Switch from Project to Product Mentality

Five Reasons to Switch from Project to Product Mentality

Keri Lindquist

Keri Lindquist

Senior Product Manager

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Let’s say you have a great idea for a leading-edge, interactive AR application on your organization’s website. You’ve spent months compiling the right team, getting buy-in, designing and developing the product – all just to discover that once you’re ready to deploy, your users’ needs or the market has already shifted.

This is the danger of operating with a project mentality. You are confined to fixed milestones and budgets, working within a linear timeline from A to B. This often leads teams to focus on building a solution that’s only temporary and fails to adhere to an organization’s long-term goals.

Then there’s the product mentality, which allows for greater flexibility, and delivers value fast by prioritizing user needs (based on feedback) and achieving business objectives. For more context, read our article that explains everything you need to know about digital products.

Project vs. product mentality

Most companies are familiar with the traditional project methodology, where budgets and deadlines are set at the engagement’s start and are set in stone. On its surface, it’s logical; it holds those involved with the product build accountable to controllable variables (time, budget). But when developing a digital product, there are a lot of uncontrollable variables, like environmental factors and user needs (that change frequently), that can alter the success of your product even before it’s out.

That’s why organizations are making the switch to the product methodology. Through this process, your success is measured by improved customer experiences, creating long-term value, and driving business outcomes. This is achieved by conducting ongoing user research and frequent product releases – providing a faster, more adaptable process for developing products, and allowing you to pivot when priorities change.

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Here are five reasons it’s time to adopt a product mentality and ditch your traditional project mentality.

1. You have less risk

You can’t always predict what will happen in the market five years, one year, or sometimes even six months from now. Following the project methodology, you are beholden to your budgets, milestones, and deliverables. If industry changes occur, customer preferences shift, or even an event that impacts the global economy that affects the relevance of your product, you’re stuck. If you build the wrong thing, you will be too deep to change direction.

The product methodology offers greater flexibility to avoid risk and get the most out of your investment. Building and releasing smaller iterations (with a long-term vision in mind) will make learning more about your product easier because you can get user feedback more quickly. If a particular release is not right for your customers or your business, you’ll have an easier time pivoting if a feature isn’t working.

2. You can see a return more quickly because you can provide value more quickly

Think of the two methodologies as a baseball game. The project methodology is like trying to win a game with a home run. A big payoff, but there are a lot of variables that make it more difficult. The product methodology is like trying to win by swinging for more achievable hits – something more attainable with less risk involved.

After each release under the product methodology, your team can measure results faster, gather user feedback, and confidently validate your product’s value by establishing relevant KPIs. And when you can prove results, you can better show your product’s value. This is possible because there are more frequent releases and more opportunities to validate through user feedback and insights. The project methodology only allows results to be measured at the first (and only) release.

3. You can ensure your product meets user needs

A feature does not have to be flashy to be innovative, as long as it can unlock something new for your business and fills your users’ needs. Speed is paramount to innovation. If products get to market too slowly, user needs may have already shifted, or a competitor may have gotten there first. Continuous feedback and accurate data help you learn faster and innovate faster.

What happens if your competitors meet your users’ needs before you do? Failure to adapt to customer needs or delayed market entry is why only 32% of digital products are successful. Learning faster is everything in the digital economy.

4. Your development process will be more efficient

Due to the linear track of the project mentality, work happens in stages and can lead to operating in silos. As a result, collaboration and knowledge sharing can be challenging and lead to duplicative work and increased costs.

Through the product methodology, teams naturally work cross-functionally because they are not held to those same milestones. Design, strategy, insights and technology teams can work in tandem and unite around organizational goals and can easily address issues as they arise, sometimes avoiding them altogether.

5. The industry is shifting in favor of customized products

According to McKinsey, 76% of customers become agitated when companies come up short on personalization. Users expect brands to meet them where they’re at, and when it comes to digital products, one size doesn’t fit all. Out-of-the-box solutions can’t cover everything, and without investing in strategy and insights and incorporating those learnings, it’s impossible to build a product that will be beneficial to your audiences. The product methodology allows you to go back to the drawing board to add personalized, custom features that create a better experience you may not have anticipated at the beginning of the engagement and what your audiences expect.

Don't build something; build the right thing

No digital product development journey is the same. It can become overwhelming when shifting priorities, making significant product decisions, and adapting to user needs. That’s why you need an approach that’s flexible and agile enough for you to keep up when priorities and needs change. Within the product methodology, dates still matter, budgets still matter, and scopes still matter, but you’re able to prioritize user needs appropriately and reach your key business objectives.

Your team’s ability to switch from a project to a product mentality is core to your success; we’re here to help your team shift their approach to product-centered development, keeping pace with your needs every step of the way.

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