Why a Product-led Approach Trumps Even the Best Project Management

If you’re a product owner, manager, or portfolio manager in an enterprise aiming for scaled agility, understanding the shift from project-based to product-based work is crucial. This article provides key insights and actionable advice to guide you through this paradigm shift, which is essential for improving flow and throughput.

This article is based in part on our recent webinar, Project to Product: The Need for Speed. Watch the full webinar on demand here.

The shift from project to product

Organizations have traditionally been project-centric, focusing on temporary initiatives with a defined start and end. However, the modern business landscape demands a shift towards products, which have a much longer lifecycle requiring continuous support and enhancement. This change is not merely semantic but foundational. While projects are about creation, products encompass creation, enhancement, maintenance, and operation.

Investment and scheduling

In a product-centric world, the focus is on fixed investment and scheduling. Organizations decide upfront how much they want to invest in a product. Once the budget is exhausted, the work stops. This approach contrasts sharply with the project world, where scope, time, and budget are often moving targets. The schedule is also fixed to deliver increments of value continuously. 

Practically speaking, this means using tools like roadmaps and budget forecasts to align team efforts with organizational goals. It also involves regular check-ins to ensure that the most valuable features are being prioritized.

Value delivery and customer focus

The Agile manifesto emphasizes the importance of satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. But it’s not just about delivering work; it’s about understanding its impact from a customer’s perspective. Teams must focus on how quickly work can flow through the system rather than the number of features that can be done. 

In practice, this could mean implementing customer feedback loops and using metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge customer satisfaction. It also means using tools like value stream mapping to identify bottlenecks in the development process.

Software development practices

In a product-led approach, software systems are composed of small units that allow for incremental changes. This makes it easier to deliver value continuously. The architecture also matters; monolithic systems are hard and expensive to change, while modular systems allow for independent deployment of components. For practical application, consider breaking down large features into smaller, manageable tasks that can be deployed independently. This not only makes the development process more agile but also allows for quicker troubleshooting and updates.

Quality and speed

The industry has moved from a focus on releasing perfect software to an emphasis on quick remediation. When something goes wrong, the ability to recover quickly is more valuable than having released a flawless product. This approach also extends to the cost of fixing bugs; not all bugs are created equal, and sometimes it’s more cost-effective to fix a bug in production than to aim for perfection. 

In practical terms, this means implementing robust monitoring and alerting systems that can identify issues in real-time. It also means creating a culture where quick recovery is valued over faultless releases.

Flow of work

Measuring and managing the flow of work is essential in a product-centric approach. The focus should be on how quickly work can flow through the system. This is a departure from traditional project metrics, which often focus on the completion of predefined tasks within a fixed timeline. 

To apply this in a practical setting, use metrics like lead time and cycle time to measure the flow of work. Regularly review these metrics to identify areas for improvement and adjust processes accordingly.

Learn more about the Product-led Approach for holistic value creation

Understanding the shift from project to product is essential for anyone in a product role within an enterprise. It’s not just about changing terminology but about adopting a fundamentally different approach to work—one that emphasizes agility, customer focus, and continuous value delivery. 

To succeed in establishing a product-led approach, you’ll need to dive even deeper into these topics. We highly recommend watching the full webinar on demand, which includes real-world examples that bring these lessons to life. Your journey towards a product-centric future starts with being well-informed.

Watch the full webinar-on-demand, "Project to Product: The Need for Speed

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