Man designing product

by the Cornerstone Agility Team | 6 Minute Read

Shifting the Mindset From Project Delivery to Product Transformation

No matter where you are on your Agile journey, every organization has gone through the same struggle: the realization that our nicely crafted project plans don't tend to translate into customer results. Despite crossing every ‘T’ on detailed requirements docs, you launch solutions that fail to excite and delight your users. 

This reality is that our traditional approaches to project definition and management are slowing us down, and we need to shift our mindset to what feels more relevant for our customers: product thinking. That means moving from large, intricate project cycles to iterative delivery and constant customer feedback. It's a philosophical flip from "we designed it to spec so users will come" to "we'll keep evolving until our solution rocks users' worlds." 

In this piece, we'll look closer at the project to product movement - why it matters, what changes it brings, and how organizations are pulling off the transformation. Shifting from projects to products isn’t easy - It takes rethinking how you budget, staff projects and even define professional success. But the payoff helps you deliver solutions for your customers faster, while helping increase the success of the work you do. 

Understanding the Project to Product Shift

The Rise of the Project to Product Movement

Mik Kersten's influence in the corporate world was significantly magnified with the publication of his book "Project to Product." Kersten, a thought leader in software development and IT operations, emphasizes a product-centric mindset over the traditional project-centric methods that have long been the norm in various industries. 

Kersten's philosophy is rooted in the recognition that customer expectations are continuously shifting, and the pace of technological change is accelerating. In such an environment, the limitations of project-based approaches become increasingly apparent. Projects, often constrained by fixed scopes, budgets, and timelines, can lead to a myopic focus on short-term goals and deliverables, potentially overlooking the broader context of long-term value creation and customer satisfaction. 

The "Project to Product" movement, as championed by Kersten, advocates for a more holistic view. It suggests that organizations should pivot towards seeing their output not as a series of discrete projects but as an ongoing product lifecycle. This perspective foregrounds the importance of adaptability, continuous improvement, and most crucially, a relentless focus on delivering value to the customer. By adopting this approach, businesses are better positioned to respond to market changes, innovate more effectively, and build stronger, more enduring relationships with their customers. 

Defining the Project to Product Transformation 

The project to product transformation is a strategic shift that requires businesses to rethink and realign their operations, culture, and mindset. At its heart, this transformation is about moving from a focus on delivering projects, which are often seen as temporary endeavors with specific outcomes, to managing products, which are viewed as ongoing commitments to delivering value. 

In a project-centric model, success is typically measured by adherence to predetermined budgets, timelines, and scopes. While this approach can offer clarity and predictability, it may also lead to rigidity, stifling innovation and adaptability. In contrast, a product-centric model is inherently more fluid and dynamic. It prioritizes continuous delivery of value to customers, with success being measured not just by the completion of individual tasks, but by the ongoing satisfaction and engagement of the product's end-users. 

This shift necessitates a fundamental reevaluation of how organizations approach their work. It involves breaking down silos and fostering cross-functional collaboration, as teams work together to envision, build, and evolve products in response to customer feedback and market trends. The focus moves from merely completing a project to nurturing a product through its entire lifecycle, from conception to delivery, and beyond. 

The transition from project to product is not just a change in process; it's a change in philosophy. It requires a deep understanding of customers' needs and a commitment to using that understanding as the driving force behind all decision-making. In doing so, organizations can unlock new levels of innovation, agility, and customer engagement, ultimately leading to sustained growth and success in today's fast-paced and uncertain business environment. 

The Key Principles of Project to Product Transformation

1. Customer-Centricity 

Central to the project to product transformation is the principle of customer-centricity. This approach necessitates a deep understanding and continuous focus on the customer’s needs and experiences. By adopting a product mindset, organizations prioritize delivering solutions that are not just technically sound but also deeply aligned with customer expectations. 

One of the primary methods to achieve this alignment is through customer journey mapping - creating detailed, empathetic narratives of the customer's experience with a product or service, identifying key touchpoints and emotions involved in their interaction. This method helps organizations to see their product from the customer's perspective, uncovering pain points and areas for enhancement. 

Additionally, developing personas — semi-fictional characters that represent key segments of the customer base — enables teams to tailor their products more effectively. By understanding the specific needs, behaviors, and goals of different user types, organizations can create more targeted and relevant solutions. 

Another vital element in fostering customer-centricity is establishing continuous feedback loops. This involves regularly collecting and analyzing feedback from customers through surveys, user testing, social media, and direct communication. By integrating this feedback into the product development process, organizations ensure that their products evolve in line with customer needs and preferences, thereby delivering more value-driven outcomes. 

2. Business Agility 

The transition from project to product inherently encourages organizations to embrace business agility. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, are pivotal in enhancing a company's flexibility, speed, and adaptability. These methodologies prioritize rapid iteration, cross-functional collaboration, and responsiveness to change, making them well-suited for the dynamic nature of product development. 

Scrum, for instance, is an iterative and incremental framework that facilitates collaboration among team members. It allows for quick adjustments based on ongoing feedback, ensuring the product development process is continuously aligned with customer needs and market trends. 

Similarly, Kanban emphasizes workflow visualization and just-in-time delivery, enabling teams to manage work more efficiently and adapt quickly to changing priorities. By using these agile methodologies, organizations can not only accelerate product development cycles but also foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. 

3. Outcome-Oriented Approach 

In a product-centric world, the focus shifts from outputs — the tangible deliverables of a project — to outcomes, the actual value these deliverables bring to customers and the business. 

Measuring success based on outcomes requires understanding and delivering on the broader business goals and customer needs that those tasks and projects are intended to address. This approach necessitates ongoing experimentation, iteration, and learning. Good outputs do not always lead to good outcomes, and good outcomes don’t always come from the best outputs. As a product-centric organization, you will need to assess the relationships between your inputs, outputs, and outcomes to deliver the best results for your business. 

Outcome orientation also implies a shift in metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Instead of merely tracking project timelines, budgets, and deliverables, companies must develop metrics that reflect customer satisfaction, user engagement, market impact, and long-term value creation. By focusing on these outcome-based metrics, organizations ensure that their efforts are truly contributing to the overarching goals of customer satisfaction and business growth. 

Overcoming Challenges in Project to Product Transformation

1. Cultural Resistance 

One of the most significant challenges in the transition from a project-oriented to a product-focused culture is overcoming internal resistance. This resistance often stems from a comfort with established processes and a fear of the unknown. To navigate this, organizations must employ strategies that mitigate apprehension and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. 

Communication is key to addressing cultural resistance. Leaders must articulate the vision and benefits of a product-centric approach in a way that resonates with employees at all levels. This involves not just stating the what and the how, but also the why — explaining how this shift aligns with the organization's broader goals and values. 

Additionally, fostering collaboration is essential. This can be achieved by creating mixed teams with members from various departments and backgrounds. Such diversity encourages different perspectives and ideas, leading to more innovative solutions. It's also vital to establish a shared vision for change, one that employees feel connected to and invested in. This shared vision helps in aligning individual goals with the organization's strategic objectives, thereby facilitating sustainable change. 

2. Organizational Structure 

The transformation also requires a reevaluation of traditional hierarchical structures, which can impede the flexibility and agility necessary for a product-centric approach. Traditional structures often create silos that hinder communication and collaboration, which are crucial in a product-oriented environment. 

The concept of product teams comes to the forefront in this context. These are cross-functional groups that bring together diverse skills and perspectives, focusing on a specific product from conception to delivery. This structure facilitates better decision-making, faster problem-solving, and a more cohesive approach to product development. 

Integrating business and technology functions is another critical aspect. In many organizations, there’s a significant divide between these areas. A product-centric model calls for a more integrated approach where business strategy and technological capabilities are closely aligned. This alignment ensures that products are not only technically feasible but also align with business objectives and market needs. 

3. Change Management 

Change management is pivotal in guiding organizations through the transition from project to product. It involves preparing, supporting, and helping individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. Key strategies include managing resistance, inspiring buy-in, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement. 

Managing resistance requires understanding the root causes of opposition and addressing them directly. This might involve one-on-one conversations, workshops, or training sessions to help employees understand the benefits of the new approach and how they fit into the larger picture. 

Inspiring buy-in is about creating a sense of ownership and excitement about the new direction. Leaders can achieve this by involving employees in the change process, seeking their input, and making them feel valued. Celebrating small wins and providing visible examples of the benefits of the new approach can also help in building momentum. 

Lastly, creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement is essential. This culture encourages employees to experiment, learn from failures, and continuously seek ways to improve. Such an environment not only supports the transition but also drives innovation and growth in the long term. 

Strategies for Achieving a Successful Project to Product Transformation

1. Creating a Product-Centric Roadmap 

A crucial step in the project to product transformation is the development of a product-centric roadmap. This roadmap should align with the overarching goals of the business and be focused on maximizing value delivery. It acts as a strategic guide, outlining the path an organization will take in evolving its products and services. 

One key technique in roadmap development is outcome mapping. Unlike traditional roadmaps that may focus on features or timelines, outcome mapping centers on the desired results or impacts of the product. This approach ensures that the roadmap is directly tied to strategic objectives and customer needs. 

Lean portfolio management is another important aspect. It involves applying lean principles to the management of project portfolios, ensuring that resources are allocated in a manner that maximizes value and minimizes waste. This approach requires a dynamic and flexible perspective on investment, where decisions are continually reassessed based on changing market conditions and strategic goals. 

Investment prioritization is also critical. It requires organizations to critically assess and prioritize initiatives based on their potential to deliver customer value and contribute to strategic objectives. This often means shifting resources away from low-value activities and towards those that offer the greatest potential for impact. 

2. Agile Transformation at Scale 

Scaling Agile practices are vital for organizations looking to accelerate their project to product transformation across the enterprise. This involves extending Agile methodologies beyond individual teams to the entire organization. 

Frameworks like SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum), and Spotify's Agile model offer structured approaches for implementing Agile at scale. SAFe, for instance, provides a comprehensive guide for large-scale Agile adoption, integrating principles from Agile, lean, and product development flow. This framework helps align teams around a common vision and enables more efficient collaboration and delivery across large and complex projects. 

LeSS, on the other hand, focuses on simplifying and scaling Scrum principles for larger organizations. It emphasizes the importance of empirical process control, transparency, and continuous improvement on a larger scale. 

3. Product Leadership and Talent Management 

Effective product leadership is a cornerstone of successful project to product transformations. Leaders in this realm, such as product managers and product owners, play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between business strategy and execution. They are responsible for setting the product vision, aligning the team around this vision, and ensuring that the product delivers real value to customers. 

Product leadership also involves fostering a culture where cross-functional teams can thrive. This requires creating an environment that encourages collaboration, innovation, and a shared sense of purpose. 

Talent management is equally important. Organizations must focus on recruiting, nurturing, and retaining individuals who not only possess the necessary technical skills but also align with the product-centric vision of the company. This involves investing in ongoing training and professional development, providing opportunities for career growth, and creating a workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent. 

Build to Make Lasting Impact

The future belongs to organizations structuring themselves around products, not projects.  

By taking a more evolutionary view of problem-solving, product organizations trade rigid processes for empowered teams and customer-centricity. People and work move together better than before. In the end, companies don’t just build better products, they build better versions of themselves. 

As you continue your journey and continue shifting from project delivery to product management, bring a partner on your journey!  

From Vision and Strategy Alignment to Lean Portfolio Management support, we know how to help businesses thrive. 

Looking for a free transformation consultation session? Get in touch!