Digital initiatives have long followed a simple playbook: An IT initiative is launched, employees are told to adopt the new digital widget, and then everyone sits back and awaits the happy expected outcome. Unfortunately, innumerable such projects have, if not altogether failed, come up far short of expectations.
Upon consideration, it seems apparent the problem is not specifically with the digital tool, but rather in the approach taken to launch the tool on an unsuspecting workplace. After all, a great screwdriver is only effective if the tool manufacturer has anticipated that a user knows what a screw is, understands which end of the tool to hold, and what results the user might be after.
This analogy underscores the fact that understanding people and behavior is every bit as important as the tool. One cannot expect a digital initiative to be successful without considering how people will receive and adopt it.
Employees are the customers of the IT initiative. As with any customer, they need to be wooed, convinced, educated, and ultimately made to see the benefits of a change. In other words, all the thoughtful consideration typically undertaken by an effective product manager delivering a product to the outside world can also be applied to digital initiatives intended for internal customers.
Consider the following four areas:
1. Behavior-change management. The success of any digital initiative hinges on the digital dexterity of employees. Simply put, they must be able to use the technology, which requires employees to change their behaviors. Product managers know that change is most effective when the intended target is invested and aware of the benefit it will deliver. Techniques such as gamification, which have been proven effective in upselling to customers, can work internally as well. This can be done, for example, by rewarding employees/departments/businesses for successfully using the new digital technology to achieve some demonstrable productivity gain.
For example, the addition of smart technology and chat capabilities at a 40,000-user multinational confectionery company led to more than 60,000 automation executions per month. Part of the benefit came from automated ticketing creation, but it also required behavioral change, with employees shifting requests from human IT support staff to the automated chat system. By encouraging this interaction with a platform designed to promote behavioral change, the company saw 20% adoption of chat-based support in just three months, a 30% reduction in IT support contacts, and a savings of 30,000 productive hours.
2. Understanding user profiles. Any organization of even a moderate size is comprised of individuals with widely varying skills, experiences, and relationships to technology. The fresh-faced hire straight out of school is different from the Millennial, and both differ from the 30-year industry veteran, but all are valuable to the success of the business. A good product manager knows that each of these different customer profiles will require a tailored approach -- different language, support, expectations, guidance, etc.
They also know that the most successful technology product adjusts to the customer just as much as the user works to learn the technology. A proper rollout requires a sophisticated plan that is sensitive to the digital, the physical, and the intersection of the two. The product manager is aware of the variety within the customer base and curates the experience in a way that accounts for differentiation.
3. The product roadmap. A digital workplace is built over time. This requires careful coordination of both the technical aspects and the employees who are asked to make repeated adaptations. Being successful requires a product manager’s experienced eye to make sense of the optimal order for these stages, as well as awareness of the different supports that are needed along the way.
4. The feedback cycle. Even the best of plans is subject to change when thrust into the real world. As with any product launch, the progress of a digital initiative must be measured over time. There will always be unexpected outcomes, both positive and negative, and the product manager must have the flexibility to adjust the plan that alters the path of the technology and the people. The initiative and the employees must evolve together.
Embracing a product management approach to developing a digital workplace requires that organizations shift their perspective when they look at the workplace. Simply becoming enamored of tools and technology, and then foisting them onto unsuspecting employees is a time-honored recipe for pushback, rejection, and missed opportunities.
The best product managers are hyper-aware of the entire breadth of a product’s lifecycle. Before any technology is chosen, an effective product manager will work to fully understand their customer and the marketplace, painting a vivid landscape within which to position a new digital tool. They will define what the ideal product will achieve relative to requirements and use that information to guide the product they will build or purchase. And they will have developed a comprehensive plan to launch, support, and even end-of-life their product. That’s the right way to deliver a product, regardless of whether the customer is outside or inside the organization.
Kalyan Kumar (KK) is the CVP and CTO, IT Services of HCL Technologies and the company’s Business Line Leader for Global Cloud Native Services and DRYiCE products and platforms. He also leads the Service Line for Global Infrastructure Services. As a part of his CTO portfolio, he is actively involved in Product and Technology Strategy, Partner Ecosystem, Start-up Exploration, and Incubation, and supports the inorganic initiatives of the company.