What is Digital Product Management, and What Does a Successful Process Look Like?

David Ly Khim

Agile Product Development

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What's your favorite mobile app? Ever wonder how that app got made? Of course, designers and developers produced the finished product. But who made the decisions about its features and functions? The process that brings digital products from idea to market is called digital product management (DPM).

The people who bring products to market are called digital product managers. Every single day these product managers make decisions that affect how you use your favorite app, why it's your favorite app, and why it does (or doesn't) get better with time.

In this article, we'll expand on the following topics:

  • What is digital product management?

  • Digital vs. non-digital product management

  • Eight stages of the digital product management process

  • What makes a successful digital product manager?

What is digital product management?

Digital product management is the strategy of developing, defining, delivering, observing, and refining digital products to get the best results possible from a market—sales, customer satisfaction, and more. Product managers direct the whole lifecycle of a digital product, from its conception to its launch and beyond. Digital product managers use the same system to refine products as the market changes, and in some cases, to withdraw existing products from the market entirely.

DPM tasks include:

  • Market, customer, and competitor research

  • Customers and products analysis

  • Product vision and roadmap development and maintenance 

Managers also work with product teams to test and prioritize product capabilities to maximize customer value, growth, and digital business results. In fact, through his teamwork, a product manager can bring the best out of a product's performance in the marketplace.

Digital vs. non-digital product management

The primary difference between digital versus non-digital product management is data availability. Otherwise, managing digital products is fundamentally the same as non-digital products. Digital product managers still need to:

  • Understand customer needs

  • Define the product

  • Describe the product strategy

  • Explain the go-to-market strategy

  • Compile requirements

  • Guide product engineering

  • Direct sales and marketing tactics

  • Be the point of contact for the product

  • Own the product roadmap and communicate changes.

As we mentioned earlier, a difference with digital products is that digital product managers have access to more data. DPM has access to a range of metrics created from the customer's interaction with the product that non-digital product managers simply do not have.

Because developers can modify digital products more rapidly, digital product managers learn new information constantly. This constant state of learning helps them find pain points and turn new insights into product and user-experience improvements for customers, turning good products into great products.

For example, Grammarly, a popular writing tool, tracks data on its users, such as how many times the user opens the app, how many words the user writes, and even the accuracy of the user's writing. Because Grammarly is a digital product, it captures this information in real-time.

A non-digital product won't have this type of data without additional consumer research. Even if you gather this data manually, it won't be timely and might not be very accurate. 

8 stages of the digital product management process

Because digital product management is a structural process, it's carried out and measured in eight stages, with each step designed to bring the best out of the product. If you follow the process well, it will save you and your stakeholders time and money. More importantly, if you complete the process successfully, you will have made the product better for the customer.

Tip: Use field-tested project management and software development methodologies like the Agile method and Scrum framework to manage and work through all the DPM process stages efficiently.

The stages of digital product management are:

1. Customer analysis

In this first stage, you need to learn as much as possible about your customer because this data will guide the DPM process. You should base every digital product creation project on in-depth analysis, whether for an application, software, or a website. The research should answer the following:

  • Who is the customer?

  • What does the customer want or need?

  • How much budget do you have available?

  • When is the breakeven point, and how much?

  • Should the product be part of another more complex project?

  • What is the new product's value element for the customer journey?

2. Schematic illustration

Illustrating schematics is the sketching and wireframing stage, which serves to communicate the product's overall idea. Further, detailed sketches organize a team during product development, helping the digital product management process function more efficiently.

3. Planning and prioritizing

During this stage, you should ensure the project has all the resources it will need, from putting together a development team to providing the tools.

The manager should envision how each team will play a role in the product's development. For instance, understand development times, the team's skills, and related costs. These details will help you plan the product roadmap and when you'll need to involve its resources.

4. User-interface design

Designing the user interface (UI) is a process that summarizes your decisions during the previous stages, especially during the schematic illustration stage. At this phase, you work out the digital product's architecture, design, and usability. And with the customer in mind, you answer the following questions:

  • Is this design easy to use?

  • Can the user find what they need intuitively?

  • What can make this product experience better?

5. Prototyping

Prototyping is the function of taking the sketches, wireframes, and UI design and turning it into a clickable mockup. The mockup should resemble the final product as much as possible at this stage. Begin testing the product's usability, using A/B tests and actual users, whether they be people you know or online services. As an iterative process, every test should reveal some type of usability issues for you to address.

6. Programming

Code development or programming brings functionality to the product but requires time and specific skills. And depending on whether your digital product is a web service or an app, your needs might differ. For example, there are fewer hurdles to launching online products because web browsers have the same standards for the most part.

In contrast, mobile applications might require more time, skills, and a substantial budget to develop and distribute them through various channels, such as the iOS App Store and Android's Google Play. These channels require products to meet certain specifications for store approval and distribution.

7. Quality assurance

During the quality assurance (QA) phase, you'll run tests to check every aspect of the product, such as function and usability. QA is a cornerstone to any development process, including digital product management.

Although this stage is its own phase, the digital product development process would perform better if you incorporated QA throughout the entire process, especially the testing process during the prototyping stage.

8. Launching, maintaining, and supporting

During this stage, your product goes live and you work to maintain the product itself while you work to also support your new customers. Launching the product is the primary activity of this stage because it's when you sell the product directly to consumers, either online or through app stores. However, maintenance and support are more important from the customer's perspective.

For instance, it might be a minimal viable product (MVP) when you launch a solution. Therefore, the maintenance and support phases will provide opportunities to schedule product updates like fixes and new product features.

Learn more: "9 Steps to Building a SaaS Product."

What makes a successful digital product manager?

Successful digital product managers put their customers first, evolve with the changing digital landscape, and complete a set of specific tasks. But the job doesn't come without its challenges. For instance, the traditional product manager's role continues to evolve as products move to the digital realm and data becomes more readily available. Now, customers expect more from their apps, so data is critical for decision-making and to design the right customer-focused solutions.

Digital product manager responsibilities

Overall, a product manager is responsible for the product’s success. In other words, their goal is to get the best possible product made by understanding end-to-end customer experience, from research to product analytics. Using these insights, they must develop a hypothesis for the next step in a product's development process, such as launching a new feature or fixing bugs. 

7 tasks successful digital product managers do

Successful digital product managers focus on seven tasks to get the best out of their processes and solutions when creating a positive customer experience. The seven successful digital product manager tasks are: 

  1. Form and validate a product hypothesis.

  2. Find a product-market fit for their idea.

  3. Define and track measurable product and business objectives.

  4. Make data-based decisions for the product and customer experience.

  5. Collaborate with cross-functional teams to bring the product to life.

  6. Exploit digital data's capabilities to track and improve critical drivers, such as customer acquisition, retention, and pricing.

  7. Continually develop their digital product management skills.

Plug in DevSquad for your digital product management needs

From product prototyping to continuous quality, DevSquad can bring a new, reliable product to market quickly and confidently. For existing products, add DevSquad to your distributed team to help lighten your load for an important feature add-on, API product, or internal project. For example, DevSquad can help supply you with talent, such as:

  • Full Stack developers

  • Product managers

  • UI/UX designers

  • QA team

Are you ready to build and launch your new product using a customer-centric team with invaluable Agile management experience? Let's talk.

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