Blending the Best of Product and Project Management (Part One)

Companies of all sizes are well-versed in agile: 97 percent of businesses are using it to varying extents. Some are being agile, others are doing agile, latecomers are still using a blend of agile and waterfall, and some are still running waterfall alone. In our blog series, we explore how Product and Project Management come together in this shifting and mixed landscape. In the first part of our series, we examine the synergies between these two functions, and begin to unpack the importance of governance in strengthening the role of both teams.

Firstly, what’s the difference between Product and Project Management, and why have these roles historically been at odds? Both functions share the goal of successfully delivering the new product, but there are stark differences in how they go about it. When we talk about Project Management, this assumes waterfall ways of working (a traditional PMO). With Product Management, we are referring to the mindset of openness, creativity, and innovation.

While the Product and Project Management functions share a common goal, their starting points sit at opposite ends of the governance spectrum. And despite this reality, there’s a surprising amount of synergy between the two functions. Typically, Product and Project Management mix in medium-to-large organisations, as they look to bring newly identified products to market with varying levels of success.

New product development is among the most exciting functions in an organisation. People are inherently drawn to the opportunity to be part of a team involved in testing big ideas to solve pressing problems. 75 percent of organisations have already implemented product-centric delivery. For those aspiring to join the smaller share of organisations doing product well, there is a long road ahead. For one, the Product Manager needs to be at the forefront of the product-centric delivery process. His or her creativity, big ideas, and ‘test and learn’ mindset are all keys to getting to the right product. However, the first key consideration is developing a Project Management wrapper that goes with your product development, providing guidance and support to the team as it’s needed.

We believe there are three crucial ways in which the Product and Project disciplines can better collaborate to maximise value. In this installment, we’ll start by zeroing in on governance, and will explore other areas of focus in the second part of our series.

Governance that Enables Innovation

Governance needs to support and enhance delivery teams, not place limits on its ability to innovate. Too much governance can stifle creativity, too little, and the process becomes uncontrollable. Project Management should facilitate the correct balance of governance and provide alignment and focus so that visions and aspirations are realised. Delivery teams should not become overburdened with and distracted by governance, thus slowing down their outputs. There are a few key factors to consider here:

  • When should the governance processes kick in?
  • Which aspects need to be governed?
  • How much room for human decision-making should be left in?
  • How should empowerment be provided to the team itself?

Each of these elements can vary depending on organisational maturity for innovation, risk (e.g. financial), skillsets, timeframe needs, level of uncertainty, or scale of the innovation/product processes. Organisations should consider these areas before the process kicks off and assess them regularly. The goal is to shape a product that enables users to reach the right outcomes, not to deliver a list of features for the user.

In the next part of our series, we’ll look at the importance of the “fail fast” mindset and the Project Manager’s role as a facilitator in extracting greater value from the Product and Project Manager partnership.