If your development team develops in-house software projects inside a large corporation, you already know that competition and office politics make internal development a tricky business. If you overlook the competitive landscape of your organization, you run the risk of missing some of the internal workings that don’t yet directly affect your projects, but could.

Identify competitive groups
Many project managers do not consider the internal competitive landscape until it’s too late; after a project is pulled or is bypassed for a project from another internal team or even an outsourced provider.

Looking at internal customers as a captive audience is a mistake in today’s economic climate when factored with internal corporate politics, tightening budgets, and corporate reorganization and reprioritization.

Key factors to consider when looking at groups that make up the internal competitive landscape include:

  • Internal development projects still service customers. While these customers are coworkers, there is still the risk that they will spend their development dollars elsewhere by handpicking another internal development team or outsourcing the project.
  • There are executive “pet projects” that you and your team may or may not want to develop.
  • Land grabs do happen when politically opportunistic managers and teams resort to whatever means necessary to expand their domain of responsibility and influence.
  • Development budgets may often draw from the funds of multiple groups targeted to use the applications. Just as external customers are looking for the best solution, so are internal customers. Internal development resources may not provide the best technical or business solution.

Documented corporate standards vs. internal standards
Most corporations large and small have written standards for the development of applications. However, it can be a different case entirely if development teams follow these standards to the letter when developing applications for internal customers. If your organization doesn’t have a set of formal internal standards, consider the following:

  • Study other applications developed internally for their user interface and functionality.
  • Become a student of industry-standard best practices, which typically offer a safe strategy.

The lack of standards and attention to usability is a common complaint voiced about internal applications. This factor often occurs because the applications are not “sold to customers” and the development of internal applications is not seen by some management as critical to organizational success and productivity.

Study applications that are getting the internal buzz
Being aware of the other applications under development and in use within your organization can help you build better applications. Just as marketing managers and product managers study their competitors’ applications, you can study the other applications in use within your organization to help you build an internal application that your customers want to use during the course of their business tasks.

When taking stock of the other internal applications being used by your internal customers, pay close attention to the following:

  • Jokes masking criticism about the usability of applications
  • Maintenance of these internal applications
  • Available technical documentation and training for the applications
  • Support for users of these applications
  • Feedback about the data quality of the applications. If your organization deals in a lot of technical or statistical or other data, then the quality of internal data available through applications is going to be a major issue

Stay on top of internal news
We all blow off internal corporate news e-mails and intranet postings from time to time, though they can be valuable sources of internal competitive information. The organizational knowledge of the team can be helpful when performing internal competitive analysis. This especially holds true if you or some of your team members have survived the attrition that often characterized the Internet boom, as people left for new opportunities or were laid off when the bubble burst. Here are some examples of how to stay abreast of internal news:

  • Take time to peruse the intranet sites of internal groups with similar or complementary missions and responsibilities.
  • Attend corporate social functions to mix and mingle with members of other development teams and business groups.
  • Subscribe to local technology publications to keep abreast of company news as it relates to the local market that may have skipped past your internal information resources.
  • Develop a network of your internal customers and potential internal customers. Get wired into the network to learn their business objectives, goals, and plans both currently and going forward. Look for angles on where your team’s application development efforts can complement these internal missions.

Win with the home court advantage
Only you and your team can secure the home court advantage by understanding the business and competitive landscape internal to your organization. Building a better application for your internal customers can help bolster your team and project as changes take place within your organization.

Tell us about your experiences

Have you ever performed an internal competitive analysis? Why or why not? If you did, what were the results? Post a message in the discussion board below or send us an e-mail.