Successful automotive product management in a digital world

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How does digital transformation provide automotive product managers with new leadership opportunities? 

It has become something of a cliché that the world is changing faster than ever before. Of course,cliché becomecliché for a reason: because they are true. Many old certainties in life and in business have disappeared, driven not only by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent events of the past two years but also by the availability, affordability and emergence of new digital technologies. With no sign of this trend slowing down, we should assume that digital transformation is here to stay.

But what does ‘digital transformation’ actually mean? No doubt you’ve heard the term many times – it’s been the buzzword of the industry for several years now – and while there are many different interpretations, the most common meaning of the phrase is the adoption of digital technology to create new products or customer experiences that allow new or changed business models. Adding or upgrading technology alone is not transformative; in order to be a true ‘digital transformation’, the new technology must deliver value to the business that was not previously possible.

The European automotive industry is a great example of this. In recent years, the focus has been on adopting a digital mindset to move away from offering a standard hardware-centric product (a single-purchase car) to a more software-centric approach. Vehicles developed with software that requires frequent updates and optional, extra features to be purchased create the potential for additional and ongoing new revenue streams. Of course, product innovations like these are only possible if everyone in an organization embraces a digital mindset, and this has to come from the top down. Change is hard to achieve in any company, but championing and driving digital transformation provides product managers with a great opportunity to step up, assume a leadership role and drive digital forward.

A consistent trend for product managers in the industry is the steadily growing reputation of product management as a strategic role in business and one that has influence and a presence at board level. Leaders of the most innovative technology businesses have risen through product management roles – such as current CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, who was previously a product manager at Google – and tech firms are recognizing this by implementing staff development programs that cultivate product management skills for their future leaders. When this view is applied to the automotive industry it becomes clear that in a world of digital transformation, product managers can provide vital value to the business if their role is a strategic one. Leading products in support of the company strategy is crucial in helping organizations achieve sustainable profits. Businesses that empower their product managers to take a leadership role will see much more value effectively delivered from technology.

Ian Lunn, founding director, Product Focus

Ian Lunn, founding director, Product Focus

The traditional view of product managers as ‘product problem solvers’ is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, with the right level of influence and authority, product managers are perfectly placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by digital transformation. If senior executives have the role of deciding the direction of the company, it is product management that should be steering everyone there, ensuring things keep moving in the right direction.

To find out more about how product managers can make the most of digital transformation, Product Focus has produced a whitepaper titled, Product Management in a World of Digital Transformation, describing how product managers can find their place in the constantly changing modern workplace. It is available to read on the Product Focus website.

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About Author

Ian Lunn is a global thought leader in product management and founding director of Product Focus, a global provider of product management courses in the UK, US and Europe. He has over 25 years’ product management and marketing experience with companies ranging from digital startups to multinational businesses.

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