Depending on the context, digital transformation could mean different things, and not all organizations are adapting well to this change.
Ahead of our upcoming roundtable Why Product Management is Key to Digital Transformation, we are doing quick interviews with our guest speakers. Today we spoke with Inês Liberato, product coach at Founders Factory, to learn more about her views on the topic of the role of product managers in digital transformation.
airfocus: Hi Inês. Tell us a bit about yourself and your product manager journey!
Inês: As a teenager, I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, because my interests were always very broad. So I experimented a lot of things, from having my own cake design business (amongst other jobs) in Lisbon, to moving to London and becoming the Head of HR and Operations for a retail brand in the UK.
Then I decided to help a friend with this marketing project where she worked, a start-up. I'd never worked in a software / digital company, so I wasn't familiar with its roles, but when I attended the product induction meeting, I had a real life lightbulb moment: this is exactly what I've been looking for. I always had this creative side, with a human-centered and story-telling approach, but I enjoyed the operational, strategic and analytical side of things - this felt like the perfect match.
After having a wide exposure to different businesses, today I work as a product coach for Founders Factory - an incubator and accelerator studio. I've been working with great ideas and great founders.
We also have our own ideas that we internally generate and match them with founders. Seeing as something grows from an idea into a fully fledged organization, it's incredibly rewarding.
airfocus: The pandemic has increased the pace of digital transformation. So how do you think that organizations are managing to deal with this shift?
Inês: Digital transformation is quite a broad term that can mean different things depending on which industry we're talking about and how the customer is acquiring a company's products or services. Think of a difference between a brick and mortar shop versus a gym, or a B2B software company.
And then it depends on what stage of the digital transformation a company was at. For companies that were already in a good enough position, it was definitely a turning point which helped speed things up - especially if the only issues they were seeing were related to lack of adoption around new technologies, for example.
However, companies that were not in a very good place, it is more likely that the pandemic slowed things down. Due to the initial uncertainty, a lot of initiatives, from innovation labs to consultants, were set aside as it was a cost businesses weren't sure they were able to support.
airfocus: What role do you think product management and product management tools play in helping digital transformation?
Inês: From my experience, the biggest role of the PM in this is to push the organization to be constantly looking past the people within the organization. Say, an organization that is preparing itself for a digital transformation, it is highly likely that a lot of the decision making in terms of what products to build, and the releasing of those products, etc., will happen internally.
But then the product person will think: “Okay, but we are not the people who will actually be impacted by this transformation”. For example, if the digital transformation includes updating the product offering, we need to see how people are using this product, what kind of problems they're facing, and what is their context.
And then obviously, the PM platforms do an excellent job of bringing this information back to the organization and put it in a way that is accessible to everyone. For example, a lot of organizations do product discovery and the documents stay in JIRA as a backlog. And no one from marketing can have access to JIRA.
So having product tools that support this kind of information transparency across the organization can be very powerful in the digital transformation context.
airfocus: There’s been a shift from project management to product management in internal PM. Why do you think this is?
Inês: I think that there's not necessarily a shift per se, but more of a realization that you need both. In larger organizations, there are multiple products to run, you still need someone who has an overview to make sure that everything is well packaged. So having that strong project management and strong program managers is still quite important.
And at the same time, you need a group of product people to question all these great ideas. Why? What problems are we solving? Are we doing the best thing for the market today? For our customers and users? How does this fit in the whole context? Do we need all of this? We see a lot of focus in delivering and shipping things. And there's very little time or space for people to question “How are we going to maintain this?”. That’s where the product person comes in.
airfocus: Do you have any advice for product managers dealing with digital transformation?
Inês: As product people, we need to be careful because we are naturally in a problem solving mindset. And when those problems happen internally, our knee jerk reaction will be to go and fix them.
So, if there is a Digital Transformation Officer of sorts, and if that team/ person has different plans to the ones that the product person will probably implement, I’d say that the focus of the PM is to make sure that they care for the team. Focusing your efforts on the transformation within your team sometimes is a lot more impactful than thinking about the organization as a whole.
So even though the organization might be broken, your team can still feel healthy and happy and productive. Like this expression: “If I cannot be the light in the world, I can be the candle in my home.”
Inês will share more of her insights on this topic at our roundtable with Amplitude.
It will take place on March 24th at 12PM EDT, and you can register here.