Written by Kevin Heisey
on May 24, 2022

Organizations across the commercial, government and nonprofit sectors are shifting from Project oriented to Product-centric to respond to market demands with speed and agility. Project-to-Product is a profound change in culture that requires new ways of working at all levels. The relationship between business leaders and their Product teams are redefined in a way that redistributes and sometimes obscures decision rights. More decisions are made close to the customer as Product teams continuously explore and learn. For business leaders, this can be unsettling when compared to the rigid planning of a project.

Traditional Project teams are incentivized to execute clearly defined tasks, meet deadlines, and budgets and produce output. If they ship output rapidly and exceed their velocity metrics, they’ve done their job whether they deliver business value or not. Risk is pushed to the end as user feedback isn’t received until the project is complete.

Product thinking is an entirely new way of working. Teams have long-term relationships with and ownership of their Products. Instead of completing tasks and moving on to something else, they focus on continuously improving their Product, delivering value to customers and achieving business outcomes. Risk shifts to the beginning as teams validate their ideas and test hypotheses through a Product discovery process based on how customers use Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and prototypes. If something can be better or isn’t working, it's the Product team’s responsibility to resolve problems right away.

Your efforts to become a Product-centric organization can stall if decision-making rights and responsibilities are unclear and compartments within the organization are slow to grasp Product-centric ways of working. Using frameworks for decision-making and change management can facilitate the cultural change necessary to jumpstart your Project-to-Product transformation.

Use Decision-Making Frameworks

For a Product-centric approach, you want to decentralize decision-making as much as possible. Centralized decision-making can cause delays and compromise productivity. Teams waiting for decisions can lead to dissatisfied customers. To mitigate this risk, strategically categorize which decisions should be centralized versus those that should be decentralized to ensure decisions are made at the right levels to optimize delivery speed.

  • Centralized decisions should be those that are infrequent and have long lasting consequences with high impact. Examples include decisions about Product Strategy, team size and structure and technology.
  • Decentralize frequent, time critical and localized decisions that require information from the ground level. Frequent decisions that require local context shouldn’t be held up waiting for input from someone who doesn’t have a strong understanding of the local context as the teams on the ground. The Product teams can act quickly and are equipped to make optimal decisions.

Empower teams to self-organize and allow them to mature into high-performing teams with effective chains of communication so teams don’t have to wait for decisions. Visualize what high performance is and what teams need to achieve it and create a decision-making framework that optimizes team performance.

Leverage Change Management Models

Transforming your company from Project to Product thinking represents a momentous change in how businesses are delivering products and services to customers and culture doesn’t change overnight. Organizational Change Management is a strategic and systematic approach that addresses the human side of transformation. There are several widely used models that can be leveraged to guide your change including the ADKAR model, Kotter’s 8-step model and Satir’s Chaos model.

Any Change Management model should follow a few general steps. You need to assess your current state and understand the need for change, then establish a roadmap and set goals based on current performance and develop metrics to achieve your future state. Working within a framework makes it easier to implement change and develop the culture required for new ways of working.

Organizational culture, inertia and resistance to change are among the most common impediments to successful Product transformation. Download the Create a Culture of Change infographic that is part of our Become a Product-centric Organization series for tips on the Decision-making and Change Management frameworks that can help create the culture needed for a successful Product journey.