The unpredictability of the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought CIOs to a pivotal moment: Their companies have discovered how heavily they depend on IT. In response, IT organizations have already begun delivering IT services with an increasing level of customer focus, effectiveness, and responsiveness. And visionary CIOs and IT leaders are now building contingency plans and preparing their organizations for inevitable future changes — thinking through operational systems, capabilities, and requirements for the long term and exploring ways to expand IT impact. When it comes to expanding IT impact in the post-COVID era, CIOs must consider the following questions:
- What are the new, urgent, and compelling demands of the enterprise for IT?
- How can we better align IT products and services to meet those demands?
- What changes do we need to make to support and accelerate the move to a more agile IT organization?
IT product management, a practice that strategically drives the development, market launch, and continuous improvement of a company’s products, can help answer these questions. It creates an adaptable, customer-centric IT organization that’s prepared to adapt even before the epidemic ends.
Accelerating recovery with IT product management
Product management approaches to IT transformation initiatives require IT to treat its deliverables — everything from desktop support to a digitally enabled revenue-generating service — as internal “products.” IT product management organization recognizes that IT is an internal service business that creates real business value through its competitive service portfolio.
To accelerate recovery, IT leaders need to drive business outcomes and prioritize their teams’ activities with limited employees and budget. Here are three key ways product management can help move the IT organization forward:
1. Keeping pace with changes
The essence of product management is change management, which helps organizations understand and manage the changes to their products as they evolve. Product teams are constantly iterating on their product and feature set based on emerging market opportunities and customer feedback. IT product management gives IT organizations a repeatable change process with visibility and traceability.
Action item: Use iterative development methodologies that include continuous delivery and product extension to allow faster, more flexible response to new demands
2. Focusing on high-level priorities
IT organizations need a holistic view of all workstreams to ensure that they focus on the right things. IT product management provides a framework for solving important problems as opposed to just finishing different projects.
Action item: To adapt IT products and services to the changing demand, start creating a roadmap by determining the “three big things” you want to accomplish in the next quarter. Then, decide which services are best aligned with those goals.
3. Scaling and sustaining change
The pandemic provides IT leaders with an opportunity for IT organizations to break outdated processes. When confronting unanticipated situations, IT leaders can encourage staff members to think like product managers. The product management thinking will have value beyond the current crisis and help scale and sustain the change in uncertain times.
Action item: Allow autonomy, encourage creative problem-solving approaches, and empower employees to create custom workflows that automate their routine tasks.
Best practices for implementing IT product management
IT organizations need to implement organizational change that assesses IT culture, aligns leadership, maps funding strategy, develops meaningful measurement, and enables IT personnel growth that will over time translate into an IT product management capability culture. But how to begin the process?
Move from project to product focus
Moving from project to product focus requires a concentration on the needs of IT customers, aligning IT products and services to meet these needs. Project management is critical but insufficient for delivering a successful product that enables achievement of a specified business outcome. IT product management, on the other hand, manages IT services and solutions as products from ideation to retirement while addressing the business value to IT customers.
To bridge the gap between what business customers want and what IT delivers, IT organizations can use customer- and product-focused practices like design thinking to frame problems and their solutions from the customers’ perspective and ensure user-centric product and service design; value stream mapping to identify where customer value is added and consumed; lean start-up practices (leveraging customers, partners, employees, and community) to validate product/service ideas; and touchpoint mapping or customer journey frameworks to understand how customers interact with the business.
Propose a vision and plan for IT product management
IT leaders must provide a destination for their team, lay out a plan for getting there, and make sure that everyone is on the path. A product-driven IT organization requires changes in thinking and behavior at all levels of IT and the enterprise. Effective vision statements and detailed plans will shape the direction of IT, drive needed culture changes, and align IT priorities with business needs. The vision should be challenging yet believable, grounded in business impact and outcomes, and offer clear benefits to all stakeholders. When thinking about IT’s vision and plan, consider the organization’s current capabilities in terms of IT financial management, IT portfolio management, and IT analytics and data management.
Adopt and publish key success metrics
The success of IT product management depends on how well the product goals and metrics are designed and then how well they are communicated to stakeholders. It’s essential for CIOs and line of business executives to agree on a set of metrics to measure the speed and success of IT initiatives. Traditional IT measurement, with its long-term focus on efficiency metrics for managing infrastructure, applications, and components, is important but not adequate to measure how much value IT contributes to the business. IT product management focuses on business performance metrics that measure success from a customer and business standpoint. Consider including product engagement metrics like product usage/adoption rate, feature usage rate, retention rate, and quality.
Embed product management skills and practices
As IT organizations look for ways to innovate more rapidly, product management expertise becomes essential. Steering an IT innovation project from a market vision to a digital product and ultimately into a profitable business contribution requires the skills and practices of traditional product management. Each project will need a strong value proposition, product roadmaps, prioritization of business outcomes, and defined KPIs.
Traditional product management roles have been neglected in many IT organizations, but in the post-pandemic world, they are essential as IT manages vital digital transformation initiatives. IT leaders must demonstrate leadership and center on customer needs by continually maximizing the value of services and solutions throughout every stage of every product lifecycle. This mindset fosters a product-driven culture and builds empathy, generates insights, and maximizes investments throughout the enterprise.