Evolution of project and product management

Product management, as we know it today, has its origins in 1931 when Procter & Gamble introduced the concept of brand management. This was the beginning of a more holistic approach to creating and sustaining a product in the market. Product management prioritizes  the development phase as well as the entire lifecycle of a product, from ideation to continuous improvement.

The emergence of Agile development methodologies and the adoption of DevOps practices lead to a snowball effect for the adoption of a product mindset. These approaches place importance on collaboration, customer feedback, and rapid iterations, slotting into the principles of product thinking with ease.

What does the product mindset mean for development?

Following a product mindset brings a multitude of benefits to organizations. It centers around creating continuous value for both customers and the business. Some key advantages include:

Customer-centricity: Product thinking prioritizes understanding and meeting customer needs. Continuous feedback loops make sure that the product remains aligned with growing customer expectations, leading to increased customer satisfaction and limiting the bounce rate of applications.

Innovation: Focusing on the product means continually adapting and innovating to market changes and customer demands. Adaptation and innovation are two of the most important factors in customer retention

Alignment with Agile and DevOps: The simplicity of integrating a product mindset into Agile and DevOps principles can be invaluable for development teams. Without having to overhaul existing practices, developers can take the new product focused approach immediately, without the risk of stalls in development or organizational confusion.

Sustainability: Products are long-term assets. Focusing primarily on the product guarantees that these products remain relevant, engaging and attractive to users. Without this sustainability, software development efforts will be wasted, as products become redundant or outdated.

Business-IT alignment

In a project-centric model, IT often operates in isolation, receiving predefined requirements and delivering a solution without full comprehension of the business context. 

Building a product mindset in software development will redefine the relationship between IT and the broader business.

With a product-focused approach, IT teams work closely with stakeholders from various departments, making sure the product roadmap is aligned with overarching business objectives. This alignment results in products that have a more significant and positive impact on the organization.

Setting up a product-focused team

Organizations deciding whether to incorporate a product-focused mindset into their existing systems absolutely must consider the following insights:

Combine DevOps with product management: Integration of DevOps practices with a product mindset leads to a simplified process from development to deployment and continuous improvement. Look for the best ways to implement a product mindset into your existing systems, rather than restarting from the ground up.

Understand life cycle differences: Recognize that the product life cycle is continuous, whereas the project lifecycle is finite. Teams should be structured and trained to support ongoing product development and enhancement.

Adapt job roles: Redefine job roles and responsibilities to align with a product-centric approach. Product managers, for example, play a crucial role in prioritizing features, gathering customer feedback, and driving product strategy.

Foster a culture of collaboration: Encourage collaboration among cross-functional teams, including development, operations, marketing, and customer support. Aim to build a culture of continuous improvement and customer-centricity.

Agile governance: Implement agile governance models that give flexibility while maintaining control over budgets and resources, for adaptive planning and decision-making.

Continuous learning: Invest in ongoing learning and development for employees to keep up with the evolving landscape of technology and market trends.

Six Principles to Prioritize Product Over Project

To prioritize a product mindset over a project mindset, organizations should adopt a set of guiding principles. The following six principles cannot be overlooked by an organization aiming to succeed.

First, setting clear responsibilities is paramount. Within cross-functional teams, roles and responsibilities should be meticulously defined. Clear responsibilities within teams eliminate ambiguity and make sure every team member understands their specific tasks and contributions, ultimately fostering a sense of accountability throughout the organization.

Second; a focus on customer-centricity. Instead of relying on internal assumptions, organizations should prioritize features and enhancements based on thorough understanding and continuous feedback from their customers. By aligning development efforts with customer needs, companies can create products that resonate in the market and drive customer satisfaction.

Setting clear responsibilities is of absolute importance for a product mindset in software development

Third, encouraging teams to see the bigger picture is one of the best ways to implement a new mindset. Teams should not be confined to their tasks but should grasp how their work fits into the broader context of the product’s success. This holistic perspective promotes collaboration and aligns team efforts with the overall product strategy.

Fourth, invest in organizational change. Swapping to a product-focused approach often demands a cultural shift within the organization. Allocating resources and time to facilitate this transformation is essential. Organizations should invest in training programs and culture-building activities to build a new mindset that permeates the entire workforce.

Encouraging teams to see the bigger picture is one of the best ways to implement a new mindset.

Fifth, building the right thing for today. Rather than overburdening themselves with extensive long-term planning, organizations should concentrate on delivering features and improvements that address current market demands and alleviate customer pain points. This pragmatic approach will keep the product agile and responsive to changing market conditions.

Lastly, superficial fixes may provide temporary relief, but to create the long-term success of the product, organizations must be willing to confront and resolve fundamental challenges and issues that could hinder the product’s growth and sustainability.

Alexander Procter

January 11, 2024

5 Min