Products or Projects?

Business and technology innovators today often debate the usefulness of project management:

  1. projects and project management are still useful concepts to structure business activity
  2. projects and project management should be replaced with other ways of thinking about our work, such as product management and agile frameworks.

As you might guess from my theme of embracing the paradox, I agree with both perspectives:

Projects are very useful constructs to organize our thinking, just like campaigns, initiatives, releases, versions, and other bracketing concepts.

The classic definition of “project” includes “progressive elaboration” which is entirely compatible with agile concepts.

Is it time to stop thinking about projects?  No, says agile thought leader Mike Cohn, projects are here to stay:

Some traditional project management techniques are entirely incompatible with agile concepts.

Especially around requirements management and change control, these practices have set harmful expectations for the interactions between business stakeholders and project team members.

Are projects evil?  Yes, says agile thought leader David Hawks, we should abandon project management thinking in business:

The biggest risk with “project” thinking is that once the project is “done”, the team can be disbanded, and the business gets nothing more of value.  This creates risks of requirements management and change control approaches that are all-or-nothing and extremely short term, because emotionally there is no sense of prioritization.

If your team goes away at the end of the project, you either got what you wanted, or you didn’t.  Since you don’t know everything that’s important up front, you load up the requirements with everything you think you might possibly want, because if you don’t get it into the requirements, you’ll never get it, ever.

A shift to a “product” mindset shifts the focus in ways which are entirely helpful – it’s long-term thinking, designed for operations, iterative, doesn’t have to be finished all at once, and can be changed with feedback.

When a project is done, the product lives on, and businesses need to plan for that reality.

In a nutshell, the customer experience is all about the product, not the project(!).

Once those concepts are embraced, I think we can reclaim and reuse the word “project” within an agile mindset.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *