Status Quo vs Purpose Built Solutions

We’re all familiar with the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It encourages us to not tinker when things still function and ultimately maintain the status quo. Instead, we turn our attention to only what’s truly broken or causing significant pain or inconvenience for customers.

While this sometimes makes sense for our products—prioritizing net new functionality or fixing bugs over improving issues with palatable workarounds—this mentality really sets us back with our internal tools and processes. Fixing a bug or improving usability in our products might lead to increased adoption, reduced churn, or a revenue boost. But the payoff from addressing something that only benefits company employees often doesn’t seem significant enough to warrant the resources, expense, or inconvenience. Keeping the status quo is the easier path.

However, this is short-sighted thinking. Your business is more than just the product on a shelf or in an app store, it’s the entire operation. This includes everyone that researches, designs, plans, builds, sells, ships, supports, and bills for that product. All those people and the resources they need to perform their job are a big chunk of the budget. The company’s ability to maximize its return on its investment in THEM is no different than your buyers’ seeking an ROI when they buy your stuff.

Purpose-built tools aren’t new to your organization

Obviously, most companies realize their employees need things to do their jobs. There have been office supply cabinets for ages. And almost every knowledge worker gets kitted out with a company computer with basic productivity software. But after that, the pursestrings can get a little tighter.

Many functions including CRM, finance, and inventory have been moved to purpose-built, cloud-based solutions. The expenses attached to these solutions no one would dare question. Those monthly seat licenses enable employees to be far more productive while centralizing and standardizing how data is collected, stored, and used. Who wouldn’t make that kind of investment and improve the status quo?

However, there’s simply been less universal recognition that product management needs specialized tools of its own. There are a few root causes for this.

We’ve made it work this long

Product managers are often a victim of their own success. We pile on the hats, persevere through contentious debates, make do with meager resources, and make it all look so easy. We don’t show up to meetings empty-handed or unprepared just because we didn’t have some fancy-schmancy software made specifically for us.

Instead, we’re a scrappy lot that—in the immortal words of Tim Gunn—“make it work” with whatever we’ve got on hand. So we manage backlogs in bug tracking systems in engineering and use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel for detailed roadmaps before prettying them up in a PowerPoint slide deck.

Because the finished product is “good enough”—the product keeps getting built after all. No one else is thinking about the tedious, time-consuming work of retrofitting these tools to product work. Unless stakeholders are really dissatisfied with the output, they don’t realize what else they’re missing out on.

No one really understands what product management is doing

Despite decades of prominence, product management often seems like a mysterious dark art to the rest of the organization. We don’t churn out lines of code or close a bunch of deals or ship a lot of boxes. All of these actions have tidy measurables related to output.

Those who have bothered to peek behind the curtain also see we do lots of different things, from interviewing customers to hashing out UX decisions to scrutinizing analytics. Consequently, it doesn’t seem like we do any one particular thing all that much. If we’re not spending six hours a day using a tool, do we really need to buy it?

Without a true appreciation for the role and the vital nature of the outputs product teams produce, leadership would be hard-pressed to realize there’s a game-changing tool for the product team that’s worth investigating and investing in.

Our own case of imposter syndrome

Product teams don’t have a straight-line impact on revenue and don’t technically “make” or “sell” anything themselves. Consequently, there can be an inferiority complex when it comes to asking companies to spend money on us. Whether it’s training, attending a conference, or buying a tool, we’re asking the business to spend more on a cost center that has no associated revenue.

And while there is an ROI—which we’ll get to in a minute—it’s not as immediate and obvious as it can be for other departments and their needs for purpose-built tools. But that means building and presenting a business case to spend money on ourselves, which certainly isn’t helped by already feeling like an imposter.

It really is worth it (AKA how to make your case)

Now that we know why our profession faces this conundrum, we know how to attack the problem. First and foremost, we need to actually ask for these tools instead of assuming we can’t have them or worried that the request will have negative blowback.

When you have a solid business case, your ask is no longer for a favor. Instead, it’s a recommendation to improve business operations. And product teams most certainly have an ironclad case for purpose-built product management tools based on these five facts.

More productive

These tools save product teams hours of time on tedious tasks that can now get diverted to more meaningful work. For example, with a purpose-built roadmapping tool there’s no more time agonizing over formatting cells in spreadsheets or getting all the boxes to line up correctly in PowerPoint every time there’s an update. The tool does the laborious layout stuff while the product team focuses on solving customer problems.

More transparent

Cloud-based tools get information out of files in someone’s hard drive and make it available on-demand to key stakeholders whenever they need it. With more shared visibility and update alerts, the team stays informed of any changes as they happen.

More consistent

When the entire organization uses the same tool and templates, the outputs have standardized formats and terminology. This makes it much easier to deliver plans that are easily digestible. Plus with Portfolio Views and resource rollups, leaders can get a big-picture view with no additional work from the product team.

That kind of visibility and the option to make apples-to-apples comparisons and trade-offs without trying to translate things from one roadmap format to another empowers stakeholders to make better-informed decisions.

More accurate

A cloud-based roadmap means everyone sees the latest and greatest version of everything. Instead of people referencing old printouts or outdated versions in their inboxes, it’s a real-time view every time.

More useful

Product teams aren’t spending as much time on the tasks that are now streamlined with purpose-built tools. This means they can add more value to the organization elsewhere. Whether it’s spending more time training the sales team or conducting more customer interviews or doing profit margin analysis for senior management, a well-equipped team simply has more to offer.

Closing arguments against the status quo

Most product management tools are sold via subscriptions these days and offer free trials. As a result, the actual financial commitment to exploring how it can help your team is fairly minimal. But the secret to continue justifying the expense lies with some solid ROI metrics.

Ask your team to track the hours they spend on tasks they would use the tool for. After getting the tool in place and training everyone, revisit those same measurements. Unless people are doing it wrong, they should be spending way less time. Do some hourly salary calculations, compare those to the SaaS costs, and you should be home-free.

You can also survey others outside the product team to get their feedback on whether they’ve noticed improvements in quality, consistency, and accuracy.

Tired of the status quo and ready to get started with a purpose-built roadmapping tool? Sign up for a free trial to see what ProductPlan can do for you. Or, read more about why spreadsheets are a time suck you can now escape.