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Topics: Agile, Organizational Project Management, Requirements Management
Project Management versus Product Management
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on this topic: Project Management versus Product Management

The speaker argued that predictive approaches are used in project management and that adaptive and incremental approaches are used in product management

What is your opinion on this topic?
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to me, project management is more generic while product management is tied to the life cycle of product(s).

there does not seem to be a fixated approach to conducting project management or product management.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Oct 20, 2021 9:07 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Carlos Law
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I asked this question to get the opinion of the experts that make up this community
Luis,

in my view, being predictive is a defining characteristic of the agile movement (in that it states agile is not predictive?).

Project management can be more or less predictive, in the end stakeholders want security and understand what the future might hold. Even agile frameworks predict the future, e.g. if Scrum plans for 10 sprints, you know what it costs and how long it takes, you just do not know what you will get.

Product management is important but also predictive. If I want a bridge, I plan for a bridge. But product management is very specific to the industry.

Project management tries to apply to all industries and products, so it cannot be as specific as a product development approach.

Another way to look at it: PM organizes the work, product management the deliverables.

Thomas
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2 replies by Luis Branco
Oct 20, 2021 9:09 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Thomas
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I asked this question to get the opinion of the experts that make up this community

The speaker works in a bank and, consequently, referred to financial products

Honestly, I was surprised how you can bring a financial product to market using an adaptive and/or incremental approach
Oct 22, 2021 9:51 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Thomas
Thinking a little better about financial products

The development of these products can be done using adaptive approaches.
Pregnancy (also known as development) is a phase in the life cycle of products.

Market launch (another phase of the product lifecycle can also be done using incremental and/or adaptive approaches.
(For example when launching products in multiple markets , one at a time)
Product management and project management can both be managed either with predictive or adaptive approaches.

The key difference is not the management approach but the fact that projects start out with the intention of reaching a definite end point whereas products often have no particular end point to aim for. A product could last indefinitely (and during its lifetime may involve one, multiple or no projects at all).

An adaptive approach may therefore be more appropriate for product management just because the end is less likely to be predictable.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Oct 22, 2021 12:37 PM
Luis Branco
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Dear David Portas
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I asked this question to get the opinion of the experts who make up this community.

Very interesting your perspective
I am not a fan of this generalization. You can find some opposite samples. His/her opinion should not be extended to all cases.
The approach used to deliver work (predictive vs adaptive) has more to do with the context of the work itself than the life cycle we are looking at.

A company who has a monopoly (or close to it) with their products or services might apply a predictive approach for both their project and project management lifecycles whereas one which operates in a highly competitive market where changes are frequent might adopt an adaptive approach for both.

As usual, context counts!

Kiron
Oct 20, 2021 3:27 AM
Replying to Carlos Law
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to me, project management is more generic while product management is tied to the life cycle of product(s).

there does not seem to be a fixated approach to conducting project management or product management.
Dear Carlos Law
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I asked this question to get the opinion of the experts that make up this community
Oct 20, 2021 7:22 AM
Replying to Thomas Walenta
...
Luis,

in my view, being predictive is a defining characteristic of the agile movement (in that it states agile is not predictive?).

Project management can be more or less predictive, in the end stakeholders want security and understand what the future might hold. Even agile frameworks predict the future, e.g. if Scrum plans for 10 sprints, you know what it costs and how long it takes, you just do not know what you will get.

Product management is important but also predictive. If I want a bridge, I plan for a bridge. But product management is very specific to the industry.

Project management tries to apply to all industries and products, so it cannot be as specific as a product development approach.

Another way to look at it: PM organizes the work, product management the deliverables.

Thomas
Dear Thomas
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I asked this question to get the opinion of the experts that make up this community

The speaker works in a bank and, consequently, referred to financial products

Honestly, I was surprised how you can bring a financial product to market using an adaptive and/or incremental approach
It sounds like a generalization based on modern approaches to software. Hardware product management still often requires predictive approaches, as changes to long lead parts may be extremely expensive and cost prohibitive so a "do it right the first time" approach is used.

Even then, the classic Systems Engineering Vee model with top down decomposition/validation and bottoms up verification includes iteration at each layer so even though it is a classic "predictive" model, the layered approach has iteration designed in.

In the case of a several year space vehicle development program for example, design for performance is typically iterative, adding functionality may be incremental, but both fit into a predictive lifecycle restricted by the orbital mechanics that determine required launch dates.
The distinctions between predictive and adaptive have always been misguided, as are the narratives that cast “project management practices” as NOT being appropriate in the context of x and y.

If you are interested, you can find the historical references to the fact that so-called “linear approaches” were never strictly performed sequentially. Whether from the father of phased approaches “Herbet Benington,” or pioneers such as “Dr. Winston Royce,” or the “1985 Department of Defense software development standard” which became the basis for many a BOK.

I’ve never known a so-called predictive or waterfall-based project that subscribed to a “definitive end-point.” The project end was always a defined accountability-driven deliverable that would, in absolute terms, have a collection of change requests that were deferred to another round (i.e., another project). Or, assumptions of unknowns would pre-describe phases to be completed as projects or incrementals within one project.

Bottom Line: Delineations, such as the one made in this question, that directly or indirectly proclaim that “project management and project managers” are anti-agility patterns are a form of marketing hype. Stated differently, project management and their advocates, project managers, have been executing adaptive practices from the beginning.

I believe industry and the project management community have benefited much from the focus on agility. It has allowed us to have open challenge-based conversations that have enhanced our skillsets and toolkits. Somewhere though, we have got to stop delineating at the cost of another brand – it is not healthy and does not make sense.
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1 reply by David Portas
Oct 21, 2021 6:15 AM
David Portas
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Hi George,

Perhaps the hard part is getting everyone to agree on exactly what project management is. The PMBOK (6th Ed) says that projects are "temporary" and "a project has a definite beginning and end" in other words you start out with the intention of finishing, even if you don't know exactly what the definition of the finishing point is when you start.

Ultimately we all know that everything is temporary. Does that imply that all management is project management? Surely the differentiator that most people have in mind is that project management starts with the assumption that the work is only temporary. Product management requires no such assumption, indeed product management is often concerned with extending the value of the product for as long as possible whereas project management is more often interested in shortening the life of the project.
Oct 20, 2021 3:33 PM
Replying to George Freeman
...
The distinctions between predictive and adaptive have always been misguided, as are the narratives that cast “project management practices” as NOT being appropriate in the context of x and y.

If you are interested, you can find the historical references to the fact that so-called “linear approaches” were never strictly performed sequentially. Whether from the father of phased approaches “Herbet Benington,” or pioneers such as “Dr. Winston Royce,” or the “1985 Department of Defense software development standard” which became the basis for many a BOK.

I’ve never known a so-called predictive or waterfall-based project that subscribed to a “definitive end-point.” The project end was always a defined accountability-driven deliverable that would, in absolute terms, have a collection of change requests that were deferred to another round (i.e., another project). Or, assumptions of unknowns would pre-describe phases to be completed as projects or incrementals within one project.

Bottom Line: Delineations, such as the one made in this question, that directly or indirectly proclaim that “project management and project managers” are anti-agility patterns are a form of marketing hype. Stated differently, project management and their advocates, project managers, have been executing adaptive practices from the beginning.

I believe industry and the project management community have benefited much from the focus on agility. It has allowed us to have open challenge-based conversations that have enhanced our skillsets and toolkits. Somewhere though, we have got to stop delineating at the cost of another brand – it is not healthy and does not make sense.
Hi George,

Perhaps the hard part is getting everyone to agree on exactly what project management is. The PMBOK (6th Ed) says that projects are "temporary" and "a project has a definite beginning and end" in other words you start out with the intention of finishing, even if you don't know exactly what the definition of the finishing point is when you start.

Ultimately we all know that everything is temporary. Does that imply that all management is project management? Surely the differentiator that most people have in mind is that project management starts with the assumption that the work is only temporary. Product management requires no such assumption, indeed product management is often concerned with extending the value of the product for as long as possible whereas project management is more often interested in shortening the life of the project.
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2 replies by George Freeman and Keith Novak
Oct 21, 2021 2:10 PM
George Freeman
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Hi David,

Project management, as we know, is all about processes that can be tailored and overlayed on any work activity, regardless of its lifespan or repetition. This is true of PMBOK, PRINCE2, and others. For instance, there is no discord or issue in combining PMBOK, PRINCE2, and Agile-based practices in product or project management; in fact, I view this as a tailored norm. It is only the misinterpretations and marketing carve-out narratives that create this debate.

Consider the following terms:
- Iteration, Sprint, Cycle, Timebox, Build, Increment, Phase, Milestone, Project, etc.

What do these terms mean? The answer – whatever we want them to mean. Depending on how we model the work activity, they could all mean the same thing. They are all temporary activities and all entirely appropriate to be managed under the processes of tailored project management, guided by a project manager.

If one wishes to obfuscate (the names) “project management” and “project manager,” then do so. But it doesn’t take away the fact that tailored project management processes and an individual who can wield them are the answer and solution to achieving objective outcomes.

The agilist lexicon and distinctions have greatly helped the industry and raised important issues and concerns. However, every word and precept has its basis in project management (to include all its forms). Has there been industry-wide problems related to project success rates - absolutely, and has that substantively changed since the agile movement – unfortunately, not.

The issue of successful outcomes (in my opinion) is primarily related to organizational project management maturity, corporate political mayhem, empowerment deficits, and the like. The spectrum of methods is rarely the issue, although I know everyone would prefer to state it as such.
Oct 22, 2021 11:00 AM
Keith Novak
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I don't think that the issue is how we define terms or that product management is above all, but rather whether either is purely or even mostly predictive/adaptive.

Product management may include significant iterative and incremental changes, but there is a larger lifecycle management plan into which those changes fit, frequently with well defined phases. The system architecture of products must often consider the entire lifecycle as the product in the context of its environment. That includes things like planned upgrades, maintenance at known intervals, and retirement.

If you do not consider the product lifecycle while managing incremental changes, then you can run into issues like extra down-time by not implementing upgrades during planned maintenance, maintenance that does not consider future maintenance, or upgrades close enough to retirement where there is no ROI.

As you said, product lifecycles may also include many projects. If projects are considered "predictive", and product management contains projects, then it follows that product management contains predictive approaches.

Assuming that product management is better in iterative or incremental approaches seems to assume change implementation does not consider future changes or include projects. Either that or the terms predictive, iterative, and incremental are really internal jargon that include our own assumptions and context.
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