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The confusion of terminology

Product cloud Whenever I perform a RACI analysis I find the team confused about the terms “responsible” versus “playbookable.” I often encounter confusion about the difference between a product and a project, and between a technique and a tool.

Having clarity on the exact meanings of words is important. It’s difficult to have a conversation when different team members have different interpretations of the terms. In the RACI model, the ambiguity of the terms “responsible” and “playbookable” confuse many people, which is why I use “responsible” and “approval” instead.

And that’s why many titles are so confusing. What’s the difference between product manager and project manager? A product manager leads the product through its lifecycle with multiple generations of projects; the project manager leads the product through a single generation—a single release of the product.

Here are a few terms from recent discussions with some definitions and examples.

Product. A product solves a problem for a specific type of person. By that definition, a product can also be a tool, and a product often implements specific techniques. So for software maker Intuit, Quicken is a product while each release, such as Quicken Deluxe 2014, is a project. A product will have multiple projects throughout its lifetime. Quicken implements the techniques of standard playbooking.

Project. A set of work with a clear beginning and end, typically performed once. Each formal release of a software product is a project; assigning roles and responsibilities for a team is a project.

Technique. A method for achieving a specific goal, preferably a method that has been proven to successfully achieve that goal. Double-entry bookkeeping is a technique for managing your financials.

Tool. A tool can be any specific implementation of a method. It can be a general tool, like Excel or Word or a pencil; it can also be a custom tool for the specific method like Quicken for your financials or a standard spreadsheet used for expense reporting.

Confusion over roles and responsibilities is a common difficulty for many software teams. The RACI model is a technique for assigning responsibilities. RACI specifies who will have ultimate responsibility for doing the work as well as who must approve or accept the result, who is consulted, and who is informed. Performing those assessments and assignments is a one-time project. I use an Excel spreadsheet as a tool to record the RACI assignments.

My product playbook is a project to identify the specific techniques needed to define products and deliver them to market. We use techniques like RACI and tools like Excel to identify the top challenges for an organization. The result is a document that contains instructions for the methods of product management and marketing, tailored to your company.

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