Going from Project Completion to Product Delivery – What every project manager should know

Author: Henry Bennett

Moving from a project-completion mindset to a product-focused delivery model is a small shift with a big impact. As project management office (PMO) leaders become less focused on activities and more driven by outcomes, it has changed some of the fundamental ways we execute on projects. While some might manage both products and projects similarly (or even the same) there is much to gain by adopting the principles of product delivery into your project management practices. Here’s what I mean.

While product delivery and project delivery are similar in theory, they are quite different in practice. While they both ultimately result in a delivered product in the end, the distinct differences between the two mindsets, and the benefits of each need to be carefully considered when making the switch. Let’s cut through the confusion and explore how they differ and why product delivery is rapidly becoming the new approach for organizations and their PMOs.  

First, let’s take a look at the traditional method, project delivery. Projects are finite; they come with set tasks and a strict map for accomplishment. There is little room for deviation from the established process because all milestones are meant to herd the project to a strict completion date — on time, in scope and under budget. For PMO staff, those three items have been the trifecta of governance and a key indicator that they’re doing their jobs properly. And, under those parameters, they are! However, those results alone don’t necessarily benefit your customers or deliver business value. You can do everything right and still have a negative outcome – it’s like a surgery that was performed perfectly, but if the patient died the outcome wasn’t a success. 

Product delivery, on the other hand, is meant to fulfill the needs of your end users, your stakeholders, or customers. The focus of product delivery is on developing and improving deliverables, measuring results and then refining the product against those results. It is tougher to manage because there is less structure but the result is much better. Products are developed and delivered with a focus on value, constant improvement and customer satisfaction. Success isn’t defined by accomplishment; it’s defined by improvement and backed by measurable outcomes. This simple shift in approach completely changes the mindset of your teams and the resulting milestones set forth and, as a result, enhances flexibility, encourages innovation and, ultimately, achieves both internal and external benefits. 

Focus on Outcomes, Not Activities

Focusing on outcomes, rather than activities, is the cornerstone of product delivery. Everyone wants to deliver the best outcomes possible, but a project delivery mindset is not necessarily the best system to do that. It’s restrictive, deadline-driven and offers limited room for growth or quick changes. Product delivery, on the other hand, creates opportunities for continuous innovation because it is focused on creating solutions that deliver customer and business value. 

Let’s think about it this way. The Agile product delivery methodology was developed by the software industry, where timing and innovation are essential to success. If a software team worked in a project delivery mindset, they could doggedly accomplish every task, stay in scope and deliver on time — only to find out that their product was already obsolete. Project accomplished; outcome failed. IT Product delivery is iterative and open-ended, creating pauses during execution that allow project managers to assess progress against desired outcomes, customer demands and market shifts and then make adjustments accordingly. This results in consistent improvements through each new iteration yielding increased customer satisfaction externally and greater value internally. 

Enhanced Visibility and Resource Allocation

The iterative approach of a product delivery strategy doesn’t just ensure the best possible outcomes for the customer, it also ensures that company resources are distributed where they a most needed. This is because the PMO is provided frequent data that discloses progress in real time. Project delivery can create tunnel vision for the PMO because they have already allocated resources to the project and they measure that investment against the milestones of the plan already developed. After all, you can’t change what you can’t measure and you can’t measure what you can’t see. Resources may in fact be getting wasted, but these losses live off the radar because by all appearances, everything is going according to plan as long as tasks are being completed and the due date is being met.

More frequent milestones and review cycles drive the high visibility of product delivery and help the PMO determine if more resources are needed for a given deliverable or if resources might need to be redistributed to another team. They can even determine if a specific deliverable needs to be tabled or even canceled. And when a stall or cancelation occurs, it’s not as negative as you might think. This is because another key marker of the product delivery strategy is a vetted backlog of other projects that are ready for resource allocation. In short, your PMOs can do more with resource investments when they have the data visibility they need to make informed decisions. 

There’s a reason that so many organizations are making the leap to a product delivery mindset. The continuous improvements that drive customer satisfaction and business value, coupled with the high visibility that improves resource allocation and informed decision-making, offer enormous benefits for organizations that wish to remain competitive. 

A version of this article originally appeared on project-management.com with a link to the publication: https://project-management.com/going-from-project-completion-to-product-delivery/