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I’m hearing the phrase “projects to products” being used a lot more now by experts, analysts and even customers to describe the transformation needed for IT teams to better support business innovation. As a big advocate for the projects-to-products mindset, I find this trend encouraging. At the same time, I think it’s important to consider how a shift in the way IT teams are funded and organized also requires a change in thinking at the leadership level.
First, let’s revisit what “projects to products” means. Traditional IT teams are organized around a rigid project mindset: An organization decides an idea is worth investing in to develop, and then typically applies their own product development methodology that is usually homegrown and includes a set of practices likely embedded into the company for some time. These can include budgets with little wiggle room, traditional project start and end dates, and the signoffs and gateways for moving it along the line. It sounds great on paper, but in practice, the project mindset is often more about managing scope, schedules and resources than it is about delivering a valuable product.
The product mindset instead focuses on experimenting and discovering what customers are really asking and looking for, and then applies an approach that is oriented more toward the consistent delivery of new capabilities, plus testing to gradually improve quality incrementally. In practice, everyone is focused on building a great product instead of working toward a deadline or staying under budget.
A colleague at a Fortune 5 company is a big fan of this approach. In a recent conversation, he told me that the product mindset is more conducive to the way agile IT organizations should be funded. Rather than set aside some of the budget for a one-off project, he believes it’s better to continually fund your IT team like an investment portfolio, investing wherever you think you’ll create the most positive change within your organization. This is a trend I’m seeing across other organizations as well in various industry sectors.
Moving from projects to products leads to more value and better outcomes from IT. But that raises a new question: How do IT leaders prepare their teams for that shift?
The Role Of IT Leaders
Moving from projects to products should organically provide motivation for an IT team because it empowers them to do the work they really want to do. Developers, engineers, product managers — they all like seeing the fruits of their labor. They put a lot of effort into writing code and solving hard problems, and it’s encouraging when they see that a tangible product they helped create is actually being used by customers or their company.
Still, any sort of change to the way they work can sound intimidating at first, even if it’s positive. People get concerned about how their job roles might change. Fear can set in when they’re asked to abandon the way they’ve historically worked in favor of a new approach. Positive change in the IT department can also unintentionally create dissonance between IT and the rest of the business, which now needs to shift its perceptions of how IT works.
So, it’s important for IT leaders to shepherd their teams, and even the rest of the company, through a project-to-product transformation.
The ideal mindset is really to be a “servant leader” — another popular term among the Agile community, but one that’s been around and relevant well before Agile was popular. Any time you’re in a position of authority in which you have influence over people’s lives, it’s no longer about you. Leaders need to remember that it’s about the people they serve. How can you help them grow in their careers and be successful in their work endeavors?
It requires a mental shift so that instead of thinking about yourself or your next promotion, you prioritize empowering your team to succeed in their new environment. You have to be alert and attentive of opportunities to move your people through this change.
Teams look to leaders to light the path to transformation. Great leaders rise to the occasion. They know how to put their teams in positions to succeed and find ways to deliver value without losing sight of the people at the hearts of their businesses.
January 24, 2019 at 08:48AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs