I’ve been building digital experiences for as long as there have been digital experiences and I’ve enjoyed evolving as the platforms & underlying technologies have evolved. I came to advertising in the ’90s from a background in technology, computers and computer science, so I began my career with “software development” as my frame of reference.
In the early days of building out these brand-new digital capabilities for agencies that had no experience “building things that needed to DO things” I advocated for a need to take a software development approach. The success of our efforts were going to be gauged by how well the things we built accomplished the stuff that our clients wanted them to DO (book a reservation, book a tee time, sign up for communications, etc) as well as how well they were designed. We had to broaden our thinking beyond how things looked and include how well they performed as well. This led to rigor and process; a good start.
At the time, we were considering them products but we weren’t necessarily calling them products, and as a result we’re weren’t putting product thinking behind them.
Fast forward a decade or two and now you’ve got entire classes of products (web apps, mobile apps, custom enterprise apps) that exist to solve operational challenges, drive growth, provide a value as a service, increase revenue, decrease friction, and contribute to a positive brand experience. Make no mistake, they’re very real products in every sense of the word and warrant the appropriate strategic product approach.
As a result of banging the “digital transformation” drum the last 10-15 years, we’ve all collectively benefitted from essentially the combination of free money (in the form of low interest rates and the venture capital faucet), the anxiety of transformation FOMO, and the philosophy of “let’s just get all the platforms and products in place and our business will transform into this digital behemoth that’ll be unstoppable” and lost sight of the goal… the outcome.
More importantly we’ve lost sight of the accountability to the goal. Everything was driven by the need to sell and install bigger and bigger platforms, driven by bigger and bigger ideas (“data is the new oil!”) and drifting further and further away from the need to focus on what the resulting products need to do in order for the business to consider them successful (whatever that metric may be).
So I think it’s entirely appropriate that, in the current climate of post-covid economic correction/contraction, we’re seeing an increasing focus on the role of product leadership. It makes perfect sense. Didn’t you BUY all of these platforms and tools to create opportunities for growth? Aren’t you looking for ways to reduce friction? Acquire new customers? These are real goals that have a real impact on the business, far more than the somewhat vague and ambiguous “transformation” goal. Transform into what? For what reason?
Where Product Minded Leadership Steps In
And it’s in this context that I think the key to future success for most businesses will be to wrap their heads around the notion of product management. By focusing on outcomes, the tools and platforms fall into the background and become enabling capabilities to support business success.
What are you looking to DO with all of this technology? How will you determine if it’s successful? How will you pivot if it isn’t achieving the goal you’re seeking? How will you operationalize innovation as a need-to-have in order to create competitive advantage rather than treating it like an add-on? How will you expand into the white-space that grows your business? How will you solve your customers’ challenges and provide value? What makes you unique and why should I care? What differentiates you from your competitors?
These are some of the most important questions facing businesses today, and one of the best ways to get a handle on them is by focusing on outcomes while iterating over your products to ensure that you’re holding yourself and your goals accountable.
So What’s That Got To Do With Me?
Glad you asked. As I said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed evolving, and my whole career I’ve embraced change, evolution, and transformation as the life-blood of a healthy mindset. I’ve sought ways and opportunities to challenge myself to keep my natural curiosity and marry it with a spoonful of straying outside of my comfort zone. It’s why I made the leap from Creative Technology, Advertising and Global Brand work to Consultancy… the meat and potatoes of the “build shit” world. I wanted to level-up my ability to build and deliver solid, well-crafted mobile products, and so I joined the right organization at the right time.
Now, as 2023 comes to a close, and 2024 starts up fresh, I’ve decided to once again take a leap, invest in the future, and formalize the product mindset. I’ve enrolled in Product Management Certification and Product Leadership Certification at The Product School, one of the premiere learning institutions in the world for codifying and certifying the growing field of Product Management.
I’m beyond excited and I plan on pouring that excitement here. Over the Winter and Spring I’m going to be learning a LOT and I’m going to be very excited to share. In the coming months I’ll be looking to expand on some of the following ideas and concepts:
- What’s product management?
- How do we understand and set product objectives?
- Understanding customers and their challenges
- Creating and validating opportunity hypotheses
- Defining your product
- Developing your product
- Marketing your product and understanding the marketing landscape
- Product Iteration and delivery
This is a huge personal and professional journey for me (not to mention a significant investment which is where the leap of faith meets the asphalt), and I’m really looking forward to all of the thoughts and conversations that this’ll experience will spark. I’ve enjoyed writing about comic books, music, cycling, and video games, but this will be something a little different. I don’t really know where this expedition will take me, but I know at the end of it, I’m going to be smarter, better, and more prepared to lead the types of strategic conversations that drive real outcomes.
Look out 2024!