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Why The Digital Product Owner is The Most Important Person On Your Team

Will Lam


A digital product owner (DPO), sometimes called a digital owner, is the person who manages every aspect of your company’s digital experience. They work to streamline internal processes for your team, manage the tools required to complete these processes, and ensure that users have a consistent experience when interacting with your company online.

Managing the myriad interconnected processes and people that affect the digital experience is only going to get more complicated as your company grows. The DPO's goal is to align your team’s digital strategy with your business goals.

Working across multiple teams in this way, digital owners share a lot of responsibilities with product managers—but with more focus on a specific aspect of the user’s experience with your product. They make sure that users and your team get what they need at every step along the way.

1. Digital Product Owners Manage Your Technology Stack

Creating a winning digital experience is possible only when the tools in your tech stack work together seamlessly. From front-end web services to data warehouses to CI/CD pipelines, modern product teams use an incredible amount of technology every day — which means there is potential for individual points of failure at any level.

A great DPO understands how all of your tools integrate with one another and uses that knowledge to make the experience of interacting with your technology stack as efficient as possible.

Example technology stack via Stack Overflow

Whenever your team has to develop a new feature or build a new product, your DPO provides valuable insights into the technology required to push projects across the finish line. Not only does this make it easier to define a clear product development plan, but it also cuts down on the overall work required to get it done. Instead of spending their time scoping out the best possible tools to use, your team can get started on active development as quickly as possible.

Your digital product owner will also review this technology stack regularly to identify possible improvements. If a particular tool no longer integrates into your stack effectively, or the price to do so becomes prohibitive, digital owners will find and vet an alternative.

This comprehensive knowledge of your technology stack is the key to creating better development experiences for your team.

2. Digital Product Owners Work to Understand User Behavior

A deep understanding of users' needs and behavior is at the core of any good product strategy. Whenever you create a new product or feature, your team needs to anticipate user needs to build something that is truly valuable. Digital product owners share customer insights with product managers and collaborate to ensure that your team solves a real user problem while also making an impact on your business goals.

Digital owners use the tools and technology they manage to dig into customer data and pull out common traits and behaviors, and then they use this data to create experiments that test and validate their insights.

Those experiments help your team build more realistic user personas, which you can use to target prospects that share similar traits with your current customers. Let’s say you’re seeing decreasing engagement with your product’s email-automation feature. Your digital owner would take a look at those customers who are no longer using the feature, as well as those who are, to identify the core differences. Then, they could take that info and create an experiment to tweak the experience of using that tool.

Using customer data, digital product owners can then target users who had issues with the tool in the past and let them know you’ve updated it with new functionality, such as adding a link to email automation in the top-level navigation, or simplifying the process of adding new emails to a campaign.

These kinds of tests require an in-depth understanding of each digital touch point a customer hits when using the tool as well. So your digital owner would have to work with other members of the team to gain as much insight as possible before getting started.

3. Digital Product Owners Provide Cross-Functional Support

Building a seamless digital experience requires input from points of contact across multiple teams, so digital owners need to work with many people with varying levels of seniority. Digital product owners facilitate processes across these teams and act as the conduit for information between each member. Providing this support makes it easier for every member of the team to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities.

Interacting with these different people daily means digital owners are comfortable speaking to engineers, marketers, product teams, and leadership. Whenever they need to share key insights, this level of comfort helps them frame important insights for each group individually.

Leadership teams, for example, would need to see the overall business impact of a given project, whereas marketing teams would want to understand the value add for customers and how to create messaging around it. Being able to provide this information based on their target audience makes your digital owner a vital component of your internal feedback loop.

Example of team feedback loop

Acting as the conduit for important information means DPOs are well-versed in ensuring clear, easy-to-understand communication across and within teams. They document conversations proactively and work to increase visibility into every aspect of the project. Working together with product managers, they’re one of the key points of contact for your team.

Of course, having a tool in place that makes it easy to keep all internal teams and other key business stakeholders in the loop certainly helps. DevCycle's feature management dashboard was built with the DPO in mind. With an intuitive, easy to navigate UI and a global view dashboard that lets you easily keep track of all of your flags and projects at all times, DevCycle helps everyone stay in-the-know.

4. Digital Product Owners Manage the Team’s Workflow

Digital product owners work with product managers and teams to prioritize the work required to complete any project. They understand everything it takes to build good products based on a deep knowledge of customer needs and can easily turn those insights into actionable tasks for the team. And they do all that while maintaining a high-level view of the product vision and strategy.

While the process for managing these projects will depend on the specific tools and methodologies you use, digital owners help create clear tasks and pipelines for your team to follow.

Example of Scrum board via Trello

In this example from Trello, the team uses the Scrum/Agile method to create a clear sense of the work required, the work that’s completed, and the work that still needs to be done, each of which is tied to a specific objective defined for the project and your team.

When you understand how to align specific tasks with overarching product and business goals, it gives the team the visibility they need to move forward together. And this shared direction creates valuable context, which you can use to build products faster and more efficiently.

Great digital product owners are able to organize projects with this amount of granularity, while also switching to a 10,000-foot view of each project at times as well. This balance helps them adjust priorities as projects progress and proactively identify/solve for potential bottlenecks before they impact your release schedule. They understand your release management plan and use it to mitigate the risk of overlap or dependencies within your team.

5. Digital Product Owners Track Team Progress

Seeing an idea through from its conception to a feature release is a long and complicated process. Digital product owners work with product managers to keep track of your overall progress and report on it for the team. They have a clear set of objectives and key results (OKRs) to measure against, and a keen sense of how each stage of the product development process works together to create a winning digital experience.

Digital owners define these OKRs at the start of every project that affects the digital experience and focus on how any upcoming product or feature updates affect various touch points along the way.

Your digital product owner shares these OKRs with the team and reports on them as the project progresses. This maintains consistent visibility into the product vision and strategy and keeps everyone headed in the same direction. And increased visibility makes it easier for your team to execute on their respective tasks with confidence. It boosts engagement with the project as a whole and helps your team stay accountable for their work.

While digital owners concentrate solely on the online customer journey, this clarity ensures that any new feature update or product rollout is in line with what your customers expect from your digital experience. Basically, they make sure that everything you do adds value without making a negative impact on customer perception of your product.

The Digital Product Owner Is a Vital Part of Your Team

When so much of the customer experience is built on top of digital products, having a dedicated person to manage that experience is very important. Digital product owners are the key to building an online experience that’s relevant for users while also making it easier for your team to achieve their goals.

The next time you’re planning a release that impacts the online experience, define a digital product owner to work with your product managers and team to ensure that every release has a real positive impact.

Written By

Will Lam