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Scaling the Mountain of Product Management: Key Change Imperatives for Project-to-Product Transformation

Kim Clarke

Principal, Business Consulting, EPAM Continuum
Blog

Transformations aren’t what they used to be. Digital ones, particularly. Today, digital transformation, industry disruption, cost optimization and consumer demand for innovation are revolutionizing IT and modernizing technology. Businesses want greater transparency and flexibility in prioritizing and adjusting technology investments.

To address these business imperatives and digital transformation drivers, product-centric organizations focus on bringing the best product to market, building a culture that constantly looks for new opportunities and rewards new development. These organizations are structured around product divisions with their own P&Ls. Products that are doing exceptionally well in the market gain additional funding to support further scaling, while products that are underperforming are de-prioritized or halted and resources are redeployed to higher-performing products.

A modern product-centric organization is organized to enable the continuous release of new products, product improvements and enhancements. Yet, the complexity of scaling from a project-centric to a customer- and product-centric organization involves a monumental change that involves not only IT, but also the business in how the key stakeholders think, feel and act.

Here’s how to proceed.

The Project-to-Product Transformation Journey

Project-to-product transformation fundamentally changes the way organizations lead and fund, deliver and measure. It’s a whole new rhythm of work. Systemic adaptation helps them achieve desired business, financial and customer experience outcomes — but leaders are sometimes unsure about taking the first step.

When CIOs ask us what it takes to “transform” from project to product, the common answer is: “It depends.” Why? The transformation approach and pace are driven by the corporate strategy, business and IT alignment, product management capability maturity and technology platform modernization.

Transformation experts help leaders set maturity horizons by creating roadmaps that can be executed with iterative, agile and continuous improvements. We start with quick, impactful wins and then incrementally stand up operating models that provide strategic leadership and governance across the IT team and the business. As Gene Kim, the globally known DevOps evangelist, writes: “Transformations that shift from project to product require changes at every level and in every corner of the enterprise.”

Project-to-Product Change Imperatives

Cultivating business and IT commitment to the change journey — moving from “doing” to “scaling” product management — involves building capabilities in the following areas:

  • Unified leadership and governance: Joint business and IT partnership in leading the transformation journey and continuous governance of funding and product roadmaps, based on outcomes and delivery health.
  • Customer experience and commercialization excellence: Data-driven understanding of customer personas, journeys and priority workflows that drives product strategy, design, pricing and go-to-market (GTM) approach. 
  • Product management excellence: Discipline in product management around product portfolio governance, organization, roles and skills, strategy and roadmap development and intake process.
  • Engineering excellence: Capability maturity in engineering, agile delivery, DevTestSec, IntelligentOps and product team empowerment.
  • Product-technology alignment: Product and technology portfolio alignment models that emphasize rationalization and traceability, product portfolio orientation, API productization, automation, CI/CD and other continuous technical practices.
  • Strategy-funding-delivery synchronicity: Transparency and accountability through synchronicity between product strategy and objectives, funding, product roadmap and delivery performance.
     
Orchestrating Your Project to Product Transformation

Building product management maturity in the areas described above impacts the way both IT teams and their respective business and functional partners think, feel and do. The following are key enablers and approaches to capability growth at both the individual and organizational levels:

Organizational Change Management

Project-to-product transformation can be highly disruptive. Employees and organizations must adapt to new ways of working. A product mindset involves applying a holistic approach to continuously delivering value to customers and the business. It’s a revolutionary shift from a project mindset with a focus on requirements, schedule and budget that delivers results that do not align to desired customer needs and business outcomes.

That shift is what organizational change management (OCM) is all about. OCM involves the strategic analysis, planning, execution and measurement of activities for navigating the workforce and workplace impact of modern technologies, operating models or performance expectations involved in the project-to-product transformation journey. Simply put, OCM addresses the people side of transformation to help reach and sustain product management capability maturity.

Player-Coach Model

Outside product management, agile and technical expertise enables internal teams to turn knowledge into action quickly as they pivot their program strategies, roadmaps and backlogs to a product-centric model. Agreeing on standards can be challenging, particularly in cases where there is wide variation in processes, tools and templates. Yet, with coaches thoroughly involved, educating and partnering on executing the end-to-end product lifecycle, teams can experiment, learn and curate standards that work best for the organization’s culture and stage of product management maturity.

Learning Cohort Program

A learning cohort program involves a facilitated program to modernize capabilities with a set of product teams with common gaps and improvement goals, creating a foundation for transformative change. By starting small, the cohorts are given the freedom and guidance to learn, apply and adopt new ways of working. In parallel, the program leadership captures the learning that sticks to create a product management playbook and proves the learning ROI through cohort maturity and delivery health improvements, thus creating momentum for a repeatable, scalable transformation framework.  

Product Office

A product office is a formal function established to manage unified governance of the product portfolio strategies, roadmaps, delivery practices and investments. The organization ensures that (a) the next-gen products and experiences delight customers and solve meaningful “jobs to be done”; (b) the company’s revenue-generating and enabling assets are managed to optimize top-line potential; and (c) they leverage the benefits of centralized and decentralized digital capabilities to manage the cost to build and serve. A word of caution: Critical imperatives to activating a product office involve bringing on product management leaders with proven experience in orchestrating project-to-product transformation, active executive sponsorship and organizational realignment to simplify leadership, collaboration and high-touch OCM with impacted stakeholders.

Be Agile, Be Iterative

Transformation is complex, particularly in the case of project-to-product, which inevitably affects the IT workforce. But when companies employ product management as a strategic element of business growth, it can reach into every corner of the ecosystem: business, marketing, sales and the supply chain. Applying agile concepts to change roadmap execution of a backlog, of iterative MVPs, allows teams the time to experiment and build confidence, ownership and trust with early success stories. They can then apply these learnings to the continuous advancement of product management maturity.

As leaders consider scaling product management, it’s important to recognize the complexity of transformation. To take control and manage complexity, gain alignment on product management maturity goals, translate maturity goals into customer and business value-based outcomes and apply a disciplined, programmatic agile approach to iteratively executing on change imperatives. Product management can be intimidating, yes, but it is within reach — for those who are willing to stretch.

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