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Moving from Project to Product: A Five-Stage Journey

Learn how to shift to a product-based software delivery model step-by-step

Published By Michelle Wong
Moving from Project to Product: A Five-Stage Journey

The way we work and organize is changing. And so is the mindset around productivity and team structure. In the traditional project-centered model, companies are organized around tasks, with each group focused on one element of a project. But greater emphasis is being placed on moving from project to product, which focuses on enabling teams to become end-to-end experts. 

A 2018 Gartner survey found that 85% of companies prefer a product-centric model. And with the acceleration of digital transformation and technology in recent years, that number has likely increased. 

A product-focused strategy and mindset can create agile organizations, increase productivity, and drive innovation. In this article, we’ll take you through what it means to move from project to product and how to navigate your way through the journey. 

What Does Moving from Project to Product Mean?

Moving from project to product is a fundamental shift in how teams are organized and how work gets done.

Under the old model, teams are organized around projects and responsible for specific sections of the company’s initiatives. Teams are regularly rearranged to meet changing needs. 

The product-based approach organizes teams around specific products to create end-to-end owners of everything related to that product. 

The differences between a project- and product-based approach are night and day. Instead of splitting product knowledge across numerous teams and piecemealing tasks together, a product-based team is responsible for every aspect of the product, from its overall design to the budget, market research, and product development. A product team might consist of designers, engineers, and product managers, among other roles. They’re able to answer questions, solve problems, and improve the product because they know the ins and outs.

There’s also the issue of ownership. When everybody owns one area of the product, no one owns the entire product, which means things can easily fall through the cracks and keep the product from evolving and reaching its best version. Moving from project to product shifts the focus onto employees for creating long-term ownership. It’s not about checking off a box on a task and moving on but rather continually improving the product to create the best possible iteration. 

A product-centric mindset is crucial for digital transformation and efficient IT teams. Instead of searching around the company for someone who understands the product, the entire product team has expertise and is ready to tackle issues, which allows for incredible agility and flexibility. Digital transformation moves quickly, and companies can’t afford to waste time finding product experts or getting lost in red tape.

Read Next: Definitive Guide to Digital Transformation

Moving from project to product is beneficial in numerous situations. Consider these use cases:

  • A technology company wants to adjust its product offerings, but with ideas and responsibilities split between numerous project managers, gathering feedback takes much longer than necessary, resulting in extra costs and a late market entry. 
  • An insurance company sees how the industry and the competition are evolving. A dedicated product manager watches the pipeline for changing customer trends and proactively adjusts the product to match the demands. With a project-based approach, no one is tasked with looking ahead to what’s best for the product and company, meaning the company risks losing relevance.
  • A finance company gets feedback that an area of its website is causing frustration and has to spend time tracking down the group responsible for that task to make updates. But when teams are product-based, feedback can automatically be looped back to that group to quickly and proactively make changes for continual improvement.

Moving from project to product can signal a significant paradigm shift. It’s no longer about measuring activities but about driving outcomes that bring revenue and growth. The journey is typically broken down into five stages.

5 Stages of the Project to Product Journey

Before you embark on the project to product journey, you first need to know your starting point. Each step on the journey builds upon itself to successfully implement a new business focus, workflow, and organizational structure. 

A useful tool for benchmarking your organization’s project to product maturity is the Tasktop Product Maturity Assessment.

Take the assessment to see how far along you are in the five-stage journey. From that point, you’ll be able to understand what you’re already doing right and where improvements can be made to advance to the next stage. 

Below is a breakdown of the five stages in the project to product journey. The assessment takes you through each stage in greater depth.  

Stage 1: Starting Out

Companies in the first stage are just beginning their journey of moving from project to product. But without a strong foundation and the right metrics in place, they run the risk of a challenging and inefficient transition. In this stage, determine why you need to change and set a vision for the positive business outcomes you want to achieve.

Stage 2: Experimentation

In the second stage, companies start implementing changes. But the transition is still limited to certain areas, resulting in unevenness and inconsistencies. Moving past the experimentation stage requires eliminating process and product dependencies and creating cross-functional product teams around the new business perspective. 

Stage 3: Expansion

You’ve tested the product-based approach; the expansion stage is when that structure grows to the rest of the organization. At this point in the transition, success and processes are a mixed bag. The expansion stage is crucial to setting the foundation for the rest of the journey. For best results, double down on customer-centricity and product management as you push for faster customer feedback and consistency across internal and external products.

Stage 4: Operationalizing

In this stage, the product-oriented model expands throughout the entire portfolio, and things move along smoothly with product-based teams and feedback implemented more quickly than before. Although there is still room for improvement, the transformation has been fairly well operationalized and integrated into the company.

Stage 5: Approaching Maturity

You’ve done it! Teams are organized by product and led by product managers with the ability to quickly incorporate feedback and pivot as needed. But reaching the final stage doesn’t mean your journey of moving from project to product is complete. Successful companies continually adjust their workflows to reduce waste and increase efficiency. 

Once you’ve determined which stage you’re at within the project to product journey, the next step is to develop a plan for how to get to the next stage. The best way to do this is by addressing the seven dimensions of a product transformation, based on Tasktop founder and CEO Mik Kersten’s best-selling book, Project to Product:

  1. How are teams organized and resourced?
  2. How strong is customer centricity?
  3. How clear is the definition of value?
  4. How are backlogs managed and prioritized?
  5. How are dependencies managed?
  6. How rapidly can customer feedback revise planning?
  7. How are delivery teams measured?

For an in-depth understanding of what each question means and how to evaluate your responses to ensure your transformation is moving in the right direction, watch the on-demand webinar, The 7 Dimensions of a Project to Product Transformation.

Product Focus is the Future 

Digital transformation brings numerous changes, but among the most important is transitioning to a product-focused model. When it comes to increasing productivity, creating value, developing agility, and driving customer-centricity, there’s simply no better approach than the product-oriented model.

Companies today must work and adapt rapidly to stay relevant and lead their industries. Moving from project to product changes the company’s focus to outcomes and growth instead of activities and programs. That paradigm shift brings incredible value as companies can create relevant products faster, improve existing products, and lead their industries into the future with innovative, customer-focused solutions.

Transitioning to a product-based approach can be challenging, but you aren’t alone. While the five-stage journey is well defined, the road to get to your destination can be difficult and nonlinear. In Dr. Mik Kersten’s book, Project to Product, that path is charted using the Flow Framework®, a lean and prescriptive framework for technology leaders to guide and measure the journey.

For more information on transitioning from project to product with the Flow Framework, download our white paper.

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Written by Michelle Wong

Michelle Wong is the Content Strategist for Planview's value stream management and software toolchain integration solutions for software delivery. Her content focuses on digital transformation topics including Project to Product, Flow Framework, DevOps, Agile, and SAFe.