Image Credit: Phil Dolby
Product development work effort is coordinated to maximize value creation not land on predicted end dates
I learned project management by working on software development projects. Early in my career I was taught that a project is defined as a work effort that has a clear start and end date. This idea, commonly considered a fact, is wrong and I’ve had to spend a great deal of time unlearning this idea.
Of all the different types of projects, software development projects do not have clear start and end dates. I’ve since worked on product development efforts that weren’t specifically or even remotely related to software. I’ve found that using a project management process that does not require clear start and end dates have significantly improved my ability to maximize how we invested our time and money to achieve the shortest possible time to revenue. Time to revenue is how quickly can you take a new product from it’s earliest idea to a delivered product you are capturing revenue with. If you work with a mission oriented product portfolio that doesn't center on revenue, you might prefer to use the phrase time to value. Feel free to substitute whatever phrase you prefer for this idea in the remainder of the article.
Product development tends to fall into four common phases:
- The product becomes possible
- A proof of concept is created and shown to a representative sample of the market
- An initial release of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is created and brought to market
- User adoption of the initial release is tracked and encouraged to grow while the product is supported and refined
You do all of these phases at the same time and for multiple projects
You could easily argue that prototyping and MVP development are the only phases related to the practice of core project management, because these are the phases where you are explicitly time boxing you efforts with start and end dates.
I used to think that way, and I was far less effective when I approached project management that way.
This is because there are no teams working with these phases in a neatly partitioned, “one step at a time” configuration. Modern product development teams work on all four phases during any given week with the aim of maximizing time to revenue across a portfolio of products.
In order to maximize time to revenue you have to quickly shift focus from one product to another even though some products are in an earlier phase. You need your project management approach to address resource commitments and planning, even when most of those efforts are undertaken without clearly defined start and end dates.
Even the phases where end dates are possible don’t fully commit to end dates
During the creation of your minimum viable product, a phase where you often have an explicit end date, you will completely abandon a scheduled end date and calculate a new one on occasion. This is because you have to adapt to the changes in the market that occur from the time you crated your proof of concept to your initial MVP release.
Opportunity moves fast and other teams are just as motivated as you are to capture them. Products change scope significantly during MVP development because new products change the feasibility equation, or demonstrate a new capacity to consume that didn’t exist during prototyping. Sometimes these new products are from within your own organization or your own team.
This is why I prefer Jira
To do product development this way, you need a project management approach that doesn’t require hard predictable start and end dates in order to manage a product. It’s ironic, but you simple can’t get it done if you are focused on a fixed end date. Revenues you capture from your market tell you when you are done not a date you pick when you start. Having a project management tool that recognizes this and allows you to reflect it to your team is critical.
Personally my preference for using Atlassian Jira for product development is in large part because projects are created with this whole process in mind. This is why they are created without explicit start and end dates. Jira has powerful capabilities that allow teams to focus work efforts around dependent workflows, including creating releases like MVP releases that have specific future end dates. These end dates are not not very powerful by themselves. The most popular features are in Jira Software. Jira Software makes it easy to create boards that allow me to quickly demonstrate and gain consensus on priorities for the week, which allows my team to view how we are working collaboratively and constantly tuning our efforts to maximize time to revenue.