Product Management

Why digital commerce needs business-driven product ownership

Antti Nivala
Product Management

Why digital commerce needs business-driven product ownership

Antti Nivala
April 6, 2023

In today's fast-paced digital world, businesses of all sizes need to have a strong capability in creating and maintaining digital services that meet the needs of their customers and stakeholders.

In this article, we'll explore the different business perspectives on developing and maintaining digital commerce, and how an organization can drive efficiently business value, achieve fast time-to-market, and become more customer-centric through adopting efficient product management practices.

Generating business value is more than a mindset

Creating digital services to generate business value is crucial perspective for any business to mature in the digital world. Typical value drivers for digital services include acquiring new customers, generating new revenue, increasing customer satisfaction and retention, reducing costs, and streamlining internal processes. More often than not, digital commerce initiatives combine many if not all aforementioned value drivers.

To create concrete value for the business, it's important to evaluate all and any features and functionalities against hypotheses of what will have the most significant impact on the business. Besides understanding the value drivers, this evaluation requires a thorough understanding of the practical business goals and priorities, as well as the evolving needs of end customers. On a day-to-day basis, it also requires effective alignment of and management of stakeholder expectations to be actually able to build and ship the items.

Shared goals and mandates allow for faster decision-making

When managing digital commerce as a product, it is not just the business or product owner's responsibility to ensure the team is steered toward concrete business goals. The various stakeholders within the organization need to understand why things are done, and why their idea might not be prioritized right now. When prioritizing development initiatives within the organization, having a set of common goals to refer to and a collection of rules, or heuristics, will make it faster to justify why specific things are prioritized above others. It will also help you justify that resources are allocated most efficiently and effectively as possible.

Instilling a vision of shared goals together with validated and open decision-making and development processes within the digital commerce product team will ensure that day-to-day product decisions in design and development are done faster. Allowing teams in the front line to make decisions on which way digital commerce products are steered can not be achieved overnight. For most organizations, it requires considerable top management to first understand the benefits of faster (instead of controlled) decisions and a clear mandate. The function of such a mandate is to take digital commerce out of the no man's land (where everyone has a say) and make room for decisions on the product team level as efficiently as possible. Decisions that have a significant impact on business capabilities are done in the digital commerce product team on daily basis. This holds true in the majority of digital service development but is characteristic of eCom development.

Defining the scope and minimum viability

Digital commerce is usually developed to fulfill specific sets of customer and "shopkeeper" needs, and this should be kept as the guiding line throughout the development process. This applies, whether you have chosen the approach of custom-developing or building on top of ready-made software. Custom development gives free hands, but in most cases, the time-to-market is slower compared to building services on top of ready-made products and services.

To minimize the time-to-market (and to-value) during development, the scope of the first releasable version should be planned carefully for at least two reasons: to get the first version of the product out on the market to make some return on the investments and to gain concrete customer feedback and analytics data from end-user behaviors to validate the numerous assumptions that have been made during the planning phase and the development process. This sounds fairly simple - doesn’t it?

The challenge might come from the complexity of a given digital commerce value chain: the minimum viable product or simplest releasable flow can be fairly complex and often needs to cover a fair amount of different scenarios to function properly. These requirements need to be addressed during the planning of the solution architecture so that adding more complexity to the first iteration of the product is doable with reasonable efforts in later stages. The complex process can also imply that the team needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink, if a process can be actually achieved similarly, with less complexity.

The impact on the scope of development may as well occur within the organization itself: when a new product and its features serve multiple stakeholders and business requirements, there is often a push to include "this and that" in the first shipped version. The reason is simple: even when development is agile and done in increments, it still takes a substantial amount of time, and therefore, everyone wants to prioritize development from their perspective.

So, how can all these requirements and expectations be managed to ensure that the focus is kept on shared goals throughout the development process? What is required for efficient product management?

Managing the product development

The development of digital products can be managed successfully when the ownership of the development process and the power to make strategic and business decisions are aligned. This doesn’t mean that business and process ownership should necessarily reside under the same role and person, but there should be a team or a forum where business decisions can be made during the development process if and when questions arise, and fast-paced decisions need to be made.

Development should prioritize ownership of both perspectives: the hands-on development and the business, which means also accountability for the decisions. Don’t get me wrong, the development of new digital products or services should be based on carefully evaluated business plans, use cases that have been evaluated by relevant stakeholders, designs, and prototypes that have been tested with end-users, and architecture that takes into account the required scenarios and enables further development of more complex use cases within the product. But still, after all, careful planning, there are decisions to be made on daily basis during the development process. Especially after the product is released, and the performance of a service can be evaluated through user feedback and analytics data, and further development can be planned.

Efficiency in product development is a sum of many different proven factors: openness in decision-making (as well as showing results and gains), iterative development cycles that allow the product team to react to evolving requirements, a development process that serves the target of releasing functioning software,  capability to collect data, analyze it and act accordingly. Technical capabilities of the development team together with well build and maintaining automated release tools will ensure short and reliable release cycles.  Combined with an understanding of customer needs and business requirements and mandate for decision making will give us a solid base for creating value through digital commerce development.


Developing and maintaining digital commerce efficiently is essential for businesses that want to stay competitive in today's digital world. To achieve success, businesses need to understand their unique needs and priorities and choose the development approach that is right for them. By focusing on generating business value, adopting efficient product management, achieving fast time-to-market, and becoming more customer-centric, businesses can create digital services that meet the needs of their customers and drive growth and success.

As key takeaways, focus on the following steps to get started

  1. Define clearly the business value drivers for your digital commerce
  2. Take digital commerce development from "no-mans-land" to a dedicated team with business and product ownership and give them the mandate to make day-to-day decisions
  3. Create a forum for stakeholder alignment and agree on heuristics on how digital commerce product development is prioritized
  4. Create and maintain development processes that support the product team and will help them to be efficient and productive.

Reach out to Antti and get your product ownership in check »