Can you see the man in the moon?

Without a roadmap and a value focus it is easier to perceive that the current “project” might the last one in a while, therefore you need to ask for the moon.

It is often more difficult to take a product focus for applications that will be used internally than for an application that will be used by or sold to an external customer. Part of the issue seems to the distance an application from the ultimate end of the value chain and therefore revenue. The further away from revenue, the harder it is to view the user of the software as a customer. Therefore providing support for tools that enable or support non-customer facing work is often viewed as less critical than customer facing applications or tools. The difficulty in considering internal software as a product is less an artifact of any real difference between internal and external facing applications than perspective. Differences in perspective are typically built on minor differences in organization and market attributes. These differences include:

Ability to switch – Internal “customers” often are hostages to the services provided by internal IT organizations, at least in the short run. While that sounds strong, internal customers often do not have the option to shift providers if they don’t like the service or quality they receive. In the long run, switching can and often does occur either through outsourcing, formation of shadow IT groups in the business or changes in IT leadership. Less flexibility in the short run can often lead to a lack of discipline when it comes to defining product roadmaps or defining the true value any specific feature or function might deliver. Without a roadmap, a form of fatalism can set in, in which users always ask for more than they need at the moment but usually accept what they are offered (after a lot of noisy conversation).

Internal politics – The value of work that is sold or used by external customers is usually easier to measure. Functionality either solves a need and generates revenue or increases customer satisfaction. Developing a value for work to be consumed internally is rarely that cut and dry. Priorities are often defined by considerations that don’t reflect the true quantitative value of the work. Priorities often reflect the requestor’s (or requestor’s group) positional power. In my first job, the head of accounting requests always floated to the top of the list even though we were a garment manufacturer with a sales focus. Prioritization by factors that don’t relate to value makes it difficult to develop roadmaps or plan release for applications that don’t have the same level of political clout. Remember when you hear the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” it often means that the organization has a project rather than a product focus.

Talking with Customers –  Another of the differences between internal applications and external products that impacts whether an application is viewed as a product is who needs to have input into direction. Products require discussion not only with internal stakeholders, but also with external customers. Internal applications supported by individual projects only require discussion with internal stakeholders. The lack of a perceived impact outside of the company’s boundaries makes it difficult to generate the motivation to get involvement across the IT/business boundary. For example, it is often harder to identify and get product owner involvement to support planning and work to be used internally. Agile techniques are often a tool to remove the barriers between IT and internal business groups. However it is easier to generate the involvement needed facilitate developing plans, road maps and communication when revenue is involved, which tends to yield a project perspective (short term) rather than a product perspective.

Perceived differences between work done for internal and external use tend to drive internal customers into a more transactional mode. Without a roadmap and a value focus it is easier to perceive that the current “project” might the last one in a while, therefore you need to ask for the moon.

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