Projects are dead!

This was posted on May 21, 2014 on SogetiLabs:

Last week I spoke to a colleague who has made his career in IT architecture. We’ve been working together in a special interest group that focuses on Agile and Architecture.
My explanations on Scrum led to great revelations for him.
“So if a company uses Scrum they have to forget about projects and start thinking in products?”
“Yes, that’s the gist of it.”
“Wow, that’s a major paradigm shift.”

And yes, I guess it is. I’ve been working in Agile or would-be Agile organizations and I believe that thinking in products is something I don’t see often enough.

One of the first publications that mentioned “Scrum” was “The New New Product Development Game” by Takeuchi and Nonaka, who wrote about how product development should change from sequential to more cooperative.
In this publication the team works together to achieve a common goal: making the product that has the most value.

It is known that this publication was the inspiration for what lead to a framework called Scrum. In this article they don’t mention a project owner, they talk specifically about the Product Owner.

In the assignments I have had at airlines, government agencies, and other companies I have often been confronted with implementations of Scrum “projects”. Often these were driven by a wish to make the project organization work together with the business.

But in my view projects have the wrong focus. Products have more importance, both for the business and operations. And if you think about it, would things not improve if we think product more in the IT organization?

Development teams work together to create products, they work on this product all the time, know in-depth how it works, and they also fix the product whenever it breaks down in the field. If they are confronted with software they developed that has bugs they created they will have a better understanding of what quality improvements they have to undergo. They will also feel more ownership and pride of the product. If they are only there for a project, a limited time stint, where the team is thrown together to create something, and then after that stint they are put on a totally different project and might never see the previous one go into production, what ownership do they feel then?

I remember working on a machine, writing the software, and going to the plant to see it start producing products that were available in my own neighborhood supermarket. When I went grocery shopping I found the product and remember checking out the packaging for errors and feeling proud that it was flawless…

Companies I visit as a coach want to work Scrum because of the advantages it brings, the speed it delivers, and the cost effectiveness it would give them. But they seem stuck in project thinking. With embracing Scrum it seems time to also embrace product thinking and to shift our focus from reaching the end of a project to delivering value.

Projects are dead, long live the product!

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