3 things every enterprise IT manager should do #3: Honestly assess your product/market fit

And so to our final instalment of ‘let’s change enterprise IT’ series. As with parts #1 and #2, we think these lessons from startup land could lead to a step-change in enterprise IT capability, even if they feel a bit strange…

The product here is the whole package – the sum of the whole user experience of interacting with the IT team for any reason. We think of this ‘solution user experience’.

Product/market fit was the creation of Marc Andreesen. His definition is “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market”. In fact, “a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls product out of the startup.”

Isn’t this the kind of engagement every enterprise IT team wants with their business customers?

But isn’t enterprise IT a monopoly with a captive market? Indeed it is…right up to the point they outsource you…or the point where a disruptive technology appears and customers start adopting it specifically to get around the limitations of enterprise IT. The market needs to be satisfied and will be, somehow.

(And if you stop reading right there, construct a survey to get user feedback on your services and use the results constructively then that’s fine by me.)

Sean Ellis points to a good product/market fit as being indicated by 40% of users being ‘very disappointed without the product’. This is really interesting because a lot of IT departments I’ve worked for, and in, wouldn’t be able to hit that.

So how do you create a product that’s must-have rather than mandatory? Here’s how.

1. Double-down on the feedback from those that value the product

Find out what your users would be disappointed to lose and do more of it. Everything else is either BAU utility work or it’s pointless. For example, if they’d really miss the hands-on, one-to-one help they get from one of your support guys, go large with just that service.

Obviously the BAU utility work is important – the lights have to be kept on, the network has to carry traffic and so on. Often users will miss infrastructure altogether because it just works but you know how disappointed they’d be if became unreliable.

2. Keep testing hypotheses

Post #1 in this series talked about radically reducing batch size and item #1 above talks about user feedback. Your job is to put the two together to constantly assess your fit to your target communities.

This means testing lots of hypotheses quickly. The ones that have the best feedback you go with (as described above). The ones that fail you cancel – but at least you’re cancelling small jobs quickly, rather than large, complex, risky investments.

3. Communicate the technical solution; let people derive the benefit message

If your team keeps the infrastructure resilient, give the users the uptime stats. Sure, communicate them in an interesting way (“that’s equivalent to 5 minutes every millenia”) but you don’t need to do the benefits analysis up front. Let ’em work it out.

(Francis Flaherty talks about communicating the concept of an infinite number, “…the complete works of Shakespeare would be encoded as numbers in there…”)

4. Build a business model

We use the business model canvas to quickly and visually get all the components of the model into place and we’d do the same in an enterprise environment. Once you’ve done it you can clearly see the gaps and test the viability of what you’re trying to achieve.

It might seem strange to want to model what is an internal business but we think it would focus an enterprise IT management team on key areas; value proposition, partnership, channels to the various customer segments within the business and so on.

What happens if you get it right?

We think if you get it right, you grow without trying in terms of reach, influence and value. As Stephen Covey famously says in the 7 Habits by concentrating on what you can influence, your sphere of influence grows.

So that concludes the series; the three things we’d do if we were pitched back into the land of enterprise IT would be:

  1. Cancel all our projects & reconstitute efforts around small batch, continuous workstreams.
  2. Radically desegregate the management & staff to produce a more collaborative environment.
  3. Honestly assess product/market fit and act on it.

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