We started our professional career as a product development engineer. We have designed control systems for industrial applications as well as automotive systems. Along the way, I realized that no matter how good of an engineer, our efforts would be at risk of failure unless we understood the customer.
Similarly, no matter how good our team is at understanding customer needs and the product's engineering, if our project skills are poor, we will also fail. It takes all three of these for a company to be successful. To that end, I have spent much of my career including an MBA in Marketing and an MSc in Project Management in addition to my experience.
Projects and Product Development
From experience, time to market pressures the project severely, requiring constant adaptation. In this ever-evolving landscape of project management, the role of a project manager has expanded beyond traditional project execution. In today's competitive market, product leadership is at the forefront of innovation, and project managers have a pivotal role in achieving success.
This article explores project managers' integral part in product leadership and how their skills can be harnessed to drive product excellence.
It is not just the stresses of market pressure; our project and our processes must be able to manage emerging technologies. What we do today may not apply to projects that use new technologies on the customer's behalf. These new technologies can be applied in the service of the project and product development or maybe the new product.
Bridging the Gap Between Vision and Execution
Product leadership begins with a vision that defines what the product should be and how it should meet customer needs. A product leader or manager typically sets the product vision. This perspective includes where the product will be manufactured: low-cost labor or high levels of automation. However, the path from vision to execution is often long, complex, filled with potential product changes, or missing much information.
This is where project managers step in, changing how and what is accomplished to adapt to the product's required market changes. They take the abstract vision and break it down into actionable steps, creating a roadmap that guides the development process. Project managers ensure that every aspect of the product is meticulously planned and executed, aligning it with the overarching product strategy.
Managing Cross-Functional Teams
Successful product development involves multidisciplinary teams, including designers, engineers, marketers, and more. Project managers act as the glue that holds these teams together. They foster collaboration, ensure clear communication, and align everyone with the product's goals. The project manager also ensures the fidelity of translating the product manager's vision, even when all team members speak the same language.
By leveraging their project management skills, they create a cohesive environment where diverse talents work harmoniously (most of the time) to bring the product to life. The project manager also manages the team's discord – conflict makes the world go round; it is the way things get better. These conflicts originate from project constraints, direction changes, and navigating what often seems insurmountable obstacles.
In the fast-paced world of product development, adaptability is vital. Agile methodologies have gained popularity for their ability to respond to changing market dynamics. Project managers are well-versed in Agile practices and can effectively help product leaders implement these frameworks. They facilitate sprint planning, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives, ensuring the team remains flexible and responsive to customer feedback and evolving requirements.
Not Just Agile
Adapting is not solely relegated to agile but also conventional approaches. The traditional project manager must alter the plans and strategies to keep up with product adaptations. Conventional project approaches must also respond to these exogenous shocks.
Agile makes this possible, but some industries are put at risk with an agile approach, for example, aviation and automotive, and the downplaying of documentation and traceability. However, there are ways to bring some aspects of agile into the conventional project.
I have done this for a dynamic project requiring constant adaptation to changes, and the response was a mash of Scrum and traditional project management.
Product development is inherently risky. Project managers work to identify, evaluate, and find methods to avoid or mitigate the risks. Product development is connected with technical challenges, market uncertainties, and competitive pressures. Project managers should have a well-developed approach to risk management. From experience, there are many potential project failures between applying emerging technology to talent and organization constraints.
Some of these risks originate from the product in the form of technology and our team's understanding (learning).
Besides working with the team, the project manager will work closely with the product manager to understand what is unknown and bring that into the team for risk mitigation during project planning. This includes identifying potential roadblocks the external attributes at risk, and developing contingency plans to mitigate them.
Proactively addressing risks ensures the product remains on course, even in adversity.
The success of a product is measured by the value it delivers to customers. Project managers are outcome-oriented; they focus on providing the product on time and within budget -and promptly alert those in the organization when these things are at risk of being met. They track key performance indicators, assess project progress, and make data-driven decisions to optimize the product's features and functionalities.
The project manager's role in product leadership is indispensable. The things the product manager painted are ultimately brought to life by the project manager and the team. They are the linchpin that transforms a product vision into a tangible reality. By leveraging their project management skills, they not only ensure successful execution but also contribute significantly to the strategic success of the product. In today's competitive marketplace, the collaboration between product leaders and project managers is a winning formula for innovation and market leadership.