Product management in the enterprise is a relatively nascent discipline. For the practice to become successful, technology leaders must overcome the challenges of product management in the enterprise.
An enterprise product manager (PM) either manages products to sell to an enterprise or is an employee of one. For many, an enterprise Product Manager is defined by the size of the enterprise, but that isn’t the critical factor when looking at what makes an enterprise product manager. Enterprise product management has nothing to do with size. It is the complexity of the project that sets enterprise efforts apart. These complexities include the following:
- Products must address expectations at multiple levels of an organization.
- Products are deployed across silos, requiring cooperation throughout a business.
- Products must balance customer-specific needs against the mainline.
Understanding how these factors impact product development and delivery ensures a better outcome for a company and its customers.
Challenges of Product Management in the Enterprise
Enterprise solutions have customers and end-users, and they may not be the same. For example, a mobile app is sold to a financial institution. To the enterprise PM, the customer is the financial institution (FI), but the end-user is the FI’s customer. To be effective, product managers have to understand both personas and their relationships. If they do not, the results can be damaging to their business relationship.
Suppose there’s an update to the mobile app. The enterprise PM coordinated the update with the financial institution and everything went smoothly. A few days later the FI calls, complaining of the increased number of calls to its help center as a result of the update. The calls aren’t about performance as everything is working. The complaints are the result of a change to the user experience.
The enterprise PM failed to consider the end-user in deploying the update. Releasing an update that impacted the user interface without warning upset the FI’s customers and created a customer relationship problem for the FI. That’s why an enterprise product manager has to keep customers and users in mind.
Enterprise PMs should consider the following when designing new products or updating old ones:
- Understand the agreements between the customer and their end-user. No updates should invalidate an agreement or increase costs.
- Discuss how to get end-user feedback with customers. Some customers may allow direct end-user contact; others may want to control any interaction.
- Incorporate a tutorial or training material into new releases. Think of end-user tutorials as the old read-me files. Enterprise PMs need to let end-users know what to expect.
Whether it’s a consumer or a third-party supplier, keep the end-user and the customer in mind throughout the product life cycle.
Enterprise solutions, by definition, cross-departmental lines. Even if the product seems to be self-contained, once it is installed, the inter-dependencies appear. Sometimes those intersections occur within a department.
In large organizations, multiple IT projects occur at the same time. Although it is the customer’s responsibility to ensure there is no overlap, that doesn’t always happen. As a result, halfway through installing a network monitoring solution a key resource, for example, is not available.
Fixing a project collision at a customer site is beyond an enterprise PM’s control; however, experienced PMs are prepared for such occurrences because they’ve seen it before. They ensure that fallback positions are established at critical junctures when developing installation instructions.
A more likely scenario is overlooking how a solution will be used within the enterprise. For example, a cloud-based sales management system is being installed. After configuring the system and assigning permissions, the first test can’t be completed because part of the inventory data is stored on a legacy system.
How long it takes to resolve the situation depends on how many projects are underway and what resources are available. Enterprise PMs can’t assume that their product installation is the only IT effort. Something as small as a few inventory parts stored outside the standard system can delay a project for days or even weeks.
Enterprise product managers should be prepared for cross-functional conflicts by:
- Planning for the future. As part of a product life cycle, consider building more APIs for scalable integration. Continuous development of APIs minimizes the disruption in product delivery and the need for custom development.
- Understanding workflows. PMs need to know how the solution will be used at customer locations. Conducting user research with different customers can provide insight into how the product will be used. Comparing data from multiple sources can result in a journey map that highlights the cross-functional nature of implementation.
- Accessing data. A crucial part of any application is the data it collects. Whether it is used for analytics or machine learning, data is a company’s primary asset. Enterprise PMs must ensure that their products not only collect data but also store it in accessible formats.
Enterprise PMs must be aware of the cross-functional implementation of their products. In today’s landscape, stand-alone applications are a thing of the past. Data has to be shared across an enterprise.
Enterprise product managers are continuously balancing the needs of customers against corporate goals. Whether it is resolving issues with procurement or addressing customer-specific requests, Enterprise PMs are often faced with difficult decisions. For example, large organizations often use procurement departments to finalize a sale. Their role is to ensure the company is receiving the best price and contract terms. They may want escrow clauses placed into the purchase agreement or financial penalties for delayed delivery. These requests can sideline a sale unless an Enterprise PM is prepared to address them. To avoid unnecessary delays, Enterprise PMs should understand their companies’ positions on typical clauses that may be added to an agreement. The more an Enterprise PM knows about the company’s guidelines, the less time is spent having the legal department approve the contract.
Enterprise PMs are often faced with balancing customer-specific requests against the product’s development. It doesn’t matter if the development methodology is waterfall or agile, customers may not be willing to wait for a feature to be released. They want the functionality immediately
Unfortunately, the customer request often includes functionality that has little value to the rest of the market. Moving resources to address the customer-specific request will have an impact on the planned delivery of the next release. What does an Enterprise PM do? The decision becomes more complicated when the customer falls into the “too-big-to-lose” category. There’s always internal pressure to prioritize the customer’s request.
Tips for Overcoming the Challenges of Product Management in the Enterprise
When faced with the daunting task of balancing customer and company needs, Enterprise PMs should consider the following:
- Watch customer ratios. To maintain a healthy financial picture, companies should not allow a single customer to make up more than 20% of their revenue stream. Enterprise PMs may not have direct control over the ratio, but they do have the ability to highlight the risks associated with relying too heavily on a single enterprise.
- Negotiate features. If a customer asks for something that is close to a feature in the queue, talk to the customer about adjusting the requirements. Enterprise PMs who can negotiate feature requests, so they closely align with the mainline development can deliver the customer-specific changes while ensuring that the base feature will appeal to a wider audience.
- Talk to development. If the customer won’t budge, talk to developers. Maybe, they can design the software so that it accommodates the customer’s request at a minimal impact to the development schedule. Alternatively, they may be able to develop the feature, so it will be more universally accepted and still meet the customer’s request.
Being an enterprise product manager isn’t for everyone. They face a different set of challenges. Their efforts must consider a multi-customer environment where solutions must scale easily and pivot quickly. They must understand the intricacies of their customers’ operations to ensure their products meet enterprise-wide expectations. Finally, enterprise PMs must be skilled in balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders without weakening product viability and delivery. Despite these challenges, being an enterprise PM can be rewarding. There’s something satisfying knowing you’ve helped an organization succeed because of your product management skills.