It is no revelation that even most non-IT corporations are in the process of significant digitalisation, to the point that some are transitioning towards becoming quasi-software companies themselves.
Types of software that non-IT corporates develop, include:
- Internal software to streamline operations;
- Software for their client as part of a larger consulting scope of works;
- External client-facing software to provide better value/service to their target market. (This is most challenging of the three, because it requires a company to try to take a new product to market and commercialise it from scratch).
I have personally spent six and a half years of my career working in the large non-IT corporates, specifically in Engineering Consulting. This was time well spent, I learnt a lot, and I did make a few interesting observations of attitudes towards innovation, particularly that concerning software development, which I’m going to share in this article.
Non-IT Corporates overestimating their product expertise
When new software-related projects appear in large non-IT corporations interesting discussions pop up all over the organisation. Non-IT professionals become extremely excited and all wanting to help the lucky person who has been assigned to manage the project. Non-IT professionals get the sense that they know a lot more about creating software products than they actually do.
Most of the advice given by non-IT professionals is well-intentioned but is seldom well-informed, and often creates noise. They may have a decent level of exposure to business and project management in general, but would rarely have experience in software product development. Unless they launched own tech products incognito, this does happen 🙂
Can the problem be solved by Technical Specialists alone?
Engineering consultants (for example) often see software-related projects as almost purely technical so they tend to believe the solution also has to be predominantly technical. The business concept is clear and straightforward so the only thing needed is to address the technical challenges. Which is why they often assume they need to talk to a software developer as a first step.
It is expected that by involving someone technical into the discussion on new software project, the full range of skills required to deliver an effective & innovative software solution will be represented in one person. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case, there are several other professionals who possess all the other skills & knowledge required to deliver software projects successfully in a way that delivers true commercial value, i.e. Product Managers, User Researchers, UX/UI Designers, Product Marketing Experts etc.
Activities that are often required before development commences:
Based on several years experience and feedback, we have developed a comprehensive step-by-step process to get any product idea or concept tested before going into development. Find more details on the process and professional involvement on our KickStart page.
Non-IT corporates are not designed for software development
It is often a huge risk for corporates to take on software projects themselves because they’re not really the right kind of organisation. As opposed to product innovation firms which are essentially aimed at developing new, redesigning existing, or substantially improving any product or service.
Within the software world, the product innovation firms are called product development companies, digital agencies, design studios, product design firms or product innovation lab. They are often small, R&D focussed, creative organisations. Not typically the sort of organisations which have to adhere to strict design standards and constraints, so they can really get creative.
Which is why it is often the case that Product Managers and other lean thinking software professionals will replace the solution/implementation proposed by the client with something completely different. A solution that is better aligned with the business needs of the client’s organisation but also leverages existing technology or partial solutions.
Partnering with Product Innovation Firms
In an ideal world, corporates would realise they need to find a product innovation partner (see diagram on the right), whose specialists have product (not just software) development experience and knowledge, the business outcomes would be dramatically better (and a lot of money could be saved, from not making avoidable mistakes).
Product development companies will typically force the project to stay in the Design phase for 2-3 times longer – so that all the design variables, use cases, and target audiences etc. can be carefully considered and even tested before going into development.
Additional time spent in design and prototyping, will save time and cost in later stages by avoiding the development of functionality that the target market won’t actually use. Other mistakes can be avoided by iterating the product further while it is still being designed.