Good digital products are not (only) due to technology

For a variety of reasons the theme of product management is on my mind these days. A range of conversations and threads of work have drawn me to it and held me there. In my experience product management is poorly understood in the learning world. There is a strong tendency to equate products with systems. Compounding this problem, we are often stuck thinking of content publishing and online events as holding the inherent value of those systems.

A good product solves a valuable problem. A good product manager coordinates resources (people, money, time and technology) in the increasingly effective design, creation and development of that product. The problems learning product managers should be engaged with are not the installation of systems, offering access to content or booking webinars. These might or might not be the solutions to the underlying problem. They might, or might not, be useful.

This short description of a paralegal becoming a product manager is an interesting example of what a product manager does and why it is valuable. The first three vital steps in the design of this new product were taken before technology or content were touched: a clear definition of the problem to be solved and for whom; an increasingly stringent focus on the core of the solution (a real MVP) and thorough expression of what the intended user or users will do with it (the user stories). Frustratingly, it really is that simple. And, as we know, simplicity takes a lot of hard work.

The L&D world has two challenges to overcome (or two that are on my mind as I type):

  • The customer and the user are not the same. The funding of L&D products (if indeed they are truly products) is provided by organisations whose view of a valuable problem might not be the same as the end users within. Hence the primacy of administration features, perhaps. The tricky challenge for the L&D product manager is to solve a set of problems that are valuable to the organisation and the user.
  • Measuring success is fraught with its own problems. Assuming the objective is performance change and business impact, gathering that data is complex and can be time consuming. Organisations might not want to look under the rocks only to discover that it is still gloomy and damp down there despite their best efforts.

These are proper grown up challenges and great territory for talented product managers to work in. Systems implementation, content publishing and online events have roles to play, perhaps but will not hit whatever mark is intended without additional efforts.

This post is a marker as I brew a long form series of thoughts on this theme. Back soon…

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