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Product Owner Talks: Top Five Trends in Digital Product Development

November 6, 2019

Product Owner Talks: Top Five Trends in Digital Product Development

The total digitalization of everyday activity is changing our perception of the world. Today people can hardly imagine their lives without smartphones and gadgets. They help us with everything - shopping, business, sports, communication, navigation, logistics, entertainment, and so on. The growth of technology is changing the process of digital asset development too, so it becomes faster, more reliable, and more global. Companies start working globally from the very first day of their existence. Web and mobile apps become a must-have feature for businesses.

Product Owner Roles and Responsibilities in Agile Product Development

Lately, I’ve noticed that new product development process has been slightly changing during the last two years. The redefinition of the Product Owner (PO) position is taking place and now it is not a person who is only responsible for defining user stories and prioritizing them. These days, a good product owner is an executor who is acting like a mini-CEO of the product. The role requires good understanding of the business operations, UI/UX design, marketing, consumer psychology and behavioral patterns, and the technical processes of digital product development. Only if the individual knows these aspects they can make the right decisions.

The product owner is the person who will take care of the product from the idea to implementation and successful release to the market. He must have in-depth insight into how to satisfy customers, differentiate from the competition, and earn money for the business at the same time. More and more companies start to realize the value of product owner role within the software product development life cycle and the importance of having the right skilled people in the right place.

The DashDevs team works closely with both startups and middle-sized businesses and currently we witness how these companies change their approach to new product engineering. We’ve collected the most interesting cases and analyzed our experience to outline the top five trends in product development, that will soon change the software market.

#1 Data-Driven Development

Everybody understands that data is crucial for strategic decision making and business planning. We’ve faced the issue of gathering the correct data and processing it accordingly. The solution that we’ve opted for and recommend using comes from Data Science.

It is the transformation of Big Data and Data analysis. Companies can gather data from different sources — like mobile app analytics, advertising data, or customer support tools — in one place to organize it in such a way that a product owner can get any information they want at any time. Based on this data, the business can create models that give insight into a product, customer behavior, and market changes. There is a significant difference to see a data slice that describes only your customer population in comparison with the model that shows you the influence of your adverts on the particular target audience. Using Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial intelligence (AI) Data Scientists can not only analyze past actions but also give the business some forecasts for the future.

Basically, Data Science provides stakeholders with the possibility to perform Predictive Product Development, so today the leading software product engineering companies are starting to correlate their strategies with the obtained analysis findings. However, Data Science is not only about past and future analytics, as it also brings personalized experiences to your product. User behavioral models can run real-time to define which goods can be exclusively suggested to the customer, while the user interface can be changed accordingly. Additionally, chatbots start to use behavioral patterns to resolve customer requests and improve the overall customer experience.

Summarizing: Now, Data Science is doing a deep dive into the agile software development life cycle. At this time, it is not a free-running feature, as it is totally interspersed with the development and management processes. The impact of Data Science is tangible — it enhances digital product analytics and increases the effectiveness of the entire product development strategy so companies can corner the market. Applications become more agile and personalized. However, Data Science increases the cost of the implementation and maintenance of the product, since businesses need to store data and process it using the latest technologies and expensive specialists.

#2 Digital product ecosystem

Where does your digital product end? Is there any limits to its potential of use? Nowadays companies confess that “product” goes beyond simple mobile/web applications or landing pages. The digitalization of the processes has changed the way we see, use, and interact with web and mobile applications. Innovative software solutions extend their functionality and communicate with other devices - watches, home pods, and TVs. From the other side, the Internet of Things (IoT) widely steps in, so now users can make payments via home pod, ask Siri to check the car location, or request Alexa to order food delivery. And the thing about it is that users love it.

However, the digital product ecosystem starts to grow not only to improve the end-user experience. Stakeholders understand that intellectual property can be shared with other businesses, so mutually rewarding interaction between different companies becomes natural. They start to open APIs on a free and paid basis, thus allowing others to integrate their services. This step helps companies to fill new niches, increase business valuation, and grow their revenue. In the very beginning of the article, I’ve mentioned that the product owner responsibilities have been changed, so now POs must grow into masters of this product ecosystem.

Summarizing: Businesses start to redefine product boundaries. Apple Watch complications, widgets, Siri shortcuts, or Google Assistant Commands become a part of a minimum viable product. Shared APIs become one of the basic requirements for system architecture design right at the initial product development stages.

#3 Distributed teams

Companies used to hire the core team in one city and outsource only a part of their business activities. However, currently the situation has changed and the culture of nearshore and offshore IT outsourcing reimagines the product development life cycle. The whole business can be divided into functional blocks — like app engineering, marketing, sales, customer support, logistics & distribution — to be outsourced to different service providers. Companies start to outsource all services, especially at the initial stages of their business formation, when it is essential to save money and gain the necessary expertise. If you want to develop a fintech app, you can hire dedicated developers from one company, while customer support representatives and financial investment management team from the other. You just need to employ some key individuals to the office to coordinate and supervise the vendors.

Another trend associated with the distributed engineering teams is the outsourcing of vital technical positions such as CTO, Solution Architect, and Team Lead. This is a common decision across new companies and startups since they get experienced resources at a better price. The challenge here is only in clear communication, synchronization, and control of the dedicated software development teams. These issues can be easily solved by regular meetings, detailed documentation, and a clear description of the responsibilities. In this way, businesses can build transparent and trustworthy relationships with vendors.

Summarizing: If properly set up and managed, outsourcing engagement models can become a perfect solution for businesses. It helps them get access to top tech talent with rich experience in the specific niche, save time and money on recruitment and team management, all while avoiding expenses related to hardware and premises. Moreover, agile software development with distributed teams allows companies to concentrate on other important, revenue-generating tasks like sales, distribution, public relations, or marketing.

#4 Security awareness

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and ISO/IEC 27001 Information Security Management regulations become more strict in terms of the requirements for personal data protection. Businesses can be closed down by regulatory if they find wilful default of the criteria to the safeness of the personal and business data. This trend has always been actual for the financial and healthcare industries, but after the latest updates of the regulations, it becomes more crucial for every company.

Data security used to be the headache of the engineers in the security operation center only, but in most cases critical data leaks are caused by a human factor. Everybody who works on the product must understand how business can be hacked or how data can be lost. Companies start to control partner relationships, and the data flow within the applications. All of this brings additional work for the technical product owners.

Product owners need to understand how data is circulating in the app and how to protect the nugget of information. Businesses start to realize that access control should be implemented at the initial product development life cycle stages. Additionally, a list of policies needs to be created. They must cover disaster and risk reduction, password management, access to production data, and the process of issue escalation. There must be a responsible person to control the execution of the policies. Another step that becomes more natural for the companies to perform authorized penetration testing before the launch of the applications to the real world. This step helps companies reduce the likelihood of data leaks and exclude security holes. The next step that is implemented on a regular basis is security awareness training for all members of the company (including the outsourced ones).

Summarizing: Companies start to invest money into safety and their security awareness. Regulators are chasing them, forcing to be compliant with the requirement. Otherwise, businesses can lose the license, get a significant penalty, or even be dissolved.

#5 Execution and technical background for the critical product roles

Previously, one of the essential job requirements for the managerial position was to have experience in the niche for three and more years. However, time spent in one area doesn’t mean that the person can make your product successful. Businesses start to understand that the most important is the executive experience and knowledge of the way digital products are developed. You can learn everything about the new sphere in two months but it is impossible to teach someone to become an executor over the same period. Otherwise, it will be a constantly hand-holding process. It is especially crucial for the CPO, product owners, project, product, and delivery managers.

It may not be necessary to learn some programming languages, but it is crucial to know the basics of computer science. Technical knowledge can give you a deep understanding of how your product features will be implemented and this is important not only for the product management roles but for designers as well. Such an approach helps to communicate with software engineers better and deliver a next-generation product experience. This is particularly applicable to products related to technology.

Summarizing: The existence of the visionary for your product is an essential component of your business strategy that ensures consistency and smooth product implementation. Usually, CEO and business owners take on this role, but today companies start to search for the executors with a technical background who are ready to make decisions. The cost of such a position is higher, however, companies are willing to pay for it.

Final Thoughts

All these trends are the most noticeable if you start to think about them. Broadly speaking, the boundaries of digital products have been changed and the vision of the product owning position has been improved. Strategic thinking, can-do attitude, and tech background have become the most essential requirements for the agile product owners of digital assets. Companies are changing their perception of the outsourcing process and recognize the advantages that they can get from it.

We believe that there is one more extra-trend that is going to have a second breath in a few years. We’re talking about digital twins — an approach that gives companies digital representations of their actual products, so companies can easily improve and test them eliminating the need to create physical prototypes. It helps to understand, predict, and optimize performance in order to achieve better business outcomes. Digital twins consist of three components: a data model, a set of analytics or algorithms, and knowledge. Now they are mainly used by large companies and only for the simulation of the physical goods, but every year this process becomes more accessible for smaller businesses. More and more companies start to see the real benefits in it, while in combination with Data Science, ML, AI, and IoT, it can improve the products and processes within the companies significantly. We will post the review of the digital twins approach for processes really soon, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions regarding outsourced product development or good product owner skills, you are welcome to contact our team for more information.