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Project Management vs Product Management: A Flawed Conversation

Introduction

A while ago, Manager vs Leader was a common topic. There were many tables comparing what a manager does vs what a Leader did. The Leader was the clear winner. The Manager, an obvious villain with very narrow and anti-employee attributes.

This format helped in many ways. A simple comparator pushes the message far and wide.

I now see this with Project Mindset vs Product Mindset. The aim of such a comparator is to help others think bigger and wider. A noble goal indeed. However, this approach has some flaws.

It pits Project Mindset against Product Mindset. It presents Project Mindset as a narrow & short-sighted approach.

Take for example the following comparator:

Project MindsetProduct Mindset
Temporary teamsLong-lived teams
Build-once mentalityTest and learn mentality
Customer feedback at the endCustomer feedback throughout the product
Release onceRelease continuously
Success is measured by delivery of scope within time and budgetSuccess is measured by customer satisfaction and value created
Scope is determined by stakeholdersScope guidelines are set with stakeholders and teams learn through experimentation and customer feedback

Such comparisons are an example of what I call the Golden Rules of Asserting Superiority: Your worst is typical of you and should define you. My best is typical of me and should define me.”

Flaws in this Approach

Creates a Bias Against Project Managers

The first flaw is that such comparisons immediately transfer the negativity of ‘Project Mindset’ to the people in the role of Project Managers. The title and role of Project Manager has become less desirable due to unrelated reasons.

During client consulting, I have started noticing this tread more often. More and more ex-Project Managers are moving to the title of Product Manager with minimal or no change in their responsibilities. The change in role is mostly cosmetic. This is more common in Startups and SMEs.

Role Overloading

Now that a Project Manager is a Product Manager, that person is getting over-burdened with additional tasks of a Product Manager. This is over and above the tasks of a Project Manager that have not gone away (because they are important tasks).

Effectively, there is an amalgamation of the two roles leading to additional work and pressure thereof. This is more common in Enterprises.

Devaluation of Discipline of Project Management

Project Mindset is an important part of and not inferior to Product Mindset. Few key things to keep in mind when modelling Project Mindset:

  1. Commitments have to be tracked and met.
  2. With Vendors being an integral part of the landscape of an Enterprise, temporary & mission-oriented teams are inevitable
  3. It is a response to a specific construct building a part of or a full product under severe constraints of timeline, budget or people

Addressing the “Versus”

Project MindsetRoot Cause
Temporary teams & Build-once mentalityThe temporary nature of teams is inevitable anywhere due to vendor involvement, mission-oriented teams and employee churn. What is important is to ensure continuity of knowledge, experiences and culture.

It is important to close a project with proper experience reports, Decision Logs, and audio/video recordings on anecdotes and casual snippets of information.

Customer feedback at the end & Release onceReduce isolation of the project teams and ensure they are well connected to the teams building rest of the product and also other teams in the Product’s larger ecosystem. This way continuous feedback with reach project teams too.

This also allows the project team to release continuously and contribute to better product-market fit.

Success is measured by delivery of scope within time and budget & Scope is determined by stakeholdersThis is still true as it is important to accomplish something valuable within given constraints. A project team should not be penalised for an improperly defined outcome and guardrails.

Conclusion

  1. Project Mindset is a subset of Product Mindset
  2. Project Mindset is important as it allows teams to accomplish something valuable within constraints of time/budget/people (no org has an endless supply of the above)
  3. Project Mindset vs Product Mindset is unfair to the discipline of Project Management
  4. Project Mindset vs Product Mindset ends up comparing an execution strategy to a product-market fit strategy

 

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Dinker Charak

Dinker has over a decade of experience in building products across diverse domains as Industrial Automation, Home Automations, Operating Systems, High Energy Particle Physics, Embedded Systems, Online Video Advertising, Messaging, K-12 education and Private Banking. He also founded Gungroo Software. His books #ProMa, Absolute and None & The Murmurs of the Dawn are available on Amazon.