best meet the needs of users. In this way, it is not a simple type of product, and even if well designed, the successful outcomes are the ones designed exactly for the market demand.
What does a Digital Product Manager do?
The main hero of the digital product management process is undoubtedly the Digital Product Manager, who coordinates the teams and plays the role of a mediator between the target users and the technicians, communicating the needs of consumers and translating these needs into new product functionalities that the technicians are called upon to design and build.
Other professionals are involved in the digital product management process, including developers, content designers, data scientists and SEO specialists. Basically, it is up to the Digital Product Manager to oversee a products life cycle.
Some of the different key activities would be:
- Creating product roadmaps
- User research
- Rapid prototyping
- Agile and lean management practices
- Market testing methods
The Stages of Digital Product Management
The digital product creation process develops in various stages each designed to bring better results within the end product. When this process is done well it will save time, money and a lot of frustration for everyone involved including the user.
Analysis of the customer, their needs and the customer journey
Each project for the creation of a digital product, be it a website, an app or software – is generally based on a rather in-depth preliminary analysis, that should answer:
– Who the prospect is and what they need
– What budget you have available
– What is the breakeven point
– Whether the product can be part of a more complex project
Sketches and wireframing
After thoroughly analyzing the market and users, and identifying the value element of the new product, the next step is to make a wireframe – a schematic illustration of the contents of the project – that you want to create. It may seem like a waste of time, but actually drawing detailed sketches of the product helps enormously in its development. A sketch is useful for internal communication on the digital product that is going to be created, a sharing tool with the rest of the team that will help to define ideas and organize all professionals efficiently.
Then it is time to plan and make sure you have all the necessary resources. Understand front-end and back-end development times, the professionals involved and all related costs. The roadmap, resources and prototyping will then be planned. In this phase, the use of the Agile method, in particular the SCRUM framework and allows you to efficiently manage and share all the phases of the Digital Product Management process.
Design of the user interface
Sketching and wireframing are processes closely related to UI design. The design of the user interface is a process that concerns the architecture of the digital product, usability and design, and summarizes all the baggage of information collected previously. The goal of this phase is always to satisfy the user. Is the design intuitive? Do users find their way around easily? These are some of the questions to consider at this stage, as the product begins to take shape.
The clickable prototype
Once the UI design is done, it can be turned into a clickable mockup. Sketches, wireframes, and UI design made it possible to generate a clickable prototype of something approaching the final version of the product. At this stage, tests play an important role. Whether using friends, colleagues, the numerous online services for testing by real users or A / B tests, in this phase the prototype is used to remove usability problems. This stage of the process is iterative and the digital product manager will continue to monitor usability issues even after the product launch.
Code development requires time and specific programming skills, identified in the planning phase. This phase will be different depending on whether it is an online service or an app. The applications are much easier to distribute, but they require good development skills and a substantial budget, in order to be able to distribute them on the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android guaranteeing the same appearance and identical functionality. The main advantage of apps is that they can be created using already available technology.
Quality is an essential element in Digital Product Management. A digital product, like an app, cannot function only partially: either it is functional to the needs of those who use it or, simply, it is destined to be immediately uninstalled. Even a tool that operates on the web, if badly conceived or difficult to use will be immediately penalized by users and by Google. The QA process, or quality assurance, is an integral part of Digital Product Management, especially in the test phases, in the accompanying documentation, such as institutions and in the management of user feedback.
Launch, maintenance and support
After the quality control process is finished the product is in its final stage, the app can be sold in the online stores or the site published online. Depending on the complexity of the product, the maintenance phase may include scheduling continuous updates. Not all product features are generally released at the same time. The core of the web or mobile application should come out at launch while the rest of the features should be released progressively, in accordance with the principles of the Agile development methodology.
The first step to becoming a Digital Product Manager
The Digital Product Manager is a complex role that requires a lot of knowledge and skills but the one thing that is at the base of it all is Project Management. You absolutely must have updated Project Management skills. Just like the digital product manager a Project Manager is the main reference point throughout the different stages of a project:
- Monitoring & Controlling
In both roles, you will use the same project management tools and methodologies. In fact the definition of a project manager is a professional who successfully starts, plans, designs, executes, monitors, controls and closes projects, both big and small. They manage and coordinate teams keeping them motivated, removing roadblocks and allocating resources, sound familiar. And Project Management requires a similar skill set:
- Analytical and organisational skills
- People skills
- Critical thinking
- Stakeholder management