Enabling Commercial Success of Internal Software Investments
With Agile providing better and faster ways to align and deploy new software functionality to customers there is a growing reality that Enterprise IT teams are now effectively in the product and software development business. This transition from inwardly focused IT to an outward, marketing oriented mindset is proving challenging for many Agile engineering teams lacking the much needed leadership provided by effective Product Management. With Agile software development practices now moving mainstream, there is a growing recognition that faster cycle time and defect free software features are not enough to win at the growing trend towards the consumerism of software in the Enterprise.
So what’s the answer to the growing Product Management deficit in the Enterprise? It starts first with a recognition that the marketplace for your software solutions has broadened to include not just internal employees but also external customers. Winning over those who can and will say “no” to using your platform if the experience and value provided is sub-par is the new standard of excellence Enterprise software development teams must now meet. The guys already making end-user products and services get this and if you want your product to compete you too must master this new discipline of market .
So why do so many Enterprise companies who have embraced Agile development practices not focus equally on the Product Management discipline? While there are many reasons for this current reality, the most common is rooted in the legacy of how the Enterprise governs and defines software project success. The historical Enterprise litmus test for declaring victory was (and often still is) budget, schedule, scope and lastly, satisfying one “super customer”… you know who I’m talking about… that super powerful, politically connected, revenue influencing executive sponsor (or worse, a group of executive sponsors). It’s not that software teams don’t care about their customers, they’re just serving the wrong ones.
If my assertion that we’re serving the wrong customer provokes some to anger, it doesn’t change the fact that internally developed Enterprise software rarely generates the loyalty and passion of the users for which it was developed…. Why? Because these end-users (notice we don’t even call them customers?) are often stuck without a choice about the products they use internally. This is not the case in the marketplace where “real customers” enjoy all the choice in the world. So, before you decide to put a fancy red ribbon around your internal IT solution and place it on the shelf consider the following suggestions:
1. Put the right people on the development team.
All customer-facing software products should be developed by those individuals who are best skilled in listening to customer demands and have the creative ability to turn those demands into a product. This means taking the time to find and cultivate top-notch product marketing managers and product designers with experience implementing marketplace solutions.
2. Enlist a product manager to represent your customer.
Understanding that the needs of the marketplace will be or could be different than your internal customer base is essential in creating a product that someone would actually buy.
3. Focus ruthlessly on the user experience.
The product needs to work – and, not just some of the time. While your internal customers have to put up with downtime or glitches your external customer can walk away taking their cash with them.
4. Integrate marketing and product management into your software development life-cycle.
Once again, your IT software can be more complex or take longer to implement – the worse you’ll get from your internal customer is griping and rebuffing. Your external clients will vote with their pocketbook.
5. Market you product.
The market place can’t buy your software if it doesn’t know you exist. It is important to plan and execute a marketing campaign with your product software launch. Visibility and credibility are key factors in a successful product launch.
6. Measure your success.
Determine the appropriate metrics to measure your product software’s success and track them. Daily or weekly tracking will allow for real-time adjustments for those things that are not working very well.
Like always, this article is just scratching the surface on techniques and ideas for insuring commercial success. I encourage you to send me others – and, if I like it and add it to the list that next Starbuck’s freshly steamed milk with vanilla-flavored syrup, marked with espresso and finished with caramel sauce you order will be on me.