We all face many different challenges in trying to improve our companies. The topic of digital continues to put stress on organizations as they look to employ a digital strategy that they can execute well enough to transition parts of their business into new and improved revenue streams.

For some, the word digital causes them to cringe. That is the problem with many commonly used terms in the modern world. They’ve taken on meanings of their own and those meanings don’t work for every organization.

Undoubtedly, digital strategy is a real topic and even with the various connotations it brings, the bottom line is that it demands that we look at our business models very differently. Digital disruption changes things by orders of magnitude. We know that brick and mortar isn’t going away today, or maybe ever, but it is getting overshadowed by the simplicity of ecommerce and the rise of mobile devices.

There are some organizations that have understood this demand well and are on their way to making the transition to a digital business model with good progress and success.

This past week, executives from some of the world’s best known brands, gathered in New York for a roundtable discussion on making the transition to a digital business model.

The conversation focused on key areas that need attention in order to keep pace with the change.

Some of the realities discussed included how our use of social media platforms and our interactions with online advertising don’t always tell the true story when it comes to reviewing analytics or understanding demand for our products or services. We need to continuously get smarter and make more intelligent decisions with the data we have.

There are three questions we need to be answering often:

  • How diverse can we be as a business and still succeed without losing focus?
  • How will we know we’ve successfully executed on our digital business strategy?
  • Where will we need to go next and when will we know when to go?

One of the core moments of the executive roundtable centered on the reasons why a digital business strategy won’t work well. In the end, there were three reasons we focused on as being most relevant to the risk of executing well.

Changing mindset

There is no doubt that this is perhaps the largest barrier for large organizations. The mindset required to capitalize on a digital business strategy involves very different thinking. Many companies simply have too many silos and walls preventing collaboration, communication and cooperation at a level that is necessary to accelerate change.

We tend to get hung up on our titles and roles versus what is needed to deliver great products and who gets to interact with the end customers. This is why so many startups innovate better – the ground is flat and even though there are titles and roles, they are aligned against a business strategy focused on the customer and a way to incrementally deliver ideas to market.

Business and technology relationship

Thankfully, the topic of digital strategy is perhaps the first real business model that has begun collapsing the barriers between business and technology organizations. That said, it is still an obstacle for advancing change and competing more effectively. Many business leaders don’t know enough about technology and the digital strategies their company needs to employ to be credible. Many technology leaders either don’t have the credibility with their business peers or don’t understand the economics and market dynamics that drive decisions.

Sales organizations, pressured to meet customer demand, drive feature requests often bypassing any planned “strategy” since immediate revenue is often looked at as being more important than long term market growth and expansion with larger revenue streams.

Product management

The resounding priority in the room at the executive roundtable was solving product management and delivery. By far, the conversation centered on need to do the basics well, introduce human and goal centered design to the process, look at the whole customer experience and develop an idea management model. Existing product development or project lifecycle models are just too restrictive and for many organizations, the inclusion of the customer isn’t a common approach in the product development process.

The recognition that we need to shift our focus from a projects to product approach was widely supported by the group and is something we’ve observed in the market over the last 12 months. Organizations desperately need to raise the skills bar for their product managers but also look at organizational alignment between business and technology. For example, is there really a need for the product owner role in every IT organization given that it’s a Scrum role and often can’t influence the business nor play the vital role across an idea management model? This is one question many organizations are grappling with given the rise of the role of the Product Manager.

Getting these three areas right is the boost to executing a digital business strategy. Sell the dream, not the journey.

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