Product over Project

One mechanism many companies use to shift their team emphasis is to model their work around products rather than projects. Software projects have a common workflow in most organizations. A problem is identified, a development team is formed, and they work on the problem until “completion,” at which time they turn the software over to operations for care, feeding, and maintenance for the rest of its life. Then the project team moves on to the next problem.

This causes a slew of common problems. First, because the team has moved on to other concerns, bug fixes and other maintenance work is often difficult to manage. Second, because the developers are isolated from the operational aspects of their code, they care less about things like quality. In general, the more layers of indirection between a developer and their running code, the less connection they have to that code. This sometimes leads to an “us versus them” mentality between operational silos, which isn’t surprising, as many organizations have incentivized workers to exist in conflict.

By thinking of software as a product, it shifts the company’s perspective in three ways. First, products live forever, unlike the lifespan of projects. Crossfunctional teams (frequently based on the Inverse Conway Maneuver) stay associated with their product. Second, each product has an owner who advocates for its use within the ecosystem and manages things like requirements. Third, because the team is cross-functional, each role needed by the product is represented: business analyst, developers, QA, DBA, operations, and any other required roles.

The real goal of shifting from a project to a product mentality concerns longterm company buy-in. Product teams take ownership responsibility for the long-term quality of their product. Thus, developers take ownership of quality metrics and pay more attention to defects. This perspective also helps provide a long-term vision to the team.

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