Tasneem Gould Of GSD Alliance On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Building more successful products. I’ve worked with several companies that had fallen into feature factory mode. This means they are simply churning out features at the request of internal executives or sales teams but these features don’t result in tangible increase in revenue or value to customers or users. Putting some basic processes in place to understand and measure the value off the work makes it easy for everyone involved in the process to start thinking about impact and outcomes for the business and customers.

Digital transformation has become a crucial component for businesses striving to stay competitive and relevant in today’s rapidly evolving landscape. As technology continues to shape industries and redefine business models, companies must adapt and leverage digital tools and strategies to unlock new opportunities for growth and innovation. In this interview series, we aim to explore various aspects of digital transformation, including best practices, challenges, success stories, and expert insights. We are talking to thought leaders, industry experts, entrepreneurs, technology innovators, and executives who have firsthand experience in driving digital transformation initiatives within their organizations. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tasneem Gould, also known as Tas.

With over 25 years of experience in tech focused on understanding customer’s needs, building great products and empowering delivery teams, Tas is an experienced practitioner and trainer in Product-led software development, with deep skills in Customer Experience Design, Product Strategy, Release Planning, and Agile Development. In her current roles, she’s combining these to launch new products, expand into new markets and partnerships, develop delightful customer experiences, and create a smooth, inclusive and impactful product operations structure.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I somehow fell into tech even though my degree is in accounting. About 20 years ago I moved to New Zealand and have worked in tech ever since. I’ve been lucky to work for some of the best companies that have come out of our little corner of the world. I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful managers and mentors who have encouraged me to do more in spite of my anxiety and imposter syndrome problems.

Today I run a product management coaching and transformation agency and get deep satisfaction from helping individuals and businesses transform the way they build products and engage with their users and customers. I’m a strong believer in community and paying it forward, and I do this by offering training, coaching and opportunities for meeting and networking to people who are new to the industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

One time I was supporting a colleague on a project and had to fly to another city at short notice. I had a big bulky laptop at the time. I knew that there were computers I could use at the client’s office and my colleague was the person who was supposed to be doing the majority of the coding and notes.

I decided not to take my laptop.

I get to the airport and get a message that my colleague was sick and would not be travelling with me.

I had to get my laptop couriered to the client overnight to do everything I was supposed to be doing over the next 3 days.

That was a lesson to always be prepared and to think about risks and what could go wrong and put eventualities in place, and that has served me very well.

I’m known to be over prepared and that is not a bad thing. If you need an extra pen, a band-aid or a whiteboard marker — I probably have one on me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m very lucky to have a dear friend and business partner Ashley Bass who helped me realise the depth and value of my knowledge, and how much cool cutting edge work I’ve managed to do in my life. It gave me the confidence to share my experiences and expertise to help others. Living in New Zealand can make one feel disconnected from global expertise, and it was empowering to realise how much we achieve in a far away corner of the world.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I started out in product one of the first books I read was Inspired by Marty Cagan. I am a dreamer and this book showed me the vision of the ideal world.

As we all know, the ideal world is often unachievable, but having the dream and vision meant that instead of being dismayed by blockers I just assumed that there was a way around it and usually found it.

That book was fundamental to how I understand and operate as a product manager and it is one I recommend to every new product person for the same reason.

As I have grown into leadership I have found a book called “The art of product management” by Rich Mironov extremely useful. It has given me the terminology and tools to deal with difficult situations that arise often in the product leadership world.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m working with a client that combines the technology from two tremendously successful global companies and leverages it to help push both of them above the rest of the industry and market.

I’m engaging with the senior leadership team to coach them through the necessary changes in mindset and culture needed to move to a model that is customer centric and outcome based. After many training and workshopping sessions, we are developing and rolling out a brand new operating model that I know that the teams ae very excited to get started with.

This transformation will introduce a culture of innovation and impact driven thinking that has the potential to be a game changer for the future of the global earthworks and mining industries.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. Digital transformation can mean many things to many people, from your perspective, how do you define digital transformation in your industry?

Even in the agile tech space, once companies become large complex and too big to fail, they start getting bogged down in process, bureaucracy and old ways of thinking. Unfortunately, innovation, agility, and customer centricity are more important than ever in our fast-paced industry and it doesn’t take long before that culture starts impacting product quality, market share, and company earnings.

For people building technology products — whether they are hardware or software based — digital transformation means creating changes in mindset, culture, process, and operations in the way we build and deliver products.

Much of the digital transformation work we do is about pivoting to a culture that puts customers, market problems, and future trends at the heart of what we do. It’s about focusing on innovative ways to solve current and future problems rather than simply build features or outputs based on the way we used to work.

New Zealand businesses rarely have the budgets and resources available to businesses in other parts of the world. We have learned to innovate and succeed on the smell of an oily rag. And we have proven that it is not money but mindset that makes all the difference.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

At its heart digital transformation is about doing things better and every company can benefit from that. However there are some situations where digital transformation turns into a pressing need that is essential for business to survive.

Once businesses grow to a large size, lose connection with customers and users, where the creators of their products and technology no longer have a way to understand problems context and needs of the people they’re trying to build products for, the writing is on the wall. This is most typically seen in large complex be to be businesses where engineers are many steps removed from the customers and end users and there is no good way to bridge the gap.

If your product road map and strategy is devised entirely of ideas and requests from internal leadership and you cannot point to new innovation or product ideas that have come from the minds of customers or researchers, you may be in danger. If you cannot point to every single product that is being worked on with a with a clear story off how it will improve the lives of its users the metrics you will use to measure this and the impact it will have on your revenue or your customer’s ROI, you may be investing in all the wrong things.

Once you are a large successful company, it is easy to forget some of the lessons that got you there. But in our Angel and constantly changing world competition is not far behind.

Ensuring that all parts of your business are working effectively and efficiently to deliver value to your customers and shareholders is how you stay ahead. This is the very ethos that drives digital transformation.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

There are some challenges we see over and over again undertaking a digital transformation. You cannot succeed without senior leadership support and collaboration across the entire business. Moving to a fundamentally different model requires a great deal of courage and a leap of faith. It is far too easy to keep on trucking even when it is evident that the current model is broken. It takes a visionary leader to champion change and to lead from the front.

Another challenge involves the role of technology to be the core enabler of the business and bring in an efficiency and productivity based mindset. Whether we are considering how technology is to be funded how teams are staffed and how technology can be a core competency and a competitive advantage, everyone in the business must embrace the change and commit to transforming how we use technology to be successful. Change is difficult and technological change is especially challenging, and this can be difficult to overcome.

Last but not least — the people factor. All of this requires everyone in the business. from leadership to middle managers to engineering teams to embrace new ways of working. Every functional area from sales to marketing to finance to corporate services is touched by change. To do this successfully you need people with a growth mindset, who recognise that there is a problem and in need to change in order to survive, people who are not afraid to plunge their hands into the depths of change and understand how best to tackle it. If you can find a respected champion in every key area of transformation, it is the easiest path to success.

Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?

1 . Using HR and payroll systems for compliance and tracking employee performance. These types of projects are often internally focused have a limited scope of change but a broad impact across the organisation. Ensuring that you are paying your employees the right amount in a legally compliant way is a massive risk reduction. And tracking employee performance in a consistent and standardised way helps operational efficiency and making good decisions about hiring and promoting the right people.

One interesting story that comes to mind is finding multiple “ghost’ employees that didn’t exist while undergoing a payroll transformation that uncovered serious misuse of money and fraud that the customer had no idea about.

2 . Building more successful products. I’ve worked with several companies that had fallen into feature factory mode. This means they are simply churning out features at the request of internal executives or sales teams but these features don’t result in tangible increase in revenue or value to customers or users. Putting some basic processes in place to understand and measure the value off the work makes it easy for everyone involved in the process to start thinking about impact and outcomes for the business and customers.

One of our customers had a request from a sales team to build a feature for a particular find that involved several months of work to the tune of millions of dollars. By sending a team of designers, engineers and product managers to the customer site to observe the problem resulted in a much quicker faster and more innovative solution that could then be expanded on to serve multiple other customers. The business saved money but also created innovative ideas and built better relationships with key customers as a result.

3 . Security is one area where digital transformation is really coming into its own. Cyber attacks are getting more sophisticated and compliance obligations are increasing. At the same time employees are more likely to be using their own devices or working remotely which means increased risk. Digital transformation introduces a strong and clear security and digital transformation strategy is essential to maintain and improve security and infrastructure.

4 . Measuring what matters: An easy way to leverage your digital transformation is by introducing data and metrics tracking. We have multiple customers who have started tracking spending or effort and realised that there are significant savings to be made.

Understanding your key numbers allows you to make better decisions and tracking trends allows you to invest in the right areas. This has been a game changer for some of our clients.

5 . Finally one change that the entire world seems to be grappling with at the moment is the rise of remote work. Having good systems in place that allow employees who are working away from the office to be productive connected engaged and motivated is essential if you want to leverage this trend. There are multiple platforms tools systems and methodologies to do this well.

Leveraging remote workers allows you to find the best talent in the world, minimise costs, and maximise productivity and outcomes. Well thought out broad based digital transformation is essential to do this successfully.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Innovation requires both capability and capacity. Expose smart, talented people in your business to your customers problems, their needs, context, and trends that you think will impact your business. This will give them the ammunition they need to create innovative solutions to ideas.

Secondly, build the slack or milestones in your operating model so these ideas don’t sit in a “to do” list forever. Give your teams the space and time to work on proving that these innovative ideas are in fact game changing solutions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Start where you are and do what you can.” Waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect person, the perfect situation will see you waiting forever. 1% improvement today is still an improvement. Think about one thing- big or small- that will make a difference in your life or the life of the people around you and make it happen.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Connect with me on LinkedIn where I share ideas thoughts and learnings from all the people and places that inspire me — https://www.linkedin.com/in/tasneemgould/ or check out our latest blogs and articles on https://www.gsd-alliance.com/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.