Integration of New Technologies

I recall the days when one of our biggest challenges in building software products was serving up data from the database through to the end-user. In concert with that struggle was making software deployments with accompanying database changes without breaking the user experience.

I am probably showing my age here, but we have solved a good portion of those problems as of today. The messy part of software development is still the issue of multiple people making changes in one consistent trunk of code, deploying that code, and not disrupting the experience of the user.

A long-time ago, there were very few tools that allowed you to version-control a database change. We don't even really worry about that much anymore (or if you do, give me a call LOL). However, there are different tools today that somewhat eradicate those issues. Another problem we have; do we build, buy, or partner? These are all great questions and the answers vary depending on where you look and of course the context of your product and teams.

I've always said I don't expect the Product Manager to be omniscient. The key is surrounding yourself with people who you can trust to help guide you to the decision and that includes your stakeholders and developers.

I know most of us want to be successful. We want to create the best products for our business and users. We are lured in by the new, shiny, cutting-edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain. They have the potential to revolutionize products, offering unprecedented user experiences and opening up new markets.

However, the path to successful integration is fraught with hurdles, from technical complexities and high implementation costs, to ensuring alignment with user needs and business goals. I thought would be a good time to dive into challenges product managers face with integrating these new technologies and explore strategies to mitigate them effectively.

Summary of the Challenges

While it's impossible to understand and know all of the challenges out there, from my seat at the table with plenty of product companies, the list below rings high and true with a lot of them.

  • Technical Complexity: Emerging technologies often come with a steep learning curve. The technical complexity involved in integration can be daunting, requiring specialized knowledge and skills that the existing team may not possess. Naturally we could have the team perform technical spikes or experiments, but it's still a slower process for them. During that time, the technology is changing so rapidly, what we build now isn't needed by the time we are done.
  • High Costs: Research and development (R&D) for new technology integration can be expensive. The costs associated with training, development, and potential hiring of new talent can strain budgets, especially for startups and SMEs. What if in the end we spend all that money and it doesn't work or doesn't hit the market like we expected?
  • Aligning with User Needs: There's a risk of becoming enamored with the potential of a new technology without fully considering whether it aligns with user needs or addresses a genuine problem. Please have some great designers to help you navigate the possible with the what is needed. Now, some designers contribute to the problem, but balance their knowledge with their research. Make them do user research tasks to help navigate the decision with data.
  • Keeping Pace with Rapid Evolution: Technology evolves at a breakneck pace. A technology that's cutting-edge today may be obsolete tomorrow, posing a risk to the relevancy and competitiveness of the product. Is your organization even organized to move at the pace required. I find most of the organizations I work with still stumble when it comes to organizing the work around product value delivery. We tend to focus on optimizing for the developers and not the users. We have to switch that thinking.

Strategies for the Challenges

Leverage Lean Innovation

Before fully committing to integrating a new technology, adopt a lean innovation approach. This involves creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or prototype that incorporates the technology on a small scale. The MVP can then be used to gather user feedback and validate assumptions about the technology’s impact on the product. This iterative approach allows for adjustments based on real-world insights, minimizing the risk of costly missteps. In our Product Workshops we also talk about testing assumptions outside of actually building the product. The most expensive way to test an assumption about your product is building it.

Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning

The technical complexities of new technologies necessitate a team that’s equipped with the latest knowledge and skills. Cultivating a culture of continuous learning and development is key. This could involve:

  • Providing access to online courses, workshops, and seminars.
  • Encouraging attendance at tech conferences and industry meetups.
  • Facilitating knowledge-sharing sessions within the team.
  • Setup customer advisory boards to help guide external views of the culture and product.

Emphasize User-Centric Design

Stay grounded in user-centric design principles. Every decision about integrating new technology should start and end with how it serves the user. Conduct thorough user research and usability testing to ensure that the technology genuinely enhances the user experience and addresses specific user needs or pain points.

Build Strategic Partnerships

Navigating the integration of new technologies doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. Forming strategic partnerships with technology providers, research institutions, and other companies can provide valuable insights, access to resources, and shared R&D efforts. These partnerships can also offer a buffer against the financial risks of innovation.

Adopt Agile Project Management

Agile project management methods are well-suited to the task of integrating new technologies. Their iterative nature allows for flexibility, rapid testing, and adaptation based on feedback and changing market dynamics. Agile practices also facilitate better risk management and resource allocation throughout the development process.

Stay Informed and Forward-Thinking

Finally, product managers must keep their fingers on the pulse of technological advancements and market trends. This not only involves continuous learning but also networking with peers, experts, and thought leaders in the field. Staying informed helps in anticipating shifts in technology and user preferences, enabling more strategic decision-making regarding technology integration.

Integrating new technologies into products is a balancing act that requires navigating technical, financial, and market-related challenges. The ideas we have discussed in this proactive and strategic approach will enable product managers to harness the transformative potential of new technologies, driving innovation and securing a competitive edge in the market. Remember, don't try to do it alone. Leverage and Marshall all of your resources to help.

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