Many companies have wonderfully sophisticated and clever tools to support their organisational workflows. These workflows are what deliver their customer value and result in profit for shareholders. These workflow's are everywhere such as how news publishers collect date specific information and package it as tv shows, websites and newspapers or how restaurants collect edible ingredients then convert it to beautifully presented scrumptious dining experiences. Typically these workflows follow some industry common practices, but at microscopic level are full of unique details.

It is a fair assumption to say that those tools that support the workflow add value to the organisation. Knowing that your organisation has tools that are valuable, drives some organisations to package the tool and sell it to others?

I have experienced a number of organisations who decide to repackage their internal systems by converting them into products to create new revenue lines. And why not? Some of the most successful product organisations rely on "Eating their own dog Food" - meaning they use their product daily themselves. EG Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc, etc. 

Typically these organisations are at core product organisations. However some organisations have flipped their tools into successful products, eg Basecamp - a web agency that productized its internal project management tools with so much success that they turned into a project management software company. Unfortunately most who go down this road, will fail. 

Obviously building and selling a product is tough and full of potential dangers which might cause failure. These organisations who see potential opportunities to productize their internal tools have one big challenge in common. They have the wrong culture.

R&D for internal tools focus on the inane unique details of the workflow that exist in no other company in the exact same way. The feature lists are often dictated by HiPPO (highest paid persons opinion) and saying "no" is rarely an option.  These internal tool end up like swiss army knives - they do all sorts of things and very few people know what most of the "blades" are for. Worst still most of the assorted features added to the tool are used by very few people and not very often.

The best products in the world have great product managers who's main job is to say "NO". Great products solve one problem and they achieve it through simplicity. They ignore all edge cases. They avoid those features that very few people actually will use. In most cases they take away options to achieve value. 

For internal tools to be turned into valuable products, you need a culture that allows product teams to say "no". You need a collaborative and evidence based culture that relishes experimenting to prove what to say "yes" to. And importantly, you need a culture where "failure" is encouraged! Failing is learning what does not work, which is critical to achieving big success as it directs product managers towards those key features that delight users with value.

Before you choose to productize your most loved workflow tools - first set your business up for success and create a space and culture that empowers the product team to say "no" and let it deliver the revenue goals you have dreamed of.



AuthorDave Martin