There's a common notion in some agile circles the projects aren't the right vehicle for developing products. This is usually expressed by Agile Coaches. As a business manager, applying Agile to develop products as well as delivering Operational Services based on those products, projects are how we account for the expenditures of those outcomes, manage the resources and coordinate the needed resources to produce products as planned.
In our software product business, we use both a Product Manager and a Project Manager. These roles are separate and at the same time overlapping.
- Products are customer facing. Market needs, business models for revenue, cost, earnings, interfaces with Marketing and Sales and other business management processes- contracts, accounting - are Product focused.
Product Managers focus on Markets. What features are the market segments demanding? What features Must Ship and what featues can we drop? What is the Sales impacts of any slipped dates?
- Projects are internally facing - internal resources need looking after. The notion of self organizing is fine, but self directed only works when the work efforts have direct contact with the customers. And even then, without some oversight - governance - a self directed team has limitations in the larger context of the business. If the self directed team IS the business, then the need for external governance is removed. This would be rare in any non-trivial business.
Project Managers are inward focused to the resource allocation and management of the development teams. How can we get the work done to meet the market demand? When can we ship the product to maintain the sales forecast?
In very small companies and startups these roles are usually performed by the same person.
Once we move beyond the sole proprietor and his friends, separation of concerns takes over. These roles become distinct.
- The Product Manager is a member of the Business Development Team, tasked with the business side of the product delivery process.
- The Project Management Team (PMs and Coordinators, along with development leads and staff), is a member of the delivery team tasked with producing the capabilities needs to capture and maintain the market.
Products are about What and Why. Projects are about Who, How, When, and Where. From Rudyard Kipling's Six Trusted Friends)
Product Management focuses on the overall product vision - usually documented in a Product Roadmap, showing the release cycles of capabilities and features as a function of time. Project Management is about logistics, schedule, planning, staffing, and work management to produce products in accordance with the Road Map.
When agile says it's customer focused, this is true only when there is One customer for the Product, rather than a Market for the Product and that customer is on site. That'd not be a very robust product company if they had only one customer.
When we hear Products are not Projects, ask in what domain, business size, and value at risk is it possible not to separate these concerns between Products and Projects?