Marketing wants this. Development wants that. What is a digital leader to do?

what-to-do-tue-volder
What to do?
Artwork by Tue Volder

When you look at how to speed up a complex digital project and deliver high-quality end-user experiences, the palette of options placed in front of you is daunting. It’s never a binary decision what to do next.

What I’m seeing experienced digital managers do—when their organizational challenges get too wild—is to put shared tools in front of different teams with different needs. That way, they nudge their divergent teams to work together on advancing projects.

Technology is never the silver bullet. But it does serve in a bridge-building function. Sometimes, it’s a shortcut to deliver better projects when the organization and cross-team processes are unruly and fluid. This article reflects on what some of the most proficient digital leaders I know actually do when introducing technology.

The lone digital ranger

My daily work is leading product management of the Magnolia CMS. I incessantly interview digital managers who are challenged with getting marketing and development teams to work well together. All of them realized long ago that technology alone rarely solves problems, so they use other means to get results:

They are well-versed at building processes and they focus on organizational structure. They facilitate fluid handovers but also obsess over tools and integrating systems—and they hold in high esteem the marketing creed of forging memorable customer experiences.

The digital leader becomes the central orchestrator and facilitator for digital experiences—by connecting people and content or data through processes.

Alas, that turns out to be a surprisingly lonely position.

Here comes the trojan horse: Disguised as technology

While those digital leaders typically agree that technology itself cannot magically save their projects, they still end up turning to technology to speed up projects and improve quality.

You might ask yourself why. My take is that their organizational challenges are too overwhelming and hamper progress in their projects.

What digital leaders still achieve through technology is a shared toolset that fosters collaboration and supports the productive process that drives things forward. Implementing processes through deploying tools and asking people to work with them is a subtle and sometimes surprisingly effective way to operationalize change management. They’re building the bridges they need by using technology as a trojan horse, squeezing it into the organization to help people band together.

The horse may be camouflaged as just another technology tool—but out of it jumps better collaboration.

Why software has a hard time pleasing both sides

Because of the internal culture of software vendors, most products lean to either marketing or engineering. This is an obvious, yet difficult reality about software:

—Technology-centric products cater to development teams producing systems

—Marketing-centric products cater to marketing teams producing experiences

In theory, it is straightforward for software to empower both developers and marketers at the same time. Behind the scenes, however, there are problems that make it really difficult for software vendors to achieve this. For example:

  • The ways marketers and developers work change rapidly—whereas software to support their workflows takes time to produce
  • The collaborative culture between developer-focused tooling and marketer-enabling features is hard to establish
  • Establishing software ownership that strikes a balance between different needs requires an equal and deep understanding of both sides
  • As you try to cater to opposing needs, complexity rises—and with that, speed of developing software goes down

Software that strikes a good balance between marketing and development are simply just phenomenally rare.

My work is leading the product management of a large CMS. That means constantly dealing with the interconnection of technology, processes, project methodologies, design thinking, integration strategies, user experience, collaboration scheme changes—and a whole host of other topics that a CMS implicitly or explicitly interfaces with.

We try hard to focus on innovation that balances the collaboration between marketing and development, because our world is divided per definition—and because we think this is where digital managers can get the most value from technology. Again, it may look like just another tool—but it can help remodel the way teams work together.

The duty of a digital leader

Let’s face it. As a digital leader, you don’t have the luxury of choosing sides. You have to build the bridges—whatever it takes. With handover processes, with agile methods, with organizational changes—or any other gadget, method or procedure you can find in your toolbox.

A sound approach for digital leaders working on revving up their digital projects is to focus on the bridge rather than the two islands it connects. One way to do that is to look for technology solutions and also particular software products that are committed to traverse the cultural silos between marketing and development. That may just be faster than the change management your organization otherwise needs to get people to collaborate naturally. It just doesn’t work for a digital manager to rely on technology that leans too heavily to one side.

5 key themes on the 2017 digital manager’s agenda

It can be hard to figure out what is really going when it comes to the emerging role of digital and those leading digital change in organisations.

This month, I’ve had the pleasure of spending two days with smart digital managers in Manchester and Aarhus where I moderated local J. Boye events.

Your organisation is likely to be different than those who attended, but below I share what emerged from the events as the 5 key themes on the digital manager’s agenda for 2017.

1. There’s more at stake than the website

Clearly your website is important – for many even business-critical. Still it is clear that the scope for digital managers has expanded far beyond the website.

Paul Bason from Manchester Metropolitan University made the point, as illustrated in the diagram below, that there are now more jobs in the creative industry in the Greater Manchester area than the total amount of jobs in automotive, financial services and aerospace. 

jobs-greater-manchester-region

While you may not connect the creative industry exclusively to digital innovation, it is a fair way to put some numbers behind the massive impact digital is having in the big picture.

It is expected of you as a digital manager to be able to bring the bigger changes together. To see digital in a broader view and be able to go from innovation to business development and onwards to real change and even competitive advantage.

To be more specific, the big discussions for digital managers are no longer about an app or say selecting a new CMS, but on key business decisions where digital plays a vital role. Digital managers today need to make tough decisions on key priorities, make sure digital operations stay up and running, build and lead teams with emerging skills, handle vendor relations and much more. In other words, the role has become much more about management than digital.

2. No longer them vs. us

“The door is open”

marianne-kay-and-javed-iqbal
Marianne Kay from the University of Leeds listening to Javed Iqbal from British Council during the J. Boye masterclass

Javed Iqbal from British Council used this simple quote to illustrate the big change that has happened inside organisations.

If you’ve been a digital manager for a couple of years, you’ve likely had to do a fair bit of preaching and advocacy to build support for investing in digital.

That’s different in 2017, where many have left the digital vs. the rest of the business mindset. Instead it is now the entire organisation who wants to speak digital. That also means that expectations have gone up and the days of the enthusiastic amateurs are over.

Digital has clearly conquered the agenda in many organisations, but most organisations still have such a long way to go to truly reap the benefits.

On a related point, most digital managers still have to deal with the colleagues who have amazing creativity to find workarounds, when they feel that things are moving too slowly. Rob Hoeijmakers from Liberty Global nailed it with his question:

How to create structure without posing too many limits?

3. Measure to improve and to share your success

As already mentioned, digital managers today have to do more management than just a few years ago. A key part of this is to document your success and the value you create to your organisation.

The metrics vary from industry to industry. Marianne Kay from the University of Leeds shared relevant higher education success criteria, while Mikkel Andersen from GEA shared how they’ve turned their website into a B2B lead generation machine.

To succeed in digital requires substantial investments in resources, agencies and technology. As we have left brochure websites behind us, it is only good practice to also place more emphasis on measuring the impact.

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Abdul Dezkam from Grundfos on their customer journey and how they turn insights into actions

Abdul Dezkam shared how Grundfos is leveraging data to understand, measure and optimize the customer experience throughout the customer journey. He presented a walkthrough of a customer experience (CX) measurement framework that brings the customer in the center of the business and empowers business to effectively optimize the customer journey to drive more impact on CX in a large global company.

One final point: By frequently sharing the value created by digital, you also effectively keep digital top-of-mind among senior management.

4. Projects & new tech takes time

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Yvonne Hansen from KPMG on stage talking about how to deal with the extreme scope of digital

Yvonne Hansen from KPMG in Norway hosted a session on how to deal with the expanding scope of digital and among the key points was that you can’t only manage.

There are so many topics you need to cover, including strategy, digital marketing, multiple websites to just name a few. Specifically her point was, that you need to invest time in ensuring project success and trying to stay on top of emerging technologies. This was validated by other participants who had gone through 30+ workshops to bring key projects forward and ensure organisational alignment. A huge investment in time. 

In terms of new technology, media expert Steffen Damborg shared several examples of how technology is still changing everything. Examples included using small data to truly understand customer intent and measuring customer emotions while browsing your site to optimize for conversions. 

In terms of projects, Louis Georgiou from Code Computerlove, a leading UK digital agency, took us from waterfall, to agile, to lean, and many different flavours of governance models in-between. According to Louis, the growth of lean start-ups and digital product businesses has created the ‘product mindset’, a better way to develop digital platforms today.

5. Privacy & security

With the clock ticking to the enforcement of the new EU privacy directive, privacy has finally become a clear priority.

Collaborating with legal used to be restricted to when engaging with new vendors, but now collaborating with legal is a part of every day life for digital managers.

One of the leading experts on privacy and the EU General Data Protection Regulation is Berlin-based Tim Walters. He has previously called GDPR “a ticking timebomb in the digital marketing plumbing” and urged everyone not to underestimate the impact of the new legislation.

So far, the approach taken by most, has been to collect as much visitor data as possible, to potentially enable them to create a better and more relevant experience. With privacy-by-design and the right to be forgotten, we need to fundamentally rethink how we address privacy in our digital projects.

In terms of security, one J. Boye member who shall remain anonymous termed their website a hackers paradise. Making management aware of this had been a huge eye opener.

Learn more and meet other digital managers

You can join one of our many J. Boye groups for digital managers. In the groups, you can learn from your peers and discover new possibilities.

You can also make the trip to Rovinj in late August for the digital manager masterclass or in Aarhus in November for the biggest J. Boye event of the year – the annual international J. Boye conference.

Good luck with your projects and your career as a digital manager

Introducing Concept Software

rasmus-skjoldan-software-pmHow can we as software product managers set up radically experimental projects to gauge the viability of new ideas—without risking ongoing business and without confining ourselves to the restrictions of the current business environment?

Rasmus Skjoldan is Lead Product Manager at Swiss-based software vendor Magnolia and posted this question at a recent J. Boye Software Product Manager Group meeting in London.

He shared his inspiration as a product developer by the way the automotive industry uses prototyping – also known as concept cars – and coined the term concept software as a potential answer.

Besides the memorable quote on creating unsellable things as shown in the photo from the group meeting, Rasmus outlined concept software as a way to:

  • explore beyond category
  • consciously design for dreams and emotions

This article is based on a conversation with Rasmus and shares some of the thinking behind what he calls ‘concept software’.

Software product design must learn from the 1930s auto industry

concept-car-circa1930s

To quote Rasmus:

“With both courage and resources on your side there is vast potential value in allowing yourself and your organisation to push experimental product-free prototypes to the customer”

Rasmus first presented these ideas at the Web Summit in Lisbon in November 2016, where his presentation focused on how to design great products through freedom from the narrow-minded focus of bringing a finished product to market as fast as possible.

rapid-prototyping-concept-cars

One of the key points in Rasmus presentation was how conventional software innovation follows a distinctly different pattern than what the auto industry uses to conceptualize new product ideas. Traditional software prototyping and what is known as concept cars are categorically different approaches to prototyping – with different outcomes:

  1. In traditional software prototyping, you build several rapid prototypes which lead to a decreasing amount of candidates and eventually one sellable product. The cornerstones of the process are failing fast, getting to market quickly and focusing on a single solid offering as the end result. The value in terms of external revenue comes from the working, sellable product, whilst the early prototypes and product candidates, that did not get used, are thrown away.
  2. The concept of concept cars aims to explore multiple ideas in one unrealistic explorative and often futuristic, prototype – which lead to multiple, sellable products. This approach means less throw-away and in turn succeeds slowly, has a slow market entry but which can influence multiple products or product lines. Rasmus asks: “Might we use the same thinking to create a new thing called concept software?”

Concept software changes the game

renault-laguna

As a designer turned technologist turned product manager, Rasmus sees concept software as a way to explore and design differently. There are many examples of concept cars that illustrate this.

From the customer point of view, concept software has the potential to evolve brand perception, while increasing employee pride internally as the staff gets to work on cool stuff that is showcased to the world.

When asked to look for examples of concept software, Rasmus cited the work at Magnolia with beacons and apps for fast track to IoT technology, while others mentioned the much-hyped Google Wave and other Google products that failed.

When a group member at the J. Boye group meeting asked how to sell the idea and investment to management, another member quickly replied: “Consider it a clever marketing investment”.

Learn more about software product management

Thanks to Crownpeak for hosting the group meeting in London in late January.
The next meeting in our European Software Product Management Group is hosted by Magnolia in May, while eZ Software hosts the kick-off meeting in our US Software Product Management group later this month.