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

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.

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 success and a key indicator that they’re doing their jobs properly.  However, those results alone don’t necessarily benefit your customers (whether internal or external customers) or deliver business value. You can do everything right and still have a negative outcome. It’s like a perfectly executed driving maneuver that still results in a crash because of unexpected black ice.  

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, and instead, it is defined by improvement and backed by measurable outcomes. This simple shift in approach completely changes the mindset of your teams and the resulting milestones.  And, as a result, it 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 development methodology was created 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 are most needed. This is because the PMO is provided with frequent data that discloses progress in real time.

Without frequent data updates, project delivery can create tunnel vision for PMOs, because they have already allocated resources to tprojects and they measure those investments against the milestones of the plans 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 can be under 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.

Product Delivery at the Portfolio Level

More frequent milestones and review cycles require high visibility into 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. Using product delivery concepts at the portfolio level means portfolio managers need to have regular feedback and check-ins to provide up-to-date information. It also means they are constantly working on the highest value initiatives for the business, and the PMO can 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.

A product-focused portfolio also lends itself to continued improvement, which means a project doesn’t necessarily end and just move on to the next set of tasks. There is always improvement and maintenance to get the most value from work put in. Instead of a finish line, think of it as a car that, even once it is built, requires maintenance and upkeep for the duration of its useable life.

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.

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Shawn Dickerson

Shawn Dickerson is Vice President of Marketing for KeyedIn, a company with a range of Cloud-based solutions including KeyedIn Projects for PPM (Project Portfolio Management), Projects for PSA (Professional Services Automation) and KeyedIn Manufacturing for enterprise resource planning (ERP). He brings more than 20 years experience in marketing to the KeyedIn team.