9 Mistakes to Avoid while creating an Internal Product

by Marc Molins Gracia

If I say Skyscanner product, what comes to your mind?

The calendar to find cheap flights? The APP? Maybe the newsletter…?

Those are true, but they are just a slice of the pie.

In order to launch those shiny products, there are other teams working in the background to enable the creation of a world class product.


Some of our Internal Products

  • Data Platform

Mission: Every decision is driven by complete, timely and accurate data.

  • Experimentation Platform

Mission: Help the company decide on whether to deliver changes in the product through A/B tests.

  • Geographical API

Mission: Provide information about countries, cities, airports, monuments… to all Skyscanner.

  • Configuration Services

Mission: Allow Skyscanner to customize the product depending on the market.


And together with the impact of those teams comes a new challenge: how to create a world class internal product.

After being a product manager in Skyscanner Data Tribe for 6 months, I would like to explain 9 key mistakes I learned from, and hope you can too.

Mistake 1. Not understanding how your work affects the end product

Even if you are serving other teams in your company, your work will impact the end users.

By understanding the different product touch points, you will be able to better understand the requirements of what you are trying to build.

How to avoid it?

Make a list of all the touch points your service has on the end product.

Example: “Where is the information served by the Geographical API in the Skyscanner Product?”

Airports, countries, cities in the search.
The airports in the Map
The airports in the results page + hotels cross sell.

What was the impact of understanding the product touch points?

  1. We were able to better understand the requirements of all the squads for the new GEO systems.
  2. We were able to spot bugs related to the GEO systems
  3. It was easier to convince other teams on why it was so important to collaborate on our mission.

Mistake 2. Not taking the time to understand the different kinds of internal customers

As a product manager passionate about design and growth, I tend to end up connecting more with designers and growth people more than for example finance.

The same happens with engineers. They tend to be more comfortable talking to other engineers.

This can be a problem while creating an internal product. You may end up getting feedback from people you are comfortable with and that’s not representative of all the internal customers.

How to avoid it?

Make a list of all the internal customers of your product, identifying:

  1. What are they using your product for?
  2. Understand their customer journey, to be able to identify and understand their pain points.

Recommended Resources:

Mistake 3. Just focusing on requests from internal teams

I am sure you have this quote lots of times, but I would give it even more importance for internal products.

These teams might focus on satisfying the needs of other teams within the company, forgetting about the end customers.

How to avoid it?

  1. Make a list of internal customers pain points and their effect on the end customer.
  2. Whenever someone asks for a feature, ask why?

Mistake 4. Not communicating your mission to other teams

If you are building an internal product, you will most likely need the help of other teams to be successful.

Without other teams, no matter how hard you work, you will always find yourself blocked and unable to complete a product.

Why is this happening?

  1. Internal products can suffer from a “build it and they will come” mentality
  2. The urgency to deliver and build something prevents us taking the right amount of time to communicate to other people.

Example:

In my team, we needed all the services — owned by many other teams — at Skyscanner to move to the new unique Geographical API.

This means we needed to convince other people to prioritize migrating over new projects they may wish to take on.

How to avoid it?

Constantly communicate the mission, vision and value of your project, explaining which pain points you are trying to solve and which effects it will have on the end user.

Ideas:

  • Blog Posts
  • 1o1’s with other teams
  • Presentations to each department
  • Presentations to the whole company
  • Presentations to a specific discipline (product management, growth…)

Recommended Resources:

Mistake 5. Not spending time on the usability of the product

A product that is not used is a failed product.

Why spend lots of time building something if later people don’t know how to use it?

That happened to some of the internal products at Skyscanner, like the first version of experimentation services (a tool to run A/B tests). The tool was very powerful, but very complicated to use.

During the last 6 months, a designer has been rethinking the usability of the platform, and the adoption of this tool has substantially improved thanks to its improved UX.

How to avoid it?

  • Always consider the UX of your product. If it has a user interface involve a designer early on.
  • Apply user testing to your product and iterate on it, the same way you iterate on user facing products.

Mistake 6. Not spending time teaching your customers

Following the previous one, it is a pity how many opportunities we miss for not teaching the customers in the right way.

Teaching does not only mean making a course showing how to use the product you have created, but also helping them to understand its value.

When your customers understand how it meets their needs they can become very excited to start using it.

Example: By learning how best to use experimentation services you can generate more accurate and specific metrics, so make more informed data driven decisions. This should mean you yourself making more successful products.

How to avoid it?

  • Understand why each customer group would like to use your product.
  • Test different channels to see which is the most effective to teach people about your product.

Recommended Resources:

Mistake 7. Not having customer related metrics

At the end, the culture of a company, department or a team is the behavior you reward and punish.

By not encouraging people to focus on customer related metrics, they might end up working areas which are not as impactful for the company.

How to avoid it?
Measure the work based on customer metrics.

Examples:

  • % of squads that have adopted your tool
  • Net Promoter Score from internal squads
  • If you have a user interface — number of clicks to perform an action in your tool

Recommended Resources:

Mistake 8. Focusing on incremental wins only

As my colleague Dave said in his blogpost, “quick wins are killing your business”.

Why? It is not that quick wins are bad per se. But avoiding big projects, pursuing quick wins only, might make you lose huge opportunities.

An example of this is the mission I am currently pursuing — overcoming a technically challenging problem that because it has remained untouched has resulted in no new languages being added to the product in recent years.

How to avoid it?

  • Be flexible and don’t embrace mantras such as “Everything we do needs to be incremental” without always assessing if they apply to each new problem, as you might be losing opportunities to have a huge impact.

Mistake 9. Being frustrated when not instantly understanding everything

The last mistake would apply in case the internal product you are working on has a very strong technical component, such as the data platform or the geographical API.

At the beginning, I was frustrated trying to understand every single detail in the team. Feeling I wasn’t able to contribute to the team.

It was only after talking to another product manager with more than 10 years experience, that I realized I didn’t need to understand everything at once.

How to avoid it?

  • Take your time to learn. If it is your first time as a product manager in such a technical team it is going to be complicated. But don’t worry and keep learning, as after a while you will end up understanding most of it.
  • Try to find spots were you can be valuable.

SEE the world with us

Many of our employees have had the opportunity to take advantage of our Skyscanner Employee Experience (SEE) — a self-funded, self-organized programme to work up to 30 days during a 24 month period, in some of our 10 global offices. There is also the opportunity to work for 15 days per year from their home country, if an employee is based in an office outside of the country they call home.

Like the sound of this? Look at our current Skyscanner Product Engineering job roles.

Like the sound of this? Look at our current Skyscanner Product Engineering job roles.

About the Author

你好! I am Marc Molins and I am a Product Manager in the data tribe. I am passionate about understanding people’s needs and creating products for them.

In my free time I like to learn languages, play beach volleyball and work on new projects with friends.

Marc Molins Gracia, Skyscanner