design thinking in project management – Avoid internal product death

This article talks about getting approval for internal products which is a big challenge faced by product teams. By applying design thinking in project management, you can improve chances of internal buy-in by using personas of senior management, crisp narrative and finally, rapport.

A lot of teams worldwide make great products. But we never get to see them. These fateful quality products are nevertheless killed by stakeholders or senior management. I am sure you understand the frustration which comes with this.

Death of the internal product

I’ll start with a story. Peter is a project manager with Awesome Analytics company. He’s been with the company for the last two years. Currently his team has been working on a web based analytics dashboard which would revolutionise the analytics space.

They have been working on the product for the last 5 months and its finally time to present it to Bob, the VP of Product Dev. Other VPs are also coming together for a two day meet-up held at the company’s regional headquarters to discuss the company’s product roadmap.

This is really important for Peter because his boss would accompany him to this meeting. He’ll get around thirty minutes to present this product which will also include a live demo.

He starts his presentation. In a couple of minutes he is drowned in a wave of questions from the audience. The VPs look uninterested since they’ve seen ten similar demos since morning. But from time to time, they put on a serious expression and ask some fundamental questions to which Peter doesn’t have a clear answer.

Somehow Peter starts the live product demo. This demo also draws a lot of flak from the audience because of numerous options present on screen. Because of the interruptions, his delivery is completely messed. He loses his track. The product is shelved and forgotten.

In your professional careers you would’ve witnessed some version of this scenario for sure. The problem is, Peter never knew about design thinking in project management. He is an adherent of the classical project management approach.

Understanding the big picture in project management

Internal products are important for corporates to constantly innovate. In medium to big corporates, a lot of development teams compete with each other to get their share of the pie. These products don’t compete with the products in the market, but rather with each other.

They are ultimately judged by the VPs.  Most of the products never get a buy-in from the higher ups. And just like the success of startups, only a few are lucky to see the light of the day.

No team wants to see their product shot down as their effort is never ever justified. The corporate scenario has not really matured to a level where effort spent in learning from your mistakes is justified (which is a sad thing anyway).

Great products are shelved everyday at this stage. You have to understand that you are not presenting to your end customers, but to internal bosses.

A product will get a buy-in, only if it wows them. Any professional, worth his salt has to understand that if you believe in a product, you have to understand the people affected by the product. These include the end-users, the stakeholders and the decision makers.

Project team’s goal

What do you think is Peter’s goal  for the presentation. If you approach the situation with a goal-directed approach,  its simple, it’s to get internal buy-in. Get a sweet budget and start building it the proper way. That’s why application of design thinking in project management is all the more important in such a situation.

A project team’s goal for an internal product is to get a buy-in.

The Boss persona

Any half decent team, thinking the right way and  building a product, builds it with the end-user in mind. This is done with a set of target user’s personas. But in those personas, a key persona is always missing. Its the decision maker’s persona aka the stakeholder persona aka the Boss persona.

Apart from the users, there needs to be a decision maker’s persona.  In this case, its Bob, VP of new products. After all, Bob is also a potential customer. Its a blunder to skip his persona.

So how can you save your product from doom? Empathise with Bob and his friends and create a persona for them while building the solution. The product presentation should be designed with Bob’s persona in mind.

The slide deck should have more visuals and a clear narrative when delivering the product demo. Check out ‘Death by powerpoint’ for some excellent pointers on presentation.

What the higher management sees is what it’ll believe.  You can always change the product later when you do proper research and  have the time and budget for it.

But one thing is certain, if you don’t design the powerpoint deck and the product demo with dear Bob in mind, he’s going to show little interest in your presentation.  The project goes down the we’ll-relook-at-this-blackhole. So by using principles of design thinking in project management, you can connect with the stakeholders. They are human too.

The narrative. Decide Use cases

If you are presenting an app, have at least two to three strong use case scenarios for your product. These scenarios solve the most pressing problems of your target users.

These user journeys become the backbone of your narrative and captivate the audience. This will stop the audience from digressing.

Present only the features which are part of this narrative. At this point of time, you don’t need to have a fully functional software. All you need to do is communicate your point across and make an impact.

Design thinking in project management calls for rapport and trust, not surprises.

Presentations akin to Steve Jobs  are not going to save you in these situations. Your best bet is to ensure that you are not presenting the solution to the audience for the first time. Always try to casually discuss the solution individually with the stakeholders, in their own office.

Its important that they  understand the solution in advance and have some idea about it. They’ll be less skeptical during the actual meeting and chances of an awkward question cropping up would be lesser.

Such products are rarely thought out perfectly in the first place. They are more in the MVP (minimum viable product) stage.

Give the Boss persona a try while building your next product. They are simple, quick and generate a lot of value.You might just start seeing the entire project in a different light.

All the best in creating awesome products.

Others things that you can help you with buy-in for internal products are discussed in Part II of this article.

Leave a Reply