What if your customer were your employee? What does it truly mean to release an internal product? How do you balance existing business needs with goals of automation and improving employee efficiency?
With recent advancements in AI / ML, we’re all looking for opportunities to leverage this technology and increase efficiency as much as possible. However, the building blocks to these buzzwords for many businesses aren’t shiny, they are essential – understanding what data you collect, how you store it, and what decisions you’re making while using it. Often the workflows that helped get a successful startup or scale-up to where it is today are the ones that feel like they’re holding you back from the next level.
We’ve had the pleasure of working with several clients who needed to level up their workflow in order to take internal tasks from a duct-tape approach to those aided by software and automation.
This year, we needed to apply our own methods internally. Historically, our consultant time-tracking dashboards were created through spreadsheets and pivot tables. As our organization grew from 15 to 50 – we found ourselves spending too much time each week fussing with the tooling. Together we made the decision to adopt Metric.ai to track consultant time, vacation, and project allocations.
The rollout process reinforced several learnings that we’ve encountered in helping our clients through similar problem spaces. I hope that sharing them might help you ask additional questions to your team, of your plan, and set you up for success.
Embrace the Spirit of Experimentation
To successfully release an internal product, the business has to understand that any investment in the product now will pay off in the future. Piloting the product and identifying trusted employees who can participate in the roll-out at a small scale helps mitigate the risk of a steep learning curve or major gaps in functionality.
A new tool often highlights potential process efficiencies. By empowering pilot employees to vocalize gaps while accepting temporary slowdowns and friction, organizations can foster an environment conducive to learning and improvement. Rip off the band aid and accept the short term bumpy ride.
When migrating away from manual, home grown tooling such as Excel in favor of automating tasks, we often underestimate the workload. We don’t realize the shortcuts, assumptions, and decision criteria that are internalized based on experience and what makes us inherently human. Investing time to understand a user’s workflow in detail while scrutinizing the “whys” that drive their specific approach is key.
Release Features Iteratively
Releasing a product that solves all problems from the outset is challenging. Instead, organizations increase their chance of success when features are rolled out incrementally. This approach minimizes training investments, allows for meaningful feedback via real-world use, and enables teams to address pain points and make improvements.
In order to determine what features or capabilities you need to request along the way, hold your team accountable to diagnosing the why/problem behind a given feature or idea prior to prioritizing it.
Bridge the Assumption Gap
It is common for assumptions made around user needs during the planning phase to differ from the actual needs when the product is in use. Launch the product around one capability and put it to use. Waiting too long can lead to feature bloat and a solution designed around outdated processes.
While inefficient on the surface, working in both the existing tooling and new tooling for the short term can help build trust in the software and also highlight areas of discrepancy.
Revisit Employee Performance Metrics and Processes
When introducing a new tool or process, it’s important to consider revisiting existing user performance standards, metrics, and business expectations. Recognize that during the initial stages, there may be temporary dips in individual performance metrics as employees familiarize themselves with the new system. Day-to-day expectations likely need to be reconsidered: including roles, approvals, and permissions as it relates to tasks or access to information. By adjusting expectations and providing adequate training, organizations can facilitate a smoother transition.
Considering automating your processes for scale?
A vital part of any product discussion is assessing all your options. Do we buy a solution off the shelf or invest in building it ourselves? Do we intend on building our business around this solution, or using it to augment activities that are unlikely to change much over time? Understanding your company’s needs and limitations is an important step before investing time and money into a new product.
When releasing any product, whether to the market at large or internally, consider the holistic strategy from inception to launch. You can invest thousands into a product and do all the discovery and experimentation needed to feel comfortable—but if the rollout strategy isn’t ironclad and the business isn’t ready to be hypervigilant and creative as it relates to internal process impacts, employee performance, and outcomes—the hard work could end up on a shelf.
Curious how we’ve helped others automate their workflow? Check out this video.