Most of the time, when we talk about product management, it’s in terms of SaaS products. With customers spending $145.5 billion globally on SaaS products in 2021 alone, it’s easy to see why. But getting product management right is not just for customer-facing applications. This growing field also offers a host of best practices that enterprise IT teams can use to improve the tools they build for their internal customers.
Evolve your vision
When was the last time your IT team reviewed your product vision? Do you even have one? Understanding the needs of your stakeholders — your users, business sponsors, and your IT support team — is paramount to developing a successful vision for how your internal tools contribute to the success of the business.
This is especially true in corporate IT departments, where so much of a team’s energy gets put into just fighting fires and keeping the lights on. Make sure to schedule dedicated time at regular intervals to review stakeholder needs to refine your near-term (2–4 weeks), intermediate-term (3–12 months), and long-term (one year or more) prioritization and planning decisions.
Refine your product strategy
Your strategic product roadmap ensures everyone aligns with your vision’s destination and direction. Unfortunately, while lean and agile development methods are great for reducing risk and increasing responsiveness, they often make projects less strategic, as traditional product roadmaps (like GANNT charts) are left behind.
“To modernize roadmaps, we can make them less like a project plan and more like a strategy prototype,” says product manager Cláudia Delgado. “Instead of being just guides to navigate outputs, they can be guides to navigate outcomes.”
A problem-based roadmap is good for your “customers” (i.e., your users and business sponsors), too. It allows them to provide feedback on possible solutions and demonstrates that they are being listened to and understood.
Embrace continuous discovery
The idea of continuous discovery is that digital products — including enterprise IT applications — are never done. You can always iterate and improve. The continuous discovery process helps product managers create a culture of innovation — focused on the problems your customers need to solve.
In her 2021 interview with Exploring Product, acclaimed author and speaker Teresa Torres provides terrific insights on shifting from a project mindset — where once the software is “shipped” the project is done — to one of continuous discovery.
Involve your “customers”
Obviously, involving customers in product development is a staple of product management best practices. Unfortunately, most enterprise IT teams don’t get to spend enough time understanding their user’s problems. Most of the time, they are pulled into development projects by others (i.e. executives) instead of doing intentional outreach on their own.
Above, we mentioned sharing a problem-based roadmap to help validate and refine your product strategy, but that’s not enough. You also need to have conversations with your users that answer questions such as:
- How do users want to use the software?
- Which additional features add value beyond the primary problem-solution?
- Where do they still use workarounds?
Spend time with your support team as well (especially if that’s not you) to see what questions users ask and the “why” behind the features they are requesting. Conduct product demos and encourage audience feedback. Watch your users do their day-to-day work to see how they use the tools — and where the systems aren’t functioning well. You may be surprised at how people actually use your product.
Dive into product analytics
In a 2021 Progress Report on the State of Corporate Data Initiatives, only 24% of executives indicated said their company is a data-driven organization. Likewise, in a recent Traust digital transformation survey, 38% of respondents said that a lack of access to business intelligence (BI) was seen as their largest barrier to innovation.
In today’s most successful customer-facing products, product managers use built-in analytics to tell them how users engage with their products. While those kinds of analytics are rare in corporate IT systems, they can be a valuable source of insights. But, to be worth the effort, you have to track the right metrics, ask the right questions, and use the information to make data-driven decisions.
Key metrics for enterprise IT products should include:
- Engagement metrics: which features do your users engage with the most — and which ones do they (almost) never use?
- Productivity metrics: how efficiently are users able to perform their jobs in the system and how well does the system perform against benchmarks?
- Cost & value metrics: what is the cost-benefit value of the application compared to alternatives?
If your current business software isn’t providing the data you need to make decisions, give us a shout, and we’ll be happy to help.
Build diverse, cross-functional teams
In traditional product management, siloed departments move a product along a linear path: development > production > launch. But because they lack cross-functional collaboration, these insular teams often experience miscommunication, blockers, and an increasing need for workarounds. The result is predictable: delays, customer dissatisfaction, and increased costs.
By contrast, a team that includes not just engineers but also business users, UX designers, and other domain specialists provides multiple viewpoints to assess the validity of new ideas and increases opportunities for innovation. In fact, the World Economic Forum 2020 identified cross-functional collaboration as a key leadership skill in the current ecosystem.
While you may not have the title of Product Manager, if you develop enterprise IT applications for your company, these product management best practices can help. By embracing a product vision and customer focus, you can help ensure that your internal systems deliver best-in-class value.