Level Up Your Digital Product Management With These Planning Frameworks
For those of us engaged in digital product management, business needs have become more unpredictable than ever — and that was before COVID-19 surprised leaders with another layer of uncertainty and ambiguity.
As technology continues to evolve along with changing consumer expectations — and innovators jockey to capture market share — the business world will only become more chaotic. To thrive in this environment, companies must embrace change while learning to outperform their competitors.
To help corporations and project teams better manage chaos and uncertainty, leaders can cut through the fog by turning to concepts used by the military (that have business-world applicability) for insight. Two such concepts invaluable to business leaders who manage digital products are VUCA and OODA.
VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity
VUCA, an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, was developed by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in 1987. The VUCA “blueprint” helped leaders recalculate their worldview.
Businesses have gone through multiple evolutions where technological changes such as the internet, mobile devices and virtual assistants have radically altered consumer expectations and how enterprises operate.
The coronavirus global pandemic has been a significant event that highlighted how volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous the business terrain can be. Anything can turn on a dime, and companies must be prepared to operate in a world that’s more unpredictable than ever. Using the VUCA framework can help you process the complexity:
Changes in the business environment can happen suddenly. These changes can come from start-ups, disruptions in the global supply chain or, as we learned in the past year, a global pandemic.
Because business models and environments are changing rapidly, it’s challenging to determine what’s next. With constant changes, it’s impossible to attain perfect certainty.
There are significantly more intangibles you must consider today than in the past. It’s not just the core product, but secondary products and extensions such as websites, mobile applications — even devices such as Alexa. Add to this the global nature of business and differing rules and regulations a company must manage.
Given the exponential growth of technology, there are significant opportunities outside of the traditional ways a company has operated. But these are also areas where companies don’t have experience or have incomplete information to make informed decisions.
Once business leaders embrace the nature of the world they operate within — a VUCA world — they can effectively create strategies to thrive in this environment. One of the frameworks businesses can use is the OODA loop.
OODA loops can help you make better decisions at any given time
OODA — observe, orient, decide, and act — is a framework that helps leaders make better and faster decisions. In today’s digital business environment, product planners don’t have the luxury of time to analyze piles of data, think through multiple scenarios, and make a decision. The constructs of desirability, viability and feasibility that make great products change on a continual basis — sometimes exponentially. Product managers need to quickly understand and capitalize on the opportunities formed by these changes to maximize their value.
Business leaders must be aware of changes occurring in the marketplace … sometimes, the best indicators of change are your consumers. This is why businesses need to embrace data — both quantitative and qualitative. Talk to customers, measure changes in product usage, and be aware of industry and technology changes.
Businesses must have the structures in place to meaningfully interpret their observations. Sometimes this includes conducting deeper user interviews or doing a competitive analysis to understand the changes taking place.
Once you understand the landscape, you can decide on what actions to take. This means having the right frameworks in place to determine what will result in the highest value to the business and customers and prioritize the efforts.
Finally, implement whatever you decide to do quickly. Many businesses have archaic processes and technology that leave them vulnerable to new entrants.
One of the more important aspects of the OODA loop is the “loop” element. The loop makes it a constant cycle because as soon as you act, some part of the market will change, whether it’s the competition, consumer expectation or technology. In the early 2000s, Research in Motion (RIM) was slow to react to consumers, and therefore, the Apple iPhone and others were able to significantly outpace Blackberry devices and eventually make them obsolete.
At a high level, OODA is about adapting to changing situations. According to HBR, the goal of this strategy is to “outpace the OODA loop of the opposition.”
Succeeding in a chaotic world
So, how do digital product leaders use VUCA and OODA to succeed in today’s business environment? Businesses have to understand the chaotic world they operate in and put the structures in place to quickly collect data, synthesize it, and react rapidly to changes that are taking place. They have to embrace adaptability, data, agility and partners.
Have a clear vision, but you’ll need an adaptable mindset. You must make systemic changes by implementing a process and framework that’s adaptable.
One of the central takeaways of using a VUCA framework to develop and launch digital products is it’s never a one-and-done step. Technology evolution never stands still, and companies must learn to leverage advances without starting the development process over again.
In other words, technology that can respond to change (modern frameworks on a cloud-based platform to incorporate different services when necessary) is crucial to success. Create digital products over a flexible architecture so you can quickly capitalize on consumer value gaps created by sudden shifts.
Additionally, having the right technology will help you manage your digital properties, which you can tailor to conform to customer needs and industry regulations.
Seek to understand your customers through behavior changes as noted by changes in data patterns. Understand what’s working for them and what’s not so you can constantly adapt to changes in consumer behavior. This isn’t just through automated data coming from the product but through customer interviews and direct feedback. You must have a 360-degree view of your target customer to understand their challenges and opportunities.
Collect insights on the competition, technology and industry trends to understand where the next set of disruptive opportunities are so you can stay ahead of them.
To capitalize on adaptability and data, an organization also needs to be agile, embracing methodologies such as lean and scrum to test hypotheses and deploy changes to products rapidly. Agile is not just a methodology but also a mindset that corporations have to instill in their culture. Given an ever-changing world, companies have to make decisions without complete information and take risks. If people are hesitant to make quick decisions and take calculated risks, then the true value of these approaches is lost.
Effective organizations know that trying to do everything is sometimes a recipe for not doing anything well. Product organizations need to understand where their core competencies lie and tap into partners to help supplement these and accelerate their efforts. With the rapid changes in technology and approaches to development, building in-house skillsets can often take too long, deprecating the need for the original skillset.
Partners can help organizations:
- Conduct user and competitive research
- Build and test prototypes
- Help navigate global privacy and accessibility regulations
- And a plethora of other essential items that help businesses focus on their core products but adapt to an ever-changing world.
Use problem-solving frameworks to create agile strategic plans
Yes, the pace of digital product development is faster and more chaotic than ever. Frameworks like VUCA and OODA can help product teams create adaptable and agile strategic plans and delivery mechanisms. The secret is to remain flexible whatever the challenge. As Sun Tzu once observed, “In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity.”