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Why a Product isn’t a Project

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It seems many teams confuse projects and products, and therefore have trouble delineating the roles of project managers and product managers.

A project has an end; a product doesn’t. [Tweet this]

If you think of product as a project, you bring together a group of engineers to define, develop, and deliver a piece of software. You allocate resources for a one-time project that ends with release. This approach fails because software products never end. They must always be improved or at least maintained. Products have a life cycle—they are defined, they go through a series of releases and upgrades, and eventually are retired.

Ideally the core product team stays together through the life cycle.

Which makes budgeting vastly easier.

In a project scenario, each new feature request must be cost-justified. A product team is a budget-able unit. That is, you budget the product team, not the product features. Enhancements and feature requests are rated for business value and added to the queue of available work. The team works on the highest priorities continually.

This way, there’s no need to budget individual items—instead, you budget the value of the product against your organization’s goals, and spend development effort until you run out of money.

Sure, some organizations have project managers as well as product managers.  The project manager monitors the team’s resources and deliverables.

Product managers manage the business of the product by continually improving its value to the organization and to its customers.

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