One of the most challenging aspects of Agile adoption is changing from a project mindset to a ‘product’ mindset. What’s the difference between the two? The below pictures outline the contrast between a project and product focus.

A product focus is about stable cross-functional agile teams. Project work can flow through the teams, but the teams stay intact. These teams deliver value early and often through short iterations. There are great benefits in the product focus model. “Organizations can focus on building IT products that delight and engage users and deliver desired business outcomes rather than bog themselves down in traditional project-oriented success metrics.” (Lebeaux, 2019, WSJ)

For more on the product model, check out Martin Fowler’s article Products over Projects.

Companies with large PMOs struggle to adopt the product model the most. They want to be Agile but won’t let go of Waterfall. They are riddled with layers of bureaucracy, hierarchy, reporting and management. This combined with divided functional areas prevent them from changing.

For these organizations, we advise their leadership to take three basic steps. First, they need to take Agile training. Leadership must understand the difference between a project and a product focus. Many companies make the mistake of sending only team members to Agile training. Leaders need to learn that they can measure success based on the value their products deliver to customers, rather than on project milestones.

Second, leaders needs to decide on whether their organization is ready to move away from a project focus. If the organization is not ready, that’s okay. The problem is when companies try adopting Agile while still using a PMO/project model. Remember, the key to agility is changing the mindset and embracing an adaptive approach. Don’t mistake using tools like VersionOne or putting stickies on a board (although those things are fine) as becoming agile. The real change happens at a mindset and culture level.

If the decision is to move to a product focus, the third step is to take action. This is when it’s time to make organization structure changes. Leadership, along with outside guidance, must decide on what changes to make. It’s also their responsibility to put the right people in the right seats.

Summary

If your leadership needs education or guidance, contact us because we can help. It won’t be easy, but many companies are finding that it’s worth it to make the change. By changing from a project management mindset to a product-oriented approach, companies can define success according to the areas that matter to users and design software that delights their customers.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is a c0-founder and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

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