We encounter so many digital products every day. Apps and websites make things like managing groceries and calendars, tracking health, socializing with friends, learning skills, and many other things infinitely easier and more accessible.
Apart from that, the massive availability of data helps us make better decisions faster and enriches the customer experience. And we’re still in the infancy of this revolution; many more digital products will come along with advancing technology and disruption in the near, medium, and far future.
This article will serve as a high-level guide to the various processes, activities, skills, tools, and challenges inherent to the digital product management role, as well as a repository of valuable resources for further reading.
Table of contents
- What is digital product management?
- What does a digital product management process look like?
- Managing the product lifecycle
- Key skills for digital product managers
- Tools, techniques, and metrics
- Challenges of digital product management
What is digital product management?
Digital product management is the process of overseeing and guiding the development, launch, and growth of digital products, ensuring that they align with user needs and business objectives.
A digital product manager is responsible for leading and executing the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for offerings in a product-led company. They work closely with cross-functional teams, including design, engineering, and marketing, to plan, build, and launch products that create value for users and drive business growth.
The product manager’s role encompasses market research, user feedback analysis, feature prioritization, and performance monitoring to ensure the continuous improvement of their company’s digital offerings.
Digital product management means taking a customer-centric approach to solving problems by tracking metrics and KPIs as customers interact with your product. Based on insights gleaned from this data, it’s the product manager’s responsibility to develop a strategy that drives customer satisfaction, market share, and growth.
Responsibilities of a digital product manager
The core responsibilities that fall under digital product management include:
- Evaluating consumer insights — Product managers need to have a customer-driven mindset. It’s crucial to understand, interpret, and draw conclusions that can further improve your product from customer data, behaviors, and feedback
- Building wireframes and prototypes — It would be foolish to have your engineers start writing the code from day one without knowing what exactly you’re building. That’s why digital product managers and designers employ various techniques, such as wireframing, creating mockups, and prototyping, to test ideas quickly before building an actual product
- Formulating product strategy — A good product strategy starts with a high-level purpose that rarely, if ever, changes and narrows down to the day-to-day agile execution of self-organizing teams, which will change often. The product strategy should motivate and provide clarity to your teams
- Working with engineers — Engineers turn mock-ups and plans into usable, functional products, making them one of the most important stakeholders in the digital product development process
- Managing customer experience — Customer experience refers to the holistic impression left on a customer through all their interactions with your product. This means the customer experience starts before the actual purchase, continues through the usage of the product, and covers the post-purchase phase as well
- Product roadmapping — A product roadmap helps communicate your product vision and strategy to the world. It’s one of the few tangible outputs a product manager can produce without going through the hands of designers or engineers
- Stakeholder communication —Contrary to popular belief, the PM is not the “CEO of the product”; they can’t just do whatever they want. More often than not, a you need buy-in from key players to get your initiatives moving
- Product ownership — The product owner role focuses on development and implementation through short-term activities and helping the product development team(s) understand what needs to be done. Basically, product ownership means setting up the team to create a reliable, scalable, secure, and maintainable solution
- Tracking metrics and KPIs — Without tracking metrics in product management, your product team would miss out on meaningful insight into its customers. While surveys and customer interviews can provide a glimpse into a customer’s perception of the product, behavioral data can reveal trends and missed opportunities
The core objective of digital product management is to develop desirable, usable, effective, and reliable digital products. The more innovative, aesthetically pleasing, and functional, the more desirable the product. Usability, localization, and tolerance are crucial indictors of the reliability of a digital product. The product management function is responsible for ensuring the team takes these considerations into account throughout each stage of the product development lifecycle.
What does a digital product management process look like?
The digital product management process is linear and straight. The major stages of any digital product management process should include communicating with stakeholders, collecting customer inputs, and accelerating delivery speed to save time and money.
Most product management processes and frameworks incorporate popular methodologies such as agile, scrum, Kanban, iterative development, lean, and more to optimize product development and management operations.
No matter which philosophy you embrace, most digital product management processes involve the following activities:
- Customer feedback and user research — During this stage, product managers define user personas, seek to understand customer pain points, needs, and wants, and assess the customer journey to learn as much as possible about the ideal customer profile. The base of analysis is both qualitative and quantitative
- Wireframing and prototyping — Create a schematic illustration of the digital product’s overall concept based on the customer feedback and user research done in the previous stage. Start with a low-fidelity prototype and gradually create higher-fidelity prototypes as the development process progresses
- Prioritization — At this process stage, PMs align available resources with the prioritized features. Prioritization helps digital product managers accelerate the turnaround time to ship products and also informs the development and evolution of the product roadmap
- Development — At the programming stage, developers continuously collaborate with the product management function to define specifications and acceptance criteria. In addition, the development team determines how to tackle the product backlog through sprint planning
- Quality assurance (QA) — The quality assurance phase is an important part of digital product management. Nowadays, the QA phase is incorporated throughout the development phase in a process called test-driven development (TDD), which rectifies bugs and issues in the beginning and sanitizes the product quality.
- Launching and scalability — At this stage, digital products are launched incrementally, which provides the base to scale up the product. Digital products are data-driven, and launching in increments helps you refine the product based on customer feedback as you go. The minimum viable product (MVP) concept further supports the incremental product delivery approach
- Data and analytics — Digital product management is a data-driven function; massive troves of product analytics inform decisions at every stage of the process. The deep insights of research, customer and behavioral data, product usage insights, and QA data help digital product managers ensure positive outcomes
Managing the product lifecycle
Digital products are not physical products; they can be accessible via the internet and are thus easy to deliver to customers. Digital products are easy to manage, update, evolve, and scale based on customer inputs.
Furthermore, many digital products can understand customer behavior based on how they interact with the product. By accessing these behavioral aspects, PMs can continuously improve the product based on these valuable inputs throughout the product lifecycle.
The product development lifecycle (PDLC) consists of five main stages:
Each stage has its own set of sub-steps, with ideation and conceptualization focusing on generating and validating ideas, designing and development involving planning, iteration, and technical implementation, and delivery encompassing launch plans and marketing activities.
Throughout the PDLC, the product manager plays a crucial role in facilitating discussions, encouraging creativity, and gathering expertise at each stage to plan and execute products that are both valuable to end-users and suitable for the market. The PDLC is distinct from the software development life cycle (SDLC) in that the PDLC is an overarching process focusing on the product as a whole, whereas the SDLC is a subset of the PDLC that concentrates on the technical implementation of product development.
The product development lifecycle helps product teams identify market needs and develop valuable solutions for customers quickly and at scale and emphasizes the significance of learning and iteration in agile product development.
Key skills for digital product managers
Apart from critical thinking, problem-solving, technical, and soft skills that are crucial to any role in a product-led company, the following skills and behaviors are crucial for digital product managers to define a clear vision and ensure optimal product outcomes.
A successful digital product manager is one who is:
- Customer-centric — Always prioritizing the needs and desires of the customers to drive product development and improvements
- Fact-based and data-driven — Basing decisions on empirical evidence and making data-informed choices to optimize product outcomes
- Team-oriented — Collaborating effectively with cross-functional teams and fostering a cooperative work environment to achieve shared goals
- Respectful of others’ expertise and skills — Valuing input from team members and leveraging their unique strengths to create the best possible product
- Outwardly confident — Demonstrating confidence in decision-making and inspiring trust among team members and stakeholders
- Accountable — Taking responsibility for product success and failures, and using these experiences to learn and grow
- A good listener — Actively seeking feedback from team members, customers, and stakeholders, and incorporating insights to improve the product
- A selfless leader — Prioritizing the success of the product and team over personal accolades and fostering a supportive environment for growth
Tools, techniques, and metrics
Metrics and KPIs digital product managers track the team’s progress against defined goals and objectives.
The main advantage of tracking product metrics is to analyze, interpret, and hypothesize new features and capabilities to improve customer satisfaction. These quantifiable measures allow the business to track its success and keep the stakeholders, marketers, and product management team accountable, motivated, and well-equipped to make informed decisions, set goals, and solve problems.
The key strength of a digital product team lies in choosing a few key metrics to track and spending less time managing and more time acting upon the key results.
Product analytics encompasses a variety of tools, all aimed at helping you understand how people use your digital product. These tools all deliver something slightly different. For example:
- User behavior analytics tools — Monitoring user behavior on websites or applications provides visibility into how people interact with your product, where they experience frustration, whether features are being used in the way you expected (or at all), and much more
- A/B testing tools — Using A/B testing tools to evaluate how different feature updates, UI changes, and other tweaks to your product affect KPIs and user behavior can help inform product decisions and ensure you’re headed in the right direction
- Customer feedback tools — Collecting customer feedback through support chats, surveys, feedback forms, and other methods opens a direct line of communication between your team and your end users
- Data visualization tools — Seeing data displayed visually can help you more easily identify trends and anomalies
So, how do you select the right product analytics tool to meet the diverse needs of different parts of your team? You need to think about what core features you need and what metrics you want to measure.
A product analytics solution like LogRocket can help you deliver on your goals and objectives by providing insights into user needs and behaviors, which product features your users are using (or not using), what new features to prioritize or existing features to improve, and more.
Google Analytics is another valuable tool for calculating and visualizing digital product success.
Challenges of digital product management
To build a successful digital product, you need to understand your users’ needs thoroughly. Technology, innovation, and disruption are key pointers that make products successful and popular among customers.
Some of the top challenges associated with creating and launching digital products include:
Understanding user needs
A digital product manager has to think like a customer by putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and developing an emotional connection. Regardless of great features and disruptive technology, users’ needs always come first. Hence the digital product team needs to prioritize the user’s needs and start by building a simplified version of the product that is easy to use and consume.
Take notable failed products like Microsoft Zune, Apple Newton, BlackBerry Storm, and Fire Phone, for example. Despite being innovative and backed by top technology firms, these products fell flat, in part due to a failure to understand the user’s needs.
Identifying the product vision
Before you build a digital product, you need to communicate the product vision to the team. The product vision should convey why you are creating the product and what objectives the team must accomplish.
Defining a clear product vision helps ensure that everyone is working toward the same goals, allowing for better decision-making and prioritization throughout the development process.
The agile setup of shipping the product is conducive to speeding up the time to market. As a result, agile teams are often working under tight deadlines.
In addition, keeping alignment during the short sprint cycle is typically challenging to adapt to the new changes and information daily.
To overcome this challenge, the digital product team needs to maintain frequent communication, adopt a flexible mindset, and work collaboratively to adapt to changes and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Communication is key, and it should be seamless. An excellent product concept can fall apart without clear communication among the team, stakeholders, and leadership.
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Starting from pitching a great idea to getting the buy-in of leadership, digital product management is a game of stellar communication. You should establish regular check-ins, provide clear guidelines, and use the appropriate tools to keep everyone informed and engaged.
Remaining competitive means constantly innovating on business models. With strict deadlines, multiple stakeholders, and endless tasks, digital PMs are often swamped with tons of responsibilities and forget their directive to embrace innovation culture.
To foster a culture of innovation, digital product managers should encourage experimentation, provide opportunities for continuous learning, and regularly review and evaluate new ideas and approaches to problem-solving.
Great products are driven by a digital product manager with a clear product vision. Starting from ideating to building, and launching, and managing a live product, the foresight of a PM plays an important role throughout the product lifecycle.
At the end of the day, the quality and success of your product depends on the team’s ability and commitment to identifying, anticipating, and addressing users’ most pressing needs and pain points.
Featured image source: IconScout
LogRocket generates product insights that lead to meaningful action
LogRocket identifies friction points in the user experience so you can make informed decisions about product and design changes that must happen to hit your goals.
With LogRocket, you can understand the scope of the issues affecting your product and prioritize the changes that need to be made. LogRocket simplifies workflows by allowing Engineering and Design teams to work from the same data as you, eliminating any confusion about what needs to be done.
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