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Project to Product Shift

Reflections from a Year of Project to Product

Published By Mik Kersten
Reflections from a Year of Project to Product

Today marks one year since Project to Product was published. The book details my journey from empathizing with the frustrations of developers trying to deliver value to customers, to empathizing with the frustrations of entire organizations dealing with the onslaught of digital disruption. Helping developers was fairly straightforward, as that could be done with tools and approaches that drive focus and flow. Helping Agile and DevOps transformations involving thousands or tens of thousands of IT staff turned out to be much, much harder.  But that has been my mission, and the stated goal of the book. My own frustration at witnessing a rapidly growing number of transformations going off the rails, or worse yet not knowing how many rails there were, made me realize that a new approach was urgently needed.  

Back in 2016, Neelan Choksi (Tasktop President & COO) was encouraging me to write a book summarizing my learnings from the hundreds of customer meetings I had done in the previous year. I was very much inspired by those learnings, as well as the impact that Gene Kim’s The Phoenix Project had on me, and more importantly on how Gene’s book was starting to change the mindset of the technology leaders that I was meeting.  

My fateful first meeting with Gene happened three years ago this week. We bumped into each other at a conference and started geeking out on how software modularity tended to get intricately intertwined with organizational structures. Gene shared with me his experiences building apps in Clojure, and I showed him visualizations that I created to show how the flow of value in my open source projects affected both software architecture and organizational structure. To our mutual amusement, we came up with the idea of the “lunch factor” — the number of people you need to take to lunch to get an important change made to the software architecture. Then I started sharing my ideas for a book that would build on these concepts. Right after we parted ways, Gene sent an intro email introducing me to the IT Revolution editor, stating that there was a book in my head that was “guaranteed to be in every MBA curriculum in 10 years.” I thought this was a ridiculously lofty goal. But that didn’t seem to deter Gene, whose aspiration for the book pushed me to give it my all.  

Join the conversation – click on the book cover to order a copy of Project to Product (available in print, digital and audio)

IT Revolution had high hopes for Project to Product, setting a lifetime sales goal of 10,000 copies. At the one year mark, the book has surpassed 23,000 copies sold and is now selling faster than ever. That completely blew away my expectations. What’s meaningful about this is seeing the impact that it is making on organizations striving for a better way. The Project to Product movement is fundamental, and the popularity of the book speaks to the urgency with which enterprises need to transform. I have heard countless stories of IT executives buying it for their staff, and more interestingly of IT practitioners buying it for their executives. 

A key goal of the book is to define a common language to get the business and technology sides working and collaborating effectively around company and customer success. When reviewing early versions and ideas for The Unicorn Project, it struck me that the brilliance of Gene’s new book is in how it portrays the way a deep understanding of the software delivery reshapes how business leaders think and operate. That was the entire goal of the Flow Framework™—to give organizations a common language and operating model grounded in the dynamics of software delivery, but high-level and meaningful to the business. I am delighted to see the influence it’s having across the industry.

To me, the most rewarding thing about sharing a new approach is seeing discussions, ideas, and creativity that it drives in others. To get the Project to Product message out there, in the past year I’ve delivered nearly 20 keynotes at Agile, DevOps and business conferences, making for some incredible discussions and learnings. This ranges from the very big picture, such as seeing Dean Leffingwell, someone who to me is one of the most inspirational and impactful thinkers in our industry, get inspired by Project to Product and seeing the ideas flow into SAFe 5.0. Or the more personal feeling of the impact on an individual. At a recent conference a woman in the DevOps community approached me and told how much it meant to her that all author proceeds were going to programs supporting women and minorities in tech. I was touched by her story of being the first person of color in the IT department at Xerox. It has been a privilege to get the opportunity to meet with so many inspired and motivated people trying to move the community ahead.  

Over the past year, the most significant source of learning for me has been the meetings with enterprise IT and business leaders who are defining their product value streams and applying the Flow Framework™ to connect and to measure them. In the coming months, I will be sharing those learnings. They range from misconceptions about defining product portfolios — you don’t create a single product model that lasts you two years, you start small, measure, iterate, and refactor. Or to pleasant surprises, such as the way in which project management and PMO leaders have embraced the concepts due to the visibility and common language that connects them to the ground truth and tradeoffs in software value streams. Most importantly, I’m seeing organizations get out of the world of proxy metrics and local optimizations of the value streams, and into thinking end-to-end. This is, after all, is what The Phoenix Project taught us. That DevOps is all about end-to-end flow, feedback and continual learning.

There is little that brings me more joy than to make an impact on organizations struggling with these problems, and working with people who have the vision to find a better way for their companies, their customers and their staff. If you want to engage over the coming year, please don’t hesitate to reach out

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Written by Mik Kersten

Dr. Mik Kersten started his career as a Research Scientist at Xerox PARC where he created the first aspect-oriented development environment. He then pioneered the integration of development tools with Agile and DevOps as part of his Computer Science PhD at the University of British Columbia. Founding Tasktop out of that research, Mik has written over one million lines of open source code that are still in use today, and he has brought seven successful open-source and commercial products to market. Mik’s experiences working with some of the largest digital transformations in the world has led him to identify the critical disconnect between business leaders and technologists. Since then, Mik has been working on creating new tools and a new framework - the Flow Framework™ - for connecting software value stream networks and enabling the shift from project to product. Mik lives with his family in Vancouver, Canada, and travels globally, sharing his vision for transforming how software is built, and is the author of Project To Product, a book that helps IT organizations survive and thrive in the Age of Software.