Thinking back to 18-24 months ago, if a client called up with a ‘Product Manager role for Internal Tools’, I’d have sighed slightly. Product roles for internal tools were viewed as the runt of the litter, the bottom of the pile, the little brother.

This wasn’t because the roles weren’t interesting, but purely on how they were received in the market by most candidates.

However, having worked with several companies this year who have hired product managers for internal tools, I wanted to share my thoughts on how the market has changed, and offer some advice on how to find that perfect candidate.

Hiring a product manager for internal tools makes so much sense. Regardless of sector & company size, there are lots of poor internal tools and they’re generally not used as effectively as the people that built them hoped. In the ages of compliance, data protection and trying to be agile, internal tooling is only becoming more critical to a smooth operation. And, as we all know, user expectations for technology are only moving in one direction – up.

In the current market, companies are sensibly hiring product managers as part of a wider move to address this, particularly trendy fast-paced tech businesses. Whereas previously most wanted to work on external facing products, whether that’s for end clients, users or consumers. As I mentioned above, a candidate’s reaction was sometimes that they would be playing for the B team or in the reserves. With plenty of choices available for candidates, it was usually low down their list, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear that “it sounds OK but I think I’ll hold out for something else”.

However, things are changing. Candidates are recognising the impact that slick internal tools can have on a company’s performance, bottom line and how they operate, with measurable impact. This means a decent pool of product managers has emerged with both the experience of doing it and the passion to keep doing, as well as those that might transition from the ‘sexier’ consumer-facing products. Whether it’s for a scaling company’s collaboration tools, finance tools for global companies or back-end tools that drive smooth logistics – this expanding area is more important than ever.

If you are struggling to make this kind of hire, here are my suggestions:

  • Grow from within by hiring junior product managers and product analysts and training them up. Without prior experience, they’re likely to be more flexible, and open to the idea of working with internal tools. I would imagine there’s more scope for someone who is refining their skills on the job with internal products than there is with external.
  • Consider sideways moves and engage with some of the many candidates out there who are keen to develop their product management experience. Amongst that group, you can find some candidates with huge potential who are keen & eager to be given an opportunity. Try meeting those who have relevant subject matter experience, put them through their paces at interview, get references, and see if they are a good fit for your needs as a business.
  • Look at contractors with experience in internal products to set out a strategic approach that will make ongoing product management easier.
  • Be patient. It will probably be a bit painful, but this is an important hire, and it’s important to get it right. I’d recommend being realistic and giving yourself six months to get the right person on board. You’ll be very glad you did.

Product management of internal tools is an increasingly critical part of a slick operation and I’m excited to see this burgeoning market continue to grow.

I hope these highlights from a broad view of the market are helpful, and I’m always happy to discuss the product market in more detail or offer advice on hiring for internal tools. Get in touch at jamie.davies@wearefutureheads.co.uk.

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