Thought Leaders

A Different PM: Evolving From Project Management To Product Management


Project management is central to most organisations’ approaches to IT. It helps a project stay on track, in budget and that it is completed according to the original brief and goals.

That’s the theory anyway. The reality is a little different. Deploying project management, unfortunately, does not ensure IT success, and projects still come in over budget, under-resourced, and not delivering the value initially hoped. Sometimes they are not even finished.

However, an evolution is underway. A different kind of PM – product management – has emerged as an effective way of managing internal IT projects. Initially used to manage an organisation’s products, whether digital or physical, product management in recent years has been deployed internally. It allows for iterative improvements, delivers more value, and keeps projects aligned to business outcomes.

What is product management?

The emergence of product management as a technology and a discipline, is reflective of the product-centric world we live in. Arguably starting with the iPod in the early 2000s, people have come to expect excellence in their products, whether that’s a gadget, food item, apparel, or a digital product of some type, Spotify for example.

If these expectations aren’t met, then people are more than happy to go elsewhere. This applies as much to B2B as it does B2C. This has meant that companies are more focused on product than ever, and product management emerged as a way of helping those companies ensure their products were good enough.

It’s been highly successful and has even led to a keen focus on product-led growth where product development teams assume more of a strategic, high-profile role in their company. The success of it has led to the application of product manager strategies and approaches to internal IT project management too.

Incorporating product management

No organisation is going to suddenly drop all its project management methodologies in favour of product management. But there is evolution already underway, with many companies now including product management alongside their IT project management. Any enterprise contemplating this path should be mindful of the following: However, there are some actionable steps enterprises can take to utilize, including:

Select the right products – choosing external products is easier because time and energy have been spent creating them. But when selecting an internal product, try and focus on business capabilities as well, which then opens up the opportunity to include multiple products.

It’s important for the business product managers, owners and teams responsible for business value streams and empowered for decision making to achieve defined business outcomes across their entire product portfolio. Once this is understood, it’s easier to define which products are impacted and which improvements must be made to achieve specific objectives.

Don’t fear Agile – Scrum or Kanban? Maybe Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)? Or how about Disciplined Agile (DA)? Moving away from a Waterfall approach and selecting an Agile framework that works for the team can be hugely beneficial.

One benefit of adopting an Agile approach is that the products you focus on will have dedicated and permanent teams. Their sole focus will be on working on iterating the product towards improvement with actual feedback while mapping the work performed to the business’s goals.

This applies to value streams, which can be a set of products and capabilities across products. For example, a platform capability that allows billing across different products. These stable teams will make it their mission to reach goals until the product’s end of life.

Furthermore, as Agile teams work on products, or business capabilities (as products), even before they get started, they help outline the benefits that business users will receive as a result. This will help garner support from other stakeholders and enable the team to see value as goals are reached.

Initiatives should be funded based on outputs – as a team embraces a product management approach to managing internal products, it’s prudent to gradually veer away from the project management approach of funding initiatives based on defined milestones in the project plan.

Start initially by selecting influential business partners to boost the visibility of product pilots and then use early successes to gradually reset perceptions of product funding. Thereafter, funds can be allocated based on the expected (and achieved) business outputs – this is why it’s important to choose a PM platform allowing you to tie initiatives to business outcomes.

Project management has played a pivotal role in a great many IT projects over the past decades and it’s not going to suddenly vanish. But there’s absolutely a case for a continued evolution to a more product management-based approach.

People need to move away from a focus on completing tasks, progress meetings, and hitting deliverables, and move more to the following behaviours and measuring success based on outcomes. This is product management and is increasingly viewed as the most effective way to manage internal products.

Malte Scholz, CEO and founder, airfocus.

Malte Scholz
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