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From Project To Product-Centric Development

A Product vs. Project Mindset

Transitioning from a project-centric approach to a product-centric mindset is a significant endeavor for many organizations, particularly those companies that have started from a consulting background where project-based work is the norm.

In this blog, we'll dive into the nuances of this transition, exploring the fundamental differences between projects and products, the key concepts of product management, and the strategic considerations involved. By understanding the challenges and opportunities inherent in this shift, consulting firms and other organizations can navigate the transition successfully and thrive in the product-driven world of today.

Differentiating Projects and Products

Product-Centric Organizations Prioritize Delivering Customer Value And
Achieving Long-Term Strategic Objectives

Projects and products serve distinct purposes within organizations, with projects typically focusing on delivering specific outcomes within a defined timeframe. In contrast, products are ongoing initiatives to deliver value to customers continuously. Success is often measured by completing tasks within scope, time, and budget constraints in project-centric organizations. In contrast, product-centric organizations prioritize delivering customer value and achieving long-term strategic objectives. Understanding these differences is important for organizations seeking to make the transition from project-based work to product-focused development.

Key Concepts in Product Management

Product management is the discipline that guides the development and lifecycle of products, encompassing activities such as product strategy, roadmap planning, and user-centric design. Key concepts in product management include the distinction between product ownership and project management, the importance of aligning product development with customer needs, and the value of embracing agile methodologies to enable rapid iteration and adaptation. By adopting a product management mindset, organizations can shift their focus from delivering projects to delivering sustained customer value through iterative product development.

Assessing Readiness for Transition

Before transitioning to a product-centric model, organizations must assess their readiness for change, considering cultural, structural, and leadership factors. Cultural assessment involves identifying mindset shifts needed to embrace product thinking, such as moving from a project-focused mindset to a customer-centric mindset. Organizational structure and governance must support cross-functional collaboration and empower product teams to make autonomous decisions. Leadership alignment and support are also critical, as executives play a key role in championing the transition and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. In particular, ensuring that both a CPO and CTO contribute to the discussion so that one is building the right thing, and the other is building things right. Having both roles helps avoid a conflict of interest.

Building Agile Practices

Agile methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, and Lean Startup provide product development frameworks emphasizing iterative delivery, customer feedback, and continuous improvement. By adopting agile practices, organizations can accelerate the pace of innovation, respond more effectively to changing market conditions, and deliver value to customers faster. Implementing agile at scale requires adopting agile frameworks and practices and fostering a culture of collaboration, transparency, and experimentation across the organization. Ultimately, products benefit from better quality, time to market, and cost.

Establishing Product Teams

Key To The Success Of A Product-Centric Organization Are Dedicated Product Teams 
Comprised Of Cross-Functional Members Responsible For End-To-End Development

Central to the success of a product-centric organization are dedicated product teams comprised of cross-functional members responsible for end-to-end product development. Product teams typically include roles such as product owners, designers, engineers, and marketers, each bringing unique skills and perspectives to the table. Empowering product owners to act as stewards of the product vision and prioritizing cross-functional collaboration is essential for driving innovation and delivering value to customers.

Aligning With Business Strategy

A product-centric approach to development requires alignment with strategic business objectives, including vision, mission, and goals. Product strategy and roadmap planning involve defining the direction and priorities for product development, informed by market research, customer feedback, and competitive analysis. Portfolio management and prioritization help organizations allocate resources effectively and focus on initiatives that deliver the greatest value to customers and the business.

Measuring Success

Measuring the success of product teams and initiatives requires defining key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with strategic objectives and customer outcomes. Agile metrics such as velocity, cycle time, and customer satisfaction scores provide insights into team performance and product health. Continuous improvement and adaptation are facilitated by regular retrospectives, where teams reflect on their processes and identify opportunities for enhancement.

Overcoming Challenges

Transitioning to a product-centric model is not without its challenges, and organizations must be prepared to address resistance to change, legacy systems and processes, and the need to balance innovation with stability. Resistance to change may arise from individuals accustomed to project-based work or entrenched organizational cultures. Legacy systems and processes may impede agility and innovation, requiring investment in modernization efforts. Balancing innovation with stability involves managing risk and uncertainty while pursuing opportunities for growth and differentiation.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Examining case studies and success stories of organizations successfully transitioning from project-centric to product-centric can provide valuable insights and inspiration. Companies such as Spotify, Amazon, and Salesforce have embraced agile methodologies, empowered autonomous product teams, and fostered cultures of innovation, driving sustained growth and customer success.

Top Ten Recommendations To Shift To A Product-Centric Approach

Invest Time In Understanding Customer Needs, Pain Points, And Preferences 
To Inform Product Development Decisions

  1. Cultural Alignment: Foster a culture that embraces continuous improvement, customer-centricity, and collaboration. Encourage openness to change and empower employees to contribute ideas and feedback.

  1. Leadership Support: Gain buy-in and support from senior leadership to champion the transition. Ensure leaders understand the benefits of a product-centric approach and are committed to driving the necessary changes.

  1. Understand Customer Needs: Shift focus from project deliverables to customer outcomes. Invest time understanding customer needs, pain points, and preferences to inform product development decisions.

  1. Establish Product Ownership: Assign dedicated product owners who are accountable for defining product vision, strategy, and priorities. Empower product owners to decide and prioritize features based on customer value and business objectives.

  1. Agile Methodologies: Adopt agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, or Lean Startup to enable iterative development, rapid feedback loops, and adaptive planning. Embrace agility in both mindset and processes.

  1. Cross-Functional Teams: Form cross-functional product teams comprising members with diverse skills and expertise. Encourage collaboration between product managers, designers, engineers, marketers, and other stakeholders.

  1. Iterative Development: Embrace an iterative approach to product development, releasing minimum viable products (MVPs) early and iterating based on user feedback and market validation. Prioritize learning and experimentation over perfection.

  1. Measure Success: Define key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with strategic objectives and customer outcomes. Continuously measure and analyze data to assess the effectiveness of product initiatives and drive informed decision-making.

  1. Feedback and Adaptation: Create mechanisms for gathering feedback from customers, stakeholders, and team members. Use feedback to identify areas for improvement, refine product features, and adapt to changing market conditions.

  1. Continuous Learning: Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organization. Encourage teams to reflect on their processes, share lessons learned, and experiment with new approaches to drive innovation and growth.

My Experience At Skype

During my time at Skype, I was witness to a huge transformation. That transformation was spearheaded by Silver Lake, who (together with Andreessen Horowitz and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board) took a 65% stake in Skype for $1.9 billion in 2009.

When I joined Skype in 2009, before this investment, Skype was very much focused on project delivery, and many project managers in the company were working to get their particular features and capabilities into the products. As a development manager, dealing with multiple project managers competing for resources on the team to develop features was challenging.

The Agile transformation was significant and resulted in the company embracing Scrum across product & engineering. At its peak, I believe we reached 143 Scrum teams!

Much of this was down to the vision of the leader from Silver Lake, who was a key stakeholder in the Agile transformation.

This transformation resulted in a change in roles, too. There were no more project managers!  The new world resulted in Product Managers and Product Engineering Managers (PEMs).  This clearly came with a shift to a product-centric approach, where each Scrum team was focused on a prioritized product backlog.

This shift brought many advantages, including facilitating some teams to improve the release cadence and work in much shorter iterations. One of the more profound improvements was giving employees a much stronger understanding of what they were building for, including unique insights into the strategy and the KPIs driving results. This effectively strengthened people’s connection to their day-to-day work, increasing employee satisfaction.

When Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011, the deal valued Skype at approximately $8.5 billion, meaning that Silver Lake and its partners earned a significant return on their investment in just two years. While the exact return on investment for Silver Lake specifically may not be publicly disclosed, it's evident that the acquisition by Microsoft represented a substantial increase in value for Skype since Silver Lake's initial investment.


The Transition To A Product-Centric Mindset Is About Delivering Value To Customers,
Driving Innovation And Shaping The Future Of An Organization

Transitioning from a project-centric world to a product-centric paradigm is a journey that requires careful planning, organizational alignment, and cultural transformation. Consulting firms and other organizations can thrive in today's digital economy's dynamic and competitive landscape by embracing agile practices, empowering product teams, and aligning with strategic business objectives. The transition to a product-centric mindset is not just about delivering projects; it's about delivering value to customers, driving innovation, and shaping the organization's future.

Shifting from a project to a product mindset in a company offers several key benefits. Firstly, it fosters a customer-centric approach, focusing on delivering continuous value to users rather than completing isolated projects. This leads to better alignment with customer needs and preferences, increasing satisfaction and loyalty.

Secondly, it promotes long-term sustainability by encouraging ongoing improvements and iterations to products based on feedback and market trends, rather than considering projects as one-off endeavors with finite lifecycles. Additionally, a product mindset facilitates greater accountability and ownership among cross-functional teams, as they are responsible for the entire lifecycle of a product, from development to maintenance and support. This can lead to improved collaboration, efficiency, and innovation within the organization.

Finally, adopting a product mindset can also result in better financial outcomes, as it allows companies to prioritize investments based on the potential long-term value of products rather than short-term project deliverables.

About The Author

Jon White is an experienced technology leader with over 34 years of international experience in the software industry, having worked in the UK, Malaysia, Bulgaria, and Estonia. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Systems Design. He led the Skype for Windows development teams for many years (with 280 million monthly connected users), playing a key role in the team's transition to Agile, which included a shift to a product-centric approach.

Jon has held multiple leadership positions throughout his career across various sectors, including loyalty management, internet telecoms (Skype), IT service management, real estate, and banking/financial services.

Jon is recognized for his expertise in Agile software development, particularly helping organizations transform to Agile ways of working (esp. Scrum), and is a specialist in technical due diligence. He is also an experienced mentor, coach, and onboarding specialist.

Over the last few years, he has completed over a hundred due diligence and assessment projects for clients, including private equity, portfolio companies, and technology companies, spanning multiple sectors. Contact Jon at


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