Digital product management overview

Digital product management (DPM) is a practice within an organization that uses digital technology to create and sell products and services. Product management exists in both software companies and traditional companies that offer physical products and services. 

Digital Product Management is an interesting and challenging field that has been attracting a number of talented individuals from across the globe. Being a digital product manager requires years of experience in your market and deep understanding of what drives your customers to use your products.

Digital Product Management is all about defining what the customer wants, what value you are offering to them and what it will take to set your company apart from your competitors.

Digital Product Managers are responsible for what the user sees and what actions they take on a website or within an app. They have to clearly define what each action means so all parties involved know what is going on at every stage of the process.

The core difference between DPM and what we typically refer to as “traditional” product management is the customer relationship: rather than selling physical products to retail customers, DPM sells what could be referred to as virtual products or services directly to businesses, which can include small businesses or large enterprises such as banks or insurance providers.

Digital product managers face both unique challenges and opportunities when compared with what we typically refer to as “traditional” product managers. This stems from differences in what they are selling (digital vs physical goods), what they are selling it to (businesses vs retail customers) and what marketing channels they use to sell their goods or services (typically Enterprise Marketing Automation, Customer Relationship Management systems, Business Intelligence platforms, etc).

The benefits of structuring products as subscription-based service offerings include recurring revenue streams, predictable cash flow for the company, ability to upsell customers on additional features or complementary products or services. The downside is that customers are much less likely to be loyal to a single vendor since the switching costs are lower.

DPM’s do not work directly with either sales teams or end users at most companies. Instead, their primary interfaces are usually business stakeholders in the respective organizations including executives, project managers and department managers or directors. In addition, DPM’s interact with both internal and external developers who are often tasked to create or enhance what the product manager is trying to deliver.

In many organizations, the DPM reports directly to a C-level executive such as a CEO, president or vice president. Line management directly above the DPM usually consists of directors of engineering, product development and/or R&D. 

At smaller companies, this person may also be referred to as a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or Chief Innovation Officer (CIO). Depending on company structure and process maturity, roles may overlap between business stakeholders and technology leaders such as CEOs driving the strategy around what products to create next for their customers while simultaneously having highly technical backgrounds themselves. 

For example, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has a degree in physics and is CEO of Tesla Motors, where he oversees the company’s electric car manufacturing.

– what is digital product management

– What kind of companies hire people for this position?

What does a Digital Product Manager do on a day to day basis?

The typical role of a DPM within an organization can vary depending on whether you’re working as an employee (or contractor) at a smaller company such as Basecamp (creator of project management platform “Basecamp”) or IDEO; or as part of the product team at a large corporation such as Microsoft or Apple.

Although some may argue that there are fundamental differences between what it means to be a PM at Google versus Facebook, both examples will be addressed as they represent larger companies offering Digital Product Management as a role.

The common thread between what it means to be a DPM at both types of organization is that their primary focus is on what could/should be, and what needs to be built in order to create the best user experience possible. 

A PM at Basecamp may decide that what is needed is for project managers and non-technical individuals to easily upload files into a new “folder” within the platform versus what existed before (a folder being an outdated idea from the age of hard drives), whereas a PM at Apple may determine what’s next for iOS by envisioning what would make the best smartwatch on the market.

This allows for any number of hypotheses to be tested, with what makes it to launch being based on what can realistically be created.

Another similarity between the two is that neither job role tends to have a hard-set road map or plan for what is being built and why. With products constantly changing thanks to updates, new releases, user feedback, market needs/trends, etc., there simply isn’t enough time in the day to create an all-encompassing roadmap. That’s where your team of stakeholders come into play—yesterday’s roadmap is today’s “should”, since what was decided upon may no longer make sense for how the product has grown/changed/been updated.

Ralph Burks
the authorRalph Burks