The Pivotal Shift from Projects to Products: A Leader’s Perspective

Organizations today face immense pressure to deliver value faster while remaining agile and responsive to market changes. This requires a fundamental shift from project-centric to product-centric thinking. As leaders, how can we spearhead this transformation?

Defining Projects vs. Products

First, let’s level set on what we mean by “projects” and “products”. Projects are temporary endeavors focused on creating a unique product or service. They have defined start and end dates, scope, budget, and resources.

Products are the ongoing services or capabilities we deliver that create value for customers. Products have a much longer, often indefinite, lifespan focused on enhancing, sustaining and maintaining value.

The core differences

In project management, the emphasis is on managing the “iron triangle” of time, budget and scope. Requirements are defined upfront and success is measured by on-time, on-budget delivery.

With products, we flip the triangle and make scope the variable factor. The focus becomes delivering outcomes iteratively without pre-defining the full solution upfront. Timeframes are shifted from months to years or decades. Success is measured by the product’s impact and ability to continuously adapt.

The leader’s pivotal role

As leaders, we play a crucial role in this transformation in two key ways:

Rethinking how we define and measure success

In addition to delivery progress, we must focus on:

  • Product resilience – the flexibility and recoverability of our products and code
  • Business impact – are we truly solving problems customers want solved

We should frame investments and scope based on priority outcomes, not predefined requirements. And view changes as signs of learning and responsiveness, not failures in planning.

Leading the organizational change

The shift can’t happen through teams alone. As leaders, we must role model new behaviors and ways of working top-down across the organization.

Key steps include:

  • Communicate your commitment to the change and why it matters
  • Implement vertically, not horizontally—transform entire portfolios before moving to the next
  • Change how you ask questions and measure progress
  • Get hands-on and address real obstacles raised by teams

Measure what matters

As leaders, we should focus less on “when will this project be done?” and more on questions like:

  • What are our highest priority outcomes?
  • What can we validate or release next?
  • How much should we invest in this initiative?
  • Are we working on the most valuable thing right now?

By measuring what truly matters—outcomes, customer impact, and ability to change—we can guide our organizations into the product-centric mindset needed to thrive today. It requires commitment, communication, and hands-on leadership. But the payoff can be immense in terms of speed, agility and delivering real value to our customers.

5 must-dos for leaders to pivot from Projects to Products

But fundamental change doesn’t happen bottom-up. It requires committed leadership. Here are five key shifts leaders must make to drive and sustain this transformation:

Know your “Why”

Be able to clearly explain why pivoting to a product focus matters for your specific organization and customers. Is it to increase ROI on product investments? To be more responsive to market needs and competitive threats? Know your reasons for change inside out.

Measure what truly matters

Expand your framing of success beyond delivery progress. Laser-focus on improving product resilience, flexibility, and business impact. Guide teams to validate priorities early through continuous testing and customer feedback.

Invest based on outcomes

Rather than starting with a project plan and budget, first identify the priority outcomes you want to achieve. Then make purposeful, focused investments of time and budget to deliver on those goals. Let scope vary.

Change your questions

One of the most influential things leaders do is ask questions. So consciously change yours to reinforce new behaviors. Ask “What can we validate next?” instead of “When will this be finished?”

Lead the change you want to see

Don’t just talk the talk. Role model the hands-on leadership required to address real adoption barriers raised by teams. Transform entire portfolios, not just teams. Reset organizational norms through your words and actions.

The world has changed, and project thinking is no longer enough. As leaders, the transformation to product starts and ends with us. We can build organizations optimized for the speed and adaptability needed to win today. It won’t be easy, but few things worth doing ever are. The payoff will be delivering far more value to customers when and how they need it.

Watch our webinar-on-demand, "From Project to Product: Leaders, Here’s What It Means to You"

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