On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, I sat down with my mentor Gustav Toppenberg at Starbucks for a talk. He has been in PMO for 4 years at Cicso, and has been project managing for a long time prior to that. He asked me what could project management learn from product management? I found this a very interesting topic, and we decided to co-author few blogs around this topic.
So, what can Project Management learn from Product Management?
In the last 5 years or so, we have realized that comparing these two roles is like comparing Apples and Oranges. Not many companies now overlap these roles. These roles over the time have evolved from being janitors of products and projects to management of them. Product management has learned a lot from project management. Let us examine what project management can learn from product management?
Leading by engagement: product managers are natural leaders. They lead the team by engaging the team with the product vision. Even though none of the cross-functional team members report to Product Managers, there is a mutual respect and trust between, and the team follows the path shown by product managers. Project managers can learn to engage deeper with the project beyond delivery and not just through reporting structure.
Product knowledge: product owners have the complete sense of product through its life cycle, and hence are able to prioritize tasks for the project. Project managers are bound by resource and time constraints, and may not appreciate the big picture. In high-stress environment, project managers tend to razor focus on their project plan, sometimes without the knowledge on product as they could be delivering a small piece of a large product. A quick review of MRD, PRD, specs, and attending a sample sales training of the product could bring in a drastic change in project management approach.
Empowering: Product managers show humility through research, diligence, history of making right choices, and fixing products. Exhibiting power and managing people are not something that product managers crave. Project managers can empower the team with similar knowledge about the coding practices, software methodologies, technology, or platform.
Quick decisions and being prepared: Product managers often make prioritization decisions during meetings, as they well prepared through diligence and customer insights. Similarly project managers can be in sync with their management to be prepared to make quick decisions by running possible scenarios in advance.
Open communication: Product managers communicate their thought process and not decisions. The only way for them to influence the team is to show the logic in their thinking based on the diligence, and data they have collected. This helps the team make the decision that the product manager initiated. Project manager shall communicate on the overall status of project with both the upper management and the project team. Project manager should also use the scrum meetings to communicate on daily status, update from management, and any changes on decision to win the trust of project team.
All-Agile: Product managers keep their plans agile. The product backlog gets updated regularly based on the change of trends, management decisions, strategic partnerships, and competition. Project managers on the other hand are constrained with resources and deadlines with almost no bandwidth for last minute changes. However, project managers could learn from product managers on being agile through the project and being responsive to important and major changes in the project. Half the difficulty in change management is in the mind anyways.
Collaborative: Product managers over a period of time learn to collaborate better. It takes a lot of effort and commitment to get collaborative. The product managers who master collaboration end up creating great products and services generating huge profits for the products. Project managers are so focused in their team and deadlines that they could make effort to collaborate with other project leaders and create ideas and processes for better project management.
Prioritization: Product managers get hundreds of requirements from sales, customers, management, and support. With the help of backlog, they prioritize the product requirements and communicate their roadmap to make sure that the requirement gathering channel is always kept open. Project managers also need to set priorities for the project team. By using some of the new methods such as project back-log to break the tasks into smaller goals and then helping the team to prioritize regularly could help in smooth project management.