The fundamental product management concept that all adaptive project managers embrace is: knowing your customer. Competent product managers understand that if you don’t know your customer, only luck will determine whether you can create a product that will be accepted and purchased in the marketplace. And luck is a poor factor on which to depend.
Adaptive project managers handling projects that result in tools or processes that their internal customers are expected to use must be tested to ensure that features and functionality align with customer expectations. Any iterative method with customer feedback in the loop can accomplish this testing. The “trick” is being able to adjust a team’s effort when the feedback is negative.
Internally-focused enterprise or departmental adaptive project managers also realise that there are significant differences between developing products for commercial sale and doing one-off projects where the outcomes are not dependent on continuing customer ‘sales’. Take an infrastructure project installing wireless networking devices, for instance. Once the equipment is procured, configured and installed to the customer’s satisfaction, the project is over (not including routine maintenance if devices fail). There is no requirement for ongoing refinement or changes to features or functionality to increase acceptance or create more customers. These things are necessary to consider if you are a commercial product manager.
But for companies that are adopting an “everything is product management” mantra, this is an unsupportable strategy without critical, organisation-wide changes. Why? Because many of the things product managers do, like market segmentation, demanding planning, sales forecasting, etc., are not universally necessary, useful or attainable outside of an external market focus.
The only way substitution of “product management” for “project management” will work is if the organisational context of the enterprise changes. For most organisations, this would mean far-reaching work reassignment and reporting relationship alterations. So, in addition to putting customer knowledge top-of-mind, organisational realignment is a fundamental shift adaptive project managers know must happen to move to a product management focus.
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