Enterprises are complex entities with a large stakeholder and customer landscape. Products developed to support the enterprise tend to become complicated and multi-layered, partly due to this complexity. But it does not have to be this way; users deserve a simplified experience, irrespective of how complex the product or the underlying use cases are. In other words, enterprise products need to provide simple answers to complex questions. In a way, this is consumerization of enterprise products that provide users with simpler, visual capabilities rather than hard to use textual/technical ones.
As easy as it sounds, it’s one of the most challenging things to achieve in the current environment; where businesses are charged with aggressively modernizing products with IT functions that reel under the pressure of legacy monoliths, data consistency and business interoperability issues.
We’ve consistently seen four major issues when it comes to building effective products for the enterprise:
1. Ill-defined Problem Space – An incomplete view of the customer’s need or problem leads to “inapt” product features being built. It is important that core issues and customer needs, whether clearly expressed or not, are identified before moving onto Product Development.
In our experience, enterprises tend to jump on the technology bandwagon without spending an appropriate amount of effort defining the problem space. An enterprise product can have a large user base across various interdependent value streams. Their issues and aspirations, as well as their interpretations of value from the product, may differ widely across this spectrum.
To address this, modern day Product Managers rely heavily on primary and secondary research to make informed decisions. A well-oiled User Research and Empathy process becomes necessary to build the right kind of features aimed at satisfying clearly understood user needs. Simple tools like Empathy Maps and Customer Journeys go a long way in understanding the user a lot better and are strongly advised.
2. Approval Silos - Any new products need to be vetted and approved at periodic intervals by multiple functions such as Finance, Marketing, Security or Legal. Naturally, the sheer amount of time to get a product off the ground tends to be on the higher side for enterprises. This is a crucial bottleneck in the journey that can have a negative impact on the timelines and result into expensive delays.
Complex and hierarchical approval processes, rooted deeply in the traditional project management culture, affect the overall business agility of the enterprise. Better communication and timeline adherence can help to mitigate some of these delays. However, a much larger, enterprise-wide culture change is generally needed to foster collaboration.
3. Dependencies – A product is a cohesive entity that resides within an interconnected enterprise. Naturally, it has multiple dependencies on other programs and products. These include inter- product dependencies, inter-segment program dependencies, operational and people dependencies. Dependencies can hamper the progress of a product unless the dependencies are clearly identified, tagged and addressed. Un-catered dependencies can result in catastrophic product launch delays. Implementing Kanban boards with clearly outlined dependencies during the planning phase is a good option to avoid such delays.
4. Lack of User Feedback Loops – Often, Product Managers get so engrossed in the development of the product that they start losing sight of the usability aspect. Absence of well-built user feedback loops at various stages of Product Development can result in a misaligned product that does not solve anyone’s needs.
Iterative development practices suggested by Scrum and SAFe help put in place the feedback loops to align development with larger business outcomes and user needs. Demonstrating product chunks at intervals to key stakeholders and obtaining their feedback is an important activity that must not be ignored. Continuous user feedback guides Product Managers to build the right product to meet customer needs.
Developing meaningful products in due time and releasing them on demand is a daunting task for Enterprise Product leaders. However, a methodical, frameworks-based approach can help streamline this process and yield desirable results.