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This chapter is from the book

Product Mindset versus Project Mindset

A project starts with an idea. If the idea sounds promising, a project can be initiated to make it a reality.

Important projects require organization and accountability. This is where a project manager comes in. A project manager is someone skilled in managing tasks and people, but not necessarily knowledgeable or passionate about the domain.

This project manager gathers enough information to create a plan. The plan will outline in detail the scope of the initiative over several project milestones and estimate how much time and money will be needed to complete it all. That manager then asks for resources (including people), forms a team around the project, and keeps each team member on task to ensure a successful outcome. Success is ultimately measured by how closely the project manager sticks to the initial plan—scope, time, budget.

This seems perfectly reasonable—at first.

But what about projects that remain on time, on budget, and within scope, and yet still do not succeed? For years, Nokia led the market in producing mobile phones. It delivered phone after phone on tight schedules. It knew how to run a project, and each individual project likely succeeded. But what about the company’s phones? Is Nokia still around? Yes, as a department of Microsoft. What is interesting is that Microsoft paid more for Skype ($8.6 billion), a few hundred person services company, than it did for Nokia ($7.2 billion), a company that at one point had vast infrastructure, millions in hardware assets, and 100,000 employees.

If you or your company think in terms of projects and less in terms of products and value, the tide of fortune can turn rather quickly.

This project mindset (see Figure 1-1) defines success from the “inside out,” using internal measurements that are more about task management and about how accurately the initial plan was followed.

Figure 1-1

Figure 1-1 Visual representation of a project mindset

What is the alternative?

What do your customers value? Projects or products? The objective is not to deliver projects but to deliver value through products—products that ultimately lead to higher revenue and lower costs for your organization. Products that are so great that your customer base will grow and existing customers will stick around.

So forget about projects. Approach your idea and its business case as a product. Give your product idea to a capable team and introduce them to meaningful business targets such as user adoption, sales, and stakeholder satisfaction. Impress on the team that the only way to influence targets like these is to release something of value as soon as possible and validate your business assumption.

Now that the team has the proper mindset, the next question should be: “What can we ship first that will have the biggest impact on our targets?”

Suddenly, delivery and business start to align and bridge their communication gap.

This product mindset (see Figure 1-2) is an “outside in” approach that uses external measurements to actively guide the development of the product to maximize value.

Figure 1-2

Figure 1-2 Product versus project mindset

A product mindset:

  • encourages more frequent releases, which results in earlier feedback from the marketplace;

  • communicates objectives instead of tasks; teams get more creative with their solutions and take more ownership over their plans; and

  • eliminates waste by depending less on task assignment, reporting, and management decisions.

Contrast this with the project mindset, which leads to:

  • less business involvement;

  • more handoffs;

  • more task management; and

  • more people management.

But what if there isn’t a product?

Read on. Later in this chapter, we make the case that software development always involves a product.

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