From projects to products: IT and product development challenges

From Projects to Products: Product development challenges - Part 1

Good ideas are a wonderful thing, aren’t they? They can shake up the market and move the needle on revenue. Businesses crave them, managers try to encourage them, employees say they’d like more opportunities to share them. So, if we all agree that we want more ideas and care about nurturing them, why is it that in product development, many ideas seem to die on the vine, never able to mature into the fruitful, market-ready products they were destined to be?

The Harvard Business Review points to the systems that are developed to encourage ideation, which often actually do quite the opposite. One manager at a manufacturing company examined his company’s mechanism for sourcing creative ideas from its employees, finding that there was so much bureaucracy involved, staff eventually realized that submitting new ideas simply wasn’t worth their effort. When he changed the system, new ideas were able to flow more freely.

In many cases, it’s more of a problem of decision-making, execution and being open to feedback along the way. Companies want to bring their best ideas to market as a fit-for-purpose product, but find that the approach they take stifles, delays or distorts product development. As a result, around 60 percent of new product development efforts fail to even reach the market.

What’s the right approach to product development? At Emergn, we’ve found that the ‘a ha’ moment occurs when businesses stop thinking of development in the context of project management and start thinking instead of product development.

Diagnosing the flaws of the project management model

To understand what’s wrong with project management, you first how to understand how business culture is affected by this development approach. New ideas are brought to market through cooperation between the business organization and the IT department – these two teams have to work together to see ideas through to fruition and make sure the final product maps back to business goals.

The problem is that traditional project management models are built on handoffs between these departments. In each interaction, someone is giving an order, and someone else is taking one. Every party has his or her own set of responsibilities and accountabilities.

It sounds neat and orderly, but in practice, it’s actually quite slow and expensive. It also degrades the quality of engagements between business and IT; everything is transactional, and they’re not set up to be responsive and reactive. We know full well that inefficiencies in delivery lead to slower time to market and mean that the product that’s ultimately delivered isn’t suitable for market.

At a time when markets are so competitive and fast-moving, this approach isn’t sustainable. You risk delivering a product that addresses an issue that’s already been solved by someone else – and at less cost, to boot.

How organizations overcome product development challenges

Product development is a unique mindset with a different set of characteristics and requirements.

At Emergn, we believe that organizations that excel in product development are able to do three things very well:

  • Deliver value early and often to reduce risk and enhance adaptability
  • Optimize the flow of work from end to end to speed up time to market and accelerate value
  • Obtain frequent, fast feedback from customers and users to ensure quality

You might recognize these as our three guiding principles of Value, Flow, Quality. There’s a reason that’s the case; we believe these three principles make product transformation meaningful, contextual and focused.

Crucially, this is not about favoring any one methodology. You might have noticed that even though we’re discussing a product development challenge, we haven’t yet mentioned “agile development” in this article. That’s because while the principles of Agile were certainly created to solve this very problem, it’s just one aspect of the development process where there are many potential methodologies that could be applied to improve the organization.

The key is not to bolt on a methodology, but to develop an approach to change that suits your specific context, not someone else’s. Products differ from industry-to-industry and technology also impacts how we even consider a product. Change in your organization needs to happen in a way that suits your organization. To achieve that, you need to change your mindset, and a product-led mindset is at the core of digital transformation for successful development teams.

The next post in this blog series will dive deeper into the differences between the project and product mindsets. Alternatively, you can learn everything you need in our thought paper, “Moving from Projects to Products.” Download the thought paper at this link.