More and more public sector and commercial organizations are transitioning away from traditional Project Management practices toward a Product-focused journey. Why? Product Management is inherently driven by customers and business value rather than stringent timelines or fixed scope. By better understanding the why, the customer needs and the problem, you can create optimized products faster and cheaper with a focus on delivering value to customers through quality products.
An important distinction in the Project to Product shift is that this holistic change impacts the entire organization and requires buy-in at all levels, from the C-suite to the Practitioner. It includes re-thinking the planning, decision making and financing of technology projects. It involves new ways of thinking and operating and a fundamental change in organizational culture.
Executive Level Impact
A key challenge for Executives is to understand and articulate the business value of an Agile Product Management approach. Why should our enterprise be product-centric? What is the value to internal and external customers? What are the trade-offs? What are expectations during the journey? With a traditional Project Management approach, reporting and monitoring are relatively straightforward. Answering the questions, “are we on schedule?” and “are we under budget?” go a long way toward getting a grasp on how things are going on a project.
A key part of understanding the value of Agile Product Management is recognizing the shortcomings of a project-based approach. With a meticulously planned and rigorously scheduled and budgeted project, each person and team involved can successfully carry out their tasks with flying colors, but the entire project can be a massive failure if the final output doesn’t successfully meet a need. In the Product Journey, Executives need to understand and monitor business value and delivery rather than timelines and project budgets.
For a transformation to be successful, Executives must lead the way. That includes driving cultural change, ensuring teams are strategically aligned and that all organizational leadership buys-in, understands and communicates the core business value reasons that are driving the transformation.
Team & Practitioner Level Impact
At the Team and Practitioner level, the challenge is to organize work around value streams (a series of steps that occur to provide the product) by adopting and implementing Lean Portfolio Management, Agile and Product Management practices. Rather than using speculative ROI-driven development based on what you think might work, teams must transition to hypothesis-driven development, where you incrementally test hypotheses as products and features are built. This involves thinking and becoming iterative and leveraging faster feedback loops for continuous improvement throughout the product development process.
All of this requires a change in culture and development of new skillsets that won’t occur overnight. Expect a multi-year process to fully transform the culture, build new skills, overcome resistance to change and get full buy-in at the Practitioner level. An important step to getting buy-in is clearly communicating the why that’s driving the transformation. When people understand how the changes positively impact the overall mission and improve business value, they are much more likely to buy-in and help drive the change.
Technical transformations by their nature are bimodal, meaning you must simultaneously undertake major transformation while also carrying out the day-to-day functions that keep the lights on and the organization operating. A key to effectively steering transformation is to identify the use cases, migration strategies and approaches to technical debt that best fit your unique circumstances so you can effectively deliver technology to business and focus on cost for performance.
The iterative approach mentioned above can be a powerful strategic lever for building momentum and buy-in across the organization. Working in short iterations allows for rapid value delivery and early buy-in from individuals who experience the added value. Once individuals and teams realize value, they can build on their small, early wins to drive buy-in and transformation throughout the organization.
The transformation from Project to Product represents an enormous change in culture and how work is done. Individuals and teams go from a “one project to the next” focus to complete ownership of a product throughout its lifespan. The reasons to undergo transformation include improved efficiency, responsiveness, agility and shorter time-to-value. But there are significant challenges in achieving a mature Product mindset as the needed changes impact every level of an organization. Best practices and transformation expertise based on experience can lead to more efficient and effective transformations, cultural buy-in and quicker realization of the value opportunities driving the shift from Project to Product.