The project mindset is still all too common in software development. It's a model that prioritizes completing a set of deliverables within a specific timeframe and budget, with defined deliverables and clear deadlines.
The product mindset focuses on building products that solve real-world problems. It's about continuously improving your product based on feedback from users and stakeholders while retaining focus as you grow your company's revenue.
Here are five reasons why it is the right time to switch from project to product mentality.
When working on a project, your team's success depends on individual contributors' performance. But how well you can work together determines your success rate when it comes to product development.
To ensure it happens, you need a cross-functional team that can operate with shared ownership, responsibility, and accountability.
A team that shares these attributes will be able to collectively make decisions regarding the product or service they are creating.
This means that as a whole unit, they have control over the features to add or remove during development stages without having one person in charge of making all those decisions alone.
Project budgets are set in advance based on the scope of a project. This can be a problem if you’re trying to figure out how much it will cost or how long it will take to complete.
Since project budgets are fixed and predetermined, developers are often limited to extra features that can be added to the product.
While some projects may not require as much flexibility as others, having an extra $10k or $20k at your disposal could make all the difference.
The first major difference between projects and products is that a project has a beginning, middle, and end. A project is about achieving specific goals. In other words, it's about getting from point A to point B—a finish line.
Projects are temporary; they come with clear-cut timelines and outcomes.
A product does not have a precise end date or outcome; instead, it evolves as you learn more about how it works best for customers and yourself.
A product can live on long after the initial release by providing new features or integrations that enrich its value as time passes (think of apps like Uber or Lyft). By contrast, once a project is complete, there’s no room for evolution—it’s over!
It's critical to build a product ecosystem that supports the product. The best way to do this is by thinking of it as a system. The product, features, and user experience are all interconnected parts of the more extensive web.
For example, when developing an app or website, you need to consider how each feature interacts with others and how they impact the end users.
When designing a mobile app for retail stores, consider how users will interact with your site on their phones in-store.
You then figure out if there's anything else to make their experience more seamless (like adding items directly from the phone).
Now think of how these pieces fit together as part of one cohesive product ecosystem.
When Uber started in 2008, it constantly evolved itself 14 years after its initial launch. Today, it is different from the original product. Instead, it kept adding new features to adapt to the ever-changing needs of its customers.
The same is true with any product you make. There is no end in sight.
One of the critical criteria for success with a product-oriented mindset is that you can release early and often. The more frequently you release new features, the better off you'll be in terms of building trust with customers over time.
By releasing more frequently, you not only get closer to building something that actually solves real problems but also adds value for your users. This, in turn, helps build customer confidence when deciding whether to do business with you.
In an R&D environment, there’s a focus on research and discovery. You want to improve upon anything and everything you can think of. The strategy is to ensure you are constantly improving and always moving forward.
This is also the reason why you need to switch from project to product based mentality, to ensure continuous improvements in your product.
In a Product environment, your goal is different; you want to create something that solves real-world problems for customers. This means that instead of spending countless hours in the lab trying every possible solution (and then failing), you should focus on what works well and continue iterating until it becomes extraordinary!
The key word here is “iteration” (the process of repeating one or more times). When we say “iteration,” we mean taking the next best step forward after each failure or success.
If your idea was unsuccessful, go back to the drawing board but do it faster this time because market conditions have changed since the last time you tried something similar.
As you work to make the transition, here are some things to keep in mind:
Remember, every minute that goes into building something without any expectation for return makes no sense for business owners.
Projects are short-term endeavors that have a clear beginning and end. However, they also have attached deadlines, commitments, and responsibilities.
Projects can be converted into products by applying the principles of product thinking to your project:
One of the most critical parts of software development is that it's never complete. Instead, it's constantly changing, improving, and adding new features. And the sooner you understand this, the better off you'll be as a company that builds custom software.
Once your product goes live, new features will always be added or improved.
Under the project mentality, you're working towards a specific goal. You and your team have a clear goal you must accomplish by a particular deadline. You don't think about what happens after that deadline passes.
You need to consider how this project will affect other parts of your business or if there are opportunities for improvement on it later. When a project is completed, it ends, and another one begins.
Under the product mentality, however, you're building something that will last long past its initial beginning stage into something that can be utilized or enjoyed by others who may not even know where it came from originally (think Instagram).
Your focus is less on checking off items on your checklist and more on creating something useful for everyone involved—you'll have more time after completion to research how others are using your creation so you can improve upon it later.
The project mindset is all about the completion of specific goals. You’re just trying to get things done.
The product mindset, on the other hand, is about building success. It’s about continuous improvement and long-term solutions rather than temporary fixes that last only as long as it takes to complete a task or get something out the door.
In a project mindset, there are no second chances; if you mess up once, you can kiss all your hard work goodbye.
When working in a product mindset, however, mistakes are part of learning how to do things better next time (and will help us deliver better products).
It’s important to remember there are many differences between projects and products. Projects are temporary, with a fixed scope and budget.
Products are long-term investments; they have no set deadlines or expectations for when they will be finished (other than “when they’re ready”).
Projects have committed funds to pay for contractors and consultants; products do not have this requirement because internal employees can maintain them.
Projects come together quickly to meet an urgent need for the business; products take longer because the team needs time to deploy them into production.
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