As the founder of ZenTao, I often receive questions from our users about the differences between a product and a project. Today, I want to discuss the topic of product management and increase awareness about its importance. In my opinion, a product-oriented approach can be applied to all aspects of management, which means that it's possible to manage everything as a product.
When applying a product perspective, our daily purchases like office supplies are considered physical products. Virtual items, such as CRM management software, apps, and websites are examples of common software products. Similarly, training sessions provided to customers are service-oriented products. Even outsourcing projects, despite being one-time delivery systems, can also be viewed as products. Lastly, departments or individuals can be abstract products.
The examples above show how products can be classified by several dimensions, including physical or virtual, product-based or service-based, continuous or one-off, and concrete or abstract. Applying the concept of a product to everything in the world can help us approach problem-solving from various perspectives:
1. What is a product and how should it be positioned?
To define what something is and its position, we can view it through the lens of a product. For instance, when we think about social networking apps, one may be positioned as a tool for socializing with friends while another may be designed for professional networking. Even abstract concepts like organizations need to consider their purpose and positioning. For example, at ZenTao, we have an emergency response team responsible for providing personalized and real-time support to clients, so it's positioned as a support team for personalized customer feedback and needs.
2. What is product planning?
Once we have defined the product concept and positioning, we can move on to setting development goals or plans. We need to assess the current state and determine the objectives for the next 1, 2, 3 years, or even longer. This kind of long-term thinking can help us achieve deeper insights and planning.
For example, with ZenTao project management software, our focus from 2009 to 2012 was on completing the development of the core R&D management process. But over the next three years, our goals are to expand the coverage of the process and improve the user experience.
Similarly, with regard to our company's customer success position, I expect that every customer success specialist will become an expert in project management delivery in the future. They should be equipped with the professional knowledge, rich experience, and effective skills needed to help customers continuously improve internal collaboration efficiency.
3. What do you need to do to reach your goal?
Once we have established our goals, the next step is to determine how to achieve them. Here may you recall the concept of user story. This involves breaking down the product into functional modules and subsequently dividing them into user stories. User stories define the product's form, operation process, and business process. Additionally, an organization may need to improve its processes and enhance employee skills, which can also be broken down into stories to track their progress.
To manage these user stories effectively, we must classify and hierarchically organize them to establish a structured understanding of the product. Additionally, we should manage them through itemized tracking (product backlog) to facilitate estimation, sorting, combination, scheduling, decomposition, follow-up, and verification.
4. What is the priority of user stories?
Once we have the product backlog, we need to prioritize the user stories. Because we don't have magic to complete all the stories at one second, it's necessary to make a priority distinction. Combining the dimensions of urgency, importance, resource allocation, and business value, we prioritize the user stories to ensure that the team is doing the highest priority thing at every moment.
5. How to complete the stories to achieve the product goal?
This comes to the project management. After defining the product position, goals, and user stories, and ranking them based on estimation, project management can be used to implement them and continuously improve the product until the ultimate goal is achieved.
This represents a different type of awareness - project management awareness. In my upcoming article, I will delve further into the topic of project management awareness and its significance in achieving project success.
Before concluding, let's consider one final question: Why is it important to distinguish between products and projects? By making this distinction, we can approach problems from different perspectives. The product perspective focuses on defining what needs to be done, while the project management perspective is concerned with how to make it happen. These two perspectives represent distinct dimensions: the product perspective prioritizes the interests of users, often seeking to achieve more quickly and efficiently. The project perspective, on the other hand, prioritizes the interests of the development team, seeking to maintain stability and control. Balancing these two interests is crucial and requires separate consideration (similar to Six Thinking Hats). This is why it's important to have dedicated product manager and project management positions and avoid having one person do both jobs simultaneously. Attempting to do both roles can make it difficult to set the right priorities and balance the competing interests effectively.