[Chris Boyd co-authored this article]

Leading digital transformations is the CEO’s top priority for CIOs, according to the 2020 IDG State of the CIO study. Doing so effectively requires an IT operating model that allows business and IT to work together to navigate a dynamic competitive landscape, a seemingly infinite set of digital tools and shifting stakeholder demands.

In our work with Fortune 500 companies, we have found IT organizations that use the traditional “plan, build, run” operating model struggle to conceptualize, launch and maintain momentum on digital transformations. To bolster their transformation capability, IT organizations across industries and geographies are shifting toward product-oriented operating models, or “product-based IT”. When done right, organizations experience increased agility, happier customers and more successful transformations.

Defining product-based IT

A product is a capability brought to life through technology, business process and customer experience that creates a continuous value stream. Examples of products are eCommerce, supply chain, or HR. An operating model defines how an organization positions its people, process and technology to deliver value to both internal and external customers.

A product-oriented operating model, then, is one in which IT resources are organized around business capabilities or “products” instead of specific IT systems (e.g. SAP, CRM) or functions (QA, Engineering, Infrastructure). In this model, each product team works as if they are managing a market-facing product such as a consumer electronics device. They develop a product strategy and roadmap in lockstep with the business that clearly articulates how they will mature the product to better meet customer needs and optimize competitive positioning. Every feature on the roadmap is aligned with a measurable business outcome and goes through a rapid discovery phase to validate value, usability and feasibility before it is slotted in a sprint to achieve a minimum viable product.

Drivers for the shift to product-based IT

Most organizations have honed their ability to deliver when the scope and desired outcome are static, but struggle when next steps aren’t defined or are painted with a broad brush. Several leading IT organizations have turned to product-based IT to cut through this ambiguity and elevate their role from service provider to business partner.