You Don’t Need To Bargain Between A Project And Product Mindset
Put the never-ending debate to rest with these 3 remarkable tools
The advancement in Agile and DevOps is making it much easier for developers turned entrepreneurs to build and grow businesses with competitive advantages in the market.
Organizations that leverage these strategies by utilizing recent SaaS tools to facilitate and accelerate their products end up with satisfied customers, stakeholders, and investors alike.
But not all of us go through business school to know the exact formula needed to crack this mystery.
The Current Scenario
We are in the epicenter of UX, tech, and business, and more companies are moving toward product-led growth where the product sells itself, independent of sales and marketing strategies.
The software shows up in the workplace unannounced, and end users themselves explore tools and urge companies to adopt various tools. This kind of adoption is organic and quick.
No sales-led organization can catch up to the pace, leading organizations to focus on “quick releases” to stand up against their competitors.
The rest of us are too focused on packing our product with features to the brim or fine-tuning every aspect just to outwit the competition. In the bargain, the outcome might never be market fit for a release and hence shelved.
So how do we find our business’s best strategy to make a mark?
The Mindset Dilemma
The ongoing debate is about organizations adopting two primary mindsets — The Project Mindset and The Product Mindset.
Yes, they may seem the same but result in entirely different outcomes. They say the mindset depends on the type of questions that make you ponder. Let us understand what each perspective entails:
An organization with a project mindset focuses on planning, estimation, delivery, and output. It answers questions such as:
- When should it be completed?
- Who will carry out the task?
- What is the standard procedure followed?
- How will we carry it out?
An organization with a product mindset focuses on purpose, iterations, solutions, and outcomes. It answers a different set of questions such as:
- Why should we solve this problem?
- What are our vision and mission?
- What are the different ways to solve this?
- How can this provide value?
From the above questions, we can see that the end goal is undoubtedly the same.
Both approaches want to build products with high-value returns in terms of consumers and profits.
Consider this an immersive “choose your own adventure” game, where the decisions you make will take you on a path with different experiences that affect the outcome in one way or another.
Let’s see what we might expect in each scenario:
Path A — The Project Mindset
If I were to explain it in one sentence, it would be “playing by the rules.”
The product owners and managers have a preconceived idea of the final output, and they chart out a specified roadmap that all the teams follow.
All that is expected from the teams is to stick to the plan.
Employees are groomed with a delivery mindset where there is no need for multiple iterations and ideations.
The safe path helps eliminate unwarranted bugs and glitches along the development process.
It allows teams to abide by a fixed timeline and keep the clients happy.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
– Reid Garrett Hoffman, Entrepreneur
Fundamentals of this approach:
- Milestones — The project manager and C-level folks set a predefined roadmap and desired outcomes in advance. Individual teams are assigned a fixed set of goals.
- Deadlines — The delivery date for each project is specified in advance based on the predefined goals — no room for deviation.
- Leadership — It follows a waterfall approach or hierarchy where the juniors report to the seniors in their specific field of expertise.
- Key Metrics — Teams must deliver on time and get it right using tried and tested solutions. It ensures smooth turnover of the project across teams.
- Cross-team communication — No communication amongst the junior employees is necessary. It keeps the teams on track and avoids confusion. It helps deliver the output without room for bugs.
- Revenue — The fixed timeline and tasks help foresee the required resources, tools, and expenses. The budget is predefined per project, as stipulated with your client initially.
- Launch — A quick and safe launch to enter the market. The launch date is set in stone, and events around it are planned accordingly.
Path B — The Product Mindset
You can sum this up as “solve for the customers.”
The primary focus is the outcome, where you shift from an output mindset. Delivering customer value, prioritizing continuous evolution, data-driven decisions, and customer delight take precedence over timelines.
Only the mission and vision are established initially, and all teams keep that goal in mind while working on their respective tasks.
Solutions are formed as the development progresses through stages; hence, the timelines and deliverables can vary accordingly.
Employees are free to communicate between teams and the customers if they are presented with a glitch.
They approach it from various perspectives to help satisfy customer needs.
“Good companies manage Engineering. Great companies manage Product.”
– Thomas Schranz, Founder and CEO of Blossom
Fundamentals of this approach:
- Milestones — Team leads establish an essential roadmap, and employees improvise as they proceed. The key is to learn and iterate to produce customized solutions.
- Deadlines — Since there isn’t a fixed roadmap, the deadlines are flexible. Only an ideal time frame is set as a management tool to help you achieve your milestones.
- Leadership — It follows an agile approach or democracy where the juniors and seniors can interact across teams and collaborate on features.
- Key Metrics — Teams must provide customer satisfaction while keeping business goals in mind. Alter solutions by thinking on your feet and revising features on the go.
- Cross-team communication — Interdisciplinary communication is a must for all team members. It ensures goals are aligned after every product sprint or release.
- Revenue — Clients pay for the best solution that uses the latest technology for higher gains, even if it exceeds the deadline. Innovative solutions increase market share.
- Launch — The launch period is estimated and revised after significant releases. The product is launched based on customer performance evaluations.
So Which Path Will You Take — A or B?
Both paths seem fruitful when read about alone. But the truth is, anything in excess is harmful.
The downside of Project Mindset — Project thinking always discusses what needs to be done, who will do it, and how to do it. This will make the drive more ruthless and does not pause to think, is it needed to be done, is this the best approach for our product, and whether our customers need them in the first place?
The downside of Product Mindset — Due to freedom in creativity, it’s easy to get carried away in outlandish ideas which might fall well out of the desired timeline. Since customers are at the forefront, the endless feedback loops can quickly derail you without a structural approach.
One size does not fit all!
“Be stubborn on vision but flexible on details.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Find your Right Proportions
You can’t get carried away by creativity and possibilities in this time-bound era, nor can you make strict timelines and project roadmaps in this ever-evolving world.
It’s about quality over quantity. You need to have a basic skeletal structure, and then you are allowed to deviate for the better.
You need a balance of both! It can be one more than the other, depending on the requirements of your product or service and target group.
The Ideal Approach To Achieve Your Balance
It’s found to be most helpful to start with the product thinking, arrive at a creative solution and then assess its feasibility with project thinking.
Have multiple iterations but with a structure of what problem requires immediate attention to the problem that has the most negligible impact on the overall business.
Budget target deadlines are essential but so are a continual improvement, long-term focus, and what happens after the launch.
- Build for the needs and not wants of the customers. You benefit from the feedback and, at the same time, stay on the intended path.
- Feature development is a measure of the kind of user engagement. The more the engagement, the more the benefit. This way, data informs you of the features that impact business the most.
- Prioritize the growth of the business over product perfection. Continuous iteration is the key to engaging with users as time goes by. Perfection is not possible to achieve.
- Budget for ongoing investment, not time. Invest in teams, building skills, training employees, and recent SaaS tools rather than only focussing on marketing, sales, and other temporary profits.
- Validate assumptions before you start development. An outcome is a measurable change in human behavior that creates value. Find ways to get proof of concept and customer feedback on potential ideas to save time and avoid burnout.
Tools To Help You Strike The Balance
The proportions of project vs. product approach might vary depending on your specific goals, but the overall goal to achieve business success is to identify customers’ unrealized needs and translate them into solutions.
This has a straightforward 3-step process to it. I have dissected the stages and categorized them by the tools you can use for each step:
Proof Of Concept — Test an idea for efficacy before development to see if it’s worth investing time.
Identifying a problem, proposing a viable solution, demonstrating how it would work, and creating a value proposition is a sure shot at reaping maximum value with minimum expenditure of invaluable resources.
The Flyer by the Wright brothers, Machine Gun Design by Leonardo da Vinci and the Bitcoin whitepaper are all Proof Of Concepts that reassured the market fit and developed into priceless innovations.
Ideawake is an easy-to-use and highly configurable SaaS tool that allows you to:
- Supports open innovation from the initial collection of ideas to measuring its impact on employees and potential customers.
- Invite stakeholders, customers, and employees to capture solutions, designs, or ideas based on targeted topics.
- Control participation and access by limiting visibility to specific companies or groups based on the user persona for that particular feature.
- Customize your evaluation criteria to match organizational goals and processes.
- Track engagement and impact while communicating progress at scale through outcome analytics, engagement metrics, and visual reports.
Product + Customer Management — Align thoughts to roadmaps while taking customer feedback as the guiding tool.
Besides the product roadmap, customer feedback is one binding force that shifts the paradigm from deliverables and deadlines to priorities and outcomes.
DevRev is a Developer CRM platform that links every customer conversation, feature request, and new product enhancement through a converged system of records. It allows you to:
- Relate customer queries directly to the bug’s source through trails, which identifies the ticket that deals with that particular feature and links it back to the developer in charge.
- Respond to customers instantly through integrating PLuG SDK, where you can guide and support your users firsthand throughout their journey.
- Implement a converged ticket and issue management system to enable seamless work collaboration across teams.
- Create empathetic value propositions by visualizing how every microservice and API powers your features and capabilities, enriching your developers and customers with events, metrics, and goals.
Prototyping + Testing — Regularly validate outcomes by creating an interactable mock-up of the intended user flow.
When cross-functional teams and stakeholders get an idea of the finalized workflow, they can make the necessary changes, define other metrics like business finance, and strategize accordingly. It’s the foundational elements like what happens when you click a button on a screen, how many steps are needed to complete an intended task, and how exactly the interface behaves when you interact with it,
It would look and work like the final product and guide it through a series of validation stages toward mass production.
InVision is a prototyping design tool and a real-time workspace for teams to collaborate on ideas, align goals, and revise the information architecture of the entire product:
- Create interactive prototypes by uploading static screenshots or fully designed screens and connecting every screen.
- Collaborate at every stage of your process across teams by embedding editable Google Docs, Jira issues, and Kanban boards and carrying out rapid iterations.
- Implement changes instantly and realize the revised feature visually. It helps bring all stakeholders on board with the shared goal.
- Seamlessly communicate by leaving comments on a specific feature by tagging the respective designer.
- Compatible with popular graphics file formats like PNG, GIF, PSD and JPG
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