Why shifting from project to product management is critical

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The traditional plan-build-run model that involves dividing IT into three separate units, far removed from the business and customer, has been an industry staple for the past 30 years, but is not a contemporary solution.

Mik Kersten PhD, author of “Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework”, commented that this traditional IT project management discipline is usually insufficient for meeting today’s software development needs. He goes on to explain that an ill-fitting managerial paradigm and measurement method can derail even the most well-resourced and strategic projects.  Nevertheless, a shift to a product-aligned organisation is no less daunting, but businesses can take a series of steps to ensure a smooth transition.

New year, new team

The first step is to create cross-functional product teams in IT, bringing together those working in SysOps, business ops, development, sales, marketing and management, and integrating them. Rather than existing in silos, this approach breaks down internal barriers and facilitates cross-collaboration towards one common goal.

When establishing new product teams, businesses should be wary of numbers.  Including more than ten people in one team is an anti-pattern. Usually, larger teams are associated with monolithic applications, which other applications are dependent upon. These often have complex waterfall testing cycles, which create bottlenecks. Instead, product teams must be empowered to decouple the monolith and split into smaller, autonomous services.

The new product team structure allows businesses to remove the constraints of the old portfolio and project management processes and tools. Continuing with legacy processes and mindsets is no longer an option.

Governance

Agile product and portfolio governance often determines an organisation’s value. If implemented correctly, Agile governance can empower autonomous teams, deliver effective processes that improve speed to market, improve product quality via increased collaboration and reduce risks. Meanwhile, all decisions are aligned to core business objectives.

Standardising adoption of Agile principles is essential for managing internal governance and decision-making. Effective governance relies on key Agile and software engineering disciplines, which means deploying them in the most productive way possible.

When standardising, there are various things IT organisations can do. These include implementing a community of practice (CoP), starting with an Agile and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) approach to drive consistency in the new product team. Encouraging teams to collaborate and focus on customer value and consolidate learnings from previous Agile initiatives is also helpful.

Product management

With IT businesses reassessing their priorities for this year, effective product management can help them achieve value by developing products that deliver on objectives. However, the financial planning and budgeting can create tension in product management, where change is not aligned to business goals and teams revert to siloes. Not only does it impact speed to market, it also erodes value to the organisation and customers.

We recommend a series of steps when moving closer to product alignment. These include implementing agile funding for product backlogs, empowering new product teams to manage demand and prioritising value and identifying an Agile and product management champion in the finance team.

IT firms have a desire for change and shifting to a product, rather than project, mindset can help them improve scalability by breaking down internal walls and reinforcing collaboration. Working with an Agile consultancy like Catapult is a good first step when planning their approach and can help streamline this transition.

To find out more about becoming product-focused, visit the Project to Product section of the Catapult site.