Why Digital Product Leadership is critical to long-term success


Today’s business environment is exponentially accelerated, driven by rapidly rising customer expectations and start-up, scale-up alongside established competitor innovation. Insights and trends need to be recognised, analysed and innovative responses developed at speed to ensure ongoing business relevance and success.  

Traditional market share dominance is no longer a barricade to innovation.  Even the biggest, most famous organisations aren’t immune to the dangers of stagnation. We’ve all heard the story of Blockbuster rejecting the chance to buy Netflix for just $50m at the turn of the century, but the now-extinct video rental store wasn’t the only industry leader that failed to innovate. Since 2000, over half (52%) of the companies listed in the Fortune 500 have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or simply no longer exist. 

Still, we continue to see history repeating itself.  For instance, neobanks like Starling Bank and Revolut now dominate UK customer satisfaction rankings, while innovations like Monzo’s 'early payday’ feature continue to draw in younger consumers. Could these agile challengers be next in line to leapfrog their industry’s traditional heavyweights? 

For businesses to stay on top, they must adopt and champion Product Leadership across all operations. A Product Leader has ownership and autonomy, and ensures that their Product or Value stream meets the needs of the business, the needs of the customer and the opportunities technology provides.  They are responsible for leading existing product development or new innovation to ensure customer relevance, business success and extracting the most value and efficiency from the rapid leaps in technology.  Product Leaders develop strong teams, effective communication and accelerated results.  

Overcoming the internal silo barriers

Fundamental to businesses fostering development and innovation is an ability to stay close to their customers and accommodate their ever-changing needs.  Product Leadership has a fundamental role to, not only be responsible for customer insight and validation, but to ensure the customer is not ignored by contributory silos in the business. Internal silos can stifle customer centricity.  

Many traditional organisations still try to operate with a command-and-control siloed mentality, with the Product Leadership mindset constrained within a digital delivery silo.  This leads to team members in contributory silos such as logistics/delivery, compliance, operations and customer service failing to empathise with their customers’ needs. The result of which in turn leads to systems and processes that are based on business only assumptions and do not support customer centricity, hampering the Product Leader in developing the speed or scale of their Product and leading to a sub par user experience.   Product Leaders need to have the autonomy horizontally across the organisation to influence decisions around the end customer needs to ensure Product success. 

A multidisciplinary approach 

Breaking down these silos and moving past this mindset requires fundamental alignment around a North Star and objectives led by the Product Leaders which are agreed and actioned across the company.  To aid this, Product Leaders must build multidisciplinary teams containing members from all types of departments, from a core of development and experience design, to commercial, service legal and compliance. 

These Product teams can harness wide-ranging areas of expertise to understand customer needs, align against business objectives, ideate on the opportunities and validate, release new products, and iterate their success. This methodology might not initially offer a clear view of the final result, but organisations with strong Product Leadership will enjoy unprecedented visibility of this agile process. Plus, subsequent learnings of the products and services and the chance to scale these learnings across the company. 

Accelerating impact 

A Product mindset doesn’t mean starting from scratch.  Instead, Product teams should build on what’s available and create efficiencies whilst developing new innovations. Often, front end development of products is hampered by existing legacy technical stacks, and a parallel approach of iterating front end experience whilst developing middleware or API layers, or indeed upgrading or replatforming elements of the legacy stack is required to maximise impact within the current constraints.  Planning, prioritisation and roadmapping is crucial to setting internal expectations of impact and securing the necessary investment for future development.  

Ultimately, Product Leadership rests upon being close to real customer needs, delivering business value and taking advantage of digital technology opportunities.  This mindset leads to iterative,  innovative and future-proofed products to maintain and develop a business’s current market position or accelerate into an adjunct market through innovation. 

Product Leadership is the key to success in our ever changing digital world.  

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