This article is a gem for those, who want to dig deeper into product vs project thinking and adopt the best software development management strategy!
Product vs Project Mindset: What’s The Big Deal?
A mindset is a human-inherent trait that allows us to have or form beliefs and attitudes on the daily basis. Normally, our mental inclination helps us adjust to the world pace and execute top-notch work. The more we opt for changes and initiate strategic thinking the better is the outcome. Product development and project management have been the two core elements in software production, involving finding cutting-edge solutions to a problem and managing activities carried out within the project, respectively. Recently, more than half of organizations have decided to shift from project mindset towards product thinking (project to product), which they found better in the long run. The standard way of cognition became played-out and not enough for business success velocity. So, let’s find out what made organizations change their minds and abandon the long-used project thinking processes?
What’s Product Thinking?
A product is a term used to denote digital services and physical goods. Product thinking, in its turn, is the non-material product-focused strategy that centers on user needs and client experience. The most important factors in product thinking are optimization, flexibility, quick solutions, and delivering value. The product mindset is a great choice for Agile product development and DevOps working methodology. Here, Agile development focuses on clients and thinks about the clients’ needs at every stage of accelerated development. In the end, Agile methodology requires to produce a life-enhancing product that will deliver value at all costs. DevOps working methodology, in its turn, denotes that the real goal is to deliver ongoing integration, Agile testing, and delivery to release a product as fast as possible and meet the highest expectations of a client. It may be quite unsuitable for projects that require business analytics and a fixed-price engagement model of outsourcing. This frame of mind corresponds to the Time & Materials outsourcing model, where the payment is initiated for the actual tasks done and the specific time spent on task deployment. Here, with the project to product shifting mindset, a road-map, and success metrics, the main goal is to enhance the ROI. Such giants in the digital world as Apple, Tesla, and Netflix have adopted product management and strive to achieve more.
Having the product mindset management and adhering to a continuous evolution of the outcome, the companies get:
- frequent releases and early feedback from the end-users
- objectives, which sparkle creativity and solutions
- no waste reports of the carried-out objectives
- constant learning and ideation in the production process
The current product-focused strategy applies to mobile development and app development as there are plenty of apps on the market allowing enhancing the existing ones and being creative to design the others. For example, by releasing IOS (Apple) and Android (Google) mobile operating platforms, the developers haven’t moved to the other projects straight away. On the contrary, they stayed focused on advancing the mobile platform features and implementing new ideas into being by sending software updates to smartphones. Thus, the updates are being released frequently, commented on, and give insights about end-users’ needs continuously. Times change together with the user needs, so there’s a big field for work and creativity.
Even though product thinking is more creative and has no strict time frames or fixed pricing models, it still requires to be managed by the PM to be aware of the on-going product-focused processes and understand the ultimate goal we’re pursuing. Though planning a product alters creativity and brainstorming, which are more flexible in software development, it needs to be present but with a clear focus on the outcome, not the output. In the product mindset, product development aims at evolution, advancement, and enhancement, the focus is drastically shifted from deadlines to quality of production and improvement of user experience. Only this way, groundbreaking ideas are born, enhancing and promoting software development products. However, what is there for stakeholders? Surely, there is the possibility to acquire new knowledge in the software development processes, achieve a complete understanding of product management, functionality needs, and promote suitable design features within the product timelines. That’s why most companies feel the need to transform their businesses.
What’s Project Thinking?
On the contrary, a project is a term defining cross-professional collaboration between teammates, where the project mindset is to achieve one similar goal or idea and meet the requested tasks and deadlines. Here, the most important aspects are the working scope, the budget, and the time developers have to fulfill the task.
Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan. – Margaret Thatcher
Speaking about the project mindset, it is defined as the scope of work that should be launched based on requirements and shift to carrying out the other project. Management of projects have an episodic delivery, the mindset of which includes:
- management and product planning (scope, time, tasks, reports)
- an abundance of tasks
- people management 24/7
- strict deadlines for completion
- decreased involvement of business
Unlike the product-based way of thinking, which does not forget its released products or features, the project-based mentality is release-centered and carries out a small part of one big product, which later is forgotten. For example, there is an app that has to be carried out within 3 months. This app is divided into parts, so that the team can focus on what’s important now and, by carrying out the first part, can proceed to the second one. Here, everything is defined in detail and none of the team workers should feel lost in the tasks as there is a project manager to deliver value and watch over the entire development process of this app, reporting to the higher levels at each development stage.
Project management is an irreplaceable feature in the software development process. It forms and defines the company’s initial organizational processes to make sure the software solution requested is being implemented right. Here, a PM is result-oriented to an extent that is specified in the software development documentation. Therefore, the main focus of the project mindset is to deliver software projects and meet all the requirements. Based on this, and unlike it is in the product mindset, project thinking can be measured and evaluated. Hence, time and schedule measure efficiency, where an abundance of time is spent on product planning, estimation, and scope evaluation as well as the definition of the probable risks that might occur during the process.
Project management is used in outsourcing, where the client hires a software development team, sets deadlines, discusses requirements that also are communicated in the contract. Such a delivery-based mindset is quite valuable and important as the client – outsourcing vendor relationship is defined and measured with the help of completed projects. Here, a PM is the key-player, who communicates all the valuable information both to the clients and the development team in a clear manner not to escalate conflicts, demotivate the team and decrease their performance.
Therefore, if the project is small to medium, with limited costs available and strict time frames – the project mindset will be more than beneficial in this case. Also, project thinking and product planning might work best with the fixed price outsourcing engagement model so that the results could meet the expectations of the client according to costs and deadlines.
To sum up, the product vs project mindset are different business strategies and require non-similar conducting processes. A lot depends on the organization’s vision, mission, and engagement models to find out which frame of mind is the most suitable. Project thinking is the hallmark of software development that has been applied for years. A product mindset is a relatively new working strategy that requires a complex project to product business transformation, constant creativity flow, and fast results. The focus factors of the strategic mindsets also differ and, while projects need to be strictly defined and framed, product-focused processes appear to be rather abstract.
No matter what you choose – product thinking or project-based set of mind,
Be stubborn on vision but flexible on details. – Jeff Bezos