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Managing Deliverables as Products vs Projects: A Paradigm Shift for Digital Transformation with a Focus on Prioritization Techniques

Introduction: More than Semantics—A Shift that Defines Digital Success

In the ever-evolving world of digital transformation, the words we use to describe our business approaches can have profound implications. “Products” and “projects” might seem interchangeable, but they represent two fundamentally different philosophies. This article dives deep into why this is more than a semantic debate—it’s a pivotal choice that can make or break your digital transformation journey. Your choice between a project and a product mindset will shape your organization’s agility, customer focus, and long-term success.

The Old Guard: Traditional Project Management

Finite Lifecycle: The Beginnings and the Endings

In traditional project management, there’s a definitive start and a conclusive end. Projects are initiated, executed, and then essentially retired. This approach often leads to the disbandment of teams and reallocation of resources, potentially losing valuable expertise and momentum. This can result in a loss of institutional memory and a missed opportunity for continued value creation.

Goal-Oriented: The Tunnel Vision Dilemma

Project management is like a sprint—a fast dash to meet specific objectives. While this has its merits, it often overlooks the broader perspective, focusing only on predefined goals, usually constrained by time and budget. This tunnel vision can lead to missed opportunities for innovation and responsiveness to market changes.

Governance: The Rigidity Factor

Structured methodologies dictate the pace and flow of traditional projects. While this brings discipline, it also introduces rigidity, making it difficult to adapt to unexpected changes or opportunities. This rigidity can become a stumbling block in fast-paced, disruptive markets where adaptability is crucial.

Success Metrics: The Short-Term Scorecard

Success is usually measured in terms of on-time delivery, budget adherence, and whether the project met its initial objectives. Unfortunately, these metrics can be myopic, ignoring long-term value and impact. They don’t account for how the project might bring sustained benefits or adapt to changing needs over time.

Ownership: The Captain of a Sinking Ship?

In project management, the project manager is at the helm, responsible for reaching the destination. But what happens after? There’s often no provision for the project’s life beyond its completion date, leading to potential stagnation and lack of long-term stewardship.

The New Paradigm: Product Management

Infinite Lifecycle: The Never-Ending Story

Unlike projects, products don’t have an expiration date. They evolve, adapt, and grow, continually shaped by customer feedback and market conditions. This infinite lifecycle allows for ongoing innovation and adaptability, essential for long-term success.

Customer-Centric: The Long Game

Product management focuses on long-term customer satisfaction and value delivery. It’s not just about getting to market; it’s about staying in the market with a continually evolving offering. This customer-centric focus builds brand loyalty and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

Agility: The Darwinian Advantage

In the product world, agility is key. The ability to pivot, iterate, and adapt to market changes is not just an advantage; it’s a necessity. The agile nature of product management allows organizations to respond quickly to customer needs, market changes, and technological advancements.

Success Metrics: The Evolving Scorecard

Metrics like customer satisfaction, user engagement, and lifetime value take center stage. These are long-term indicators that measure not just the success but also the health of the product. They give a more rounded view of performance, taking into account long-term sustainability and growth.

Ownership: The Nurturing Parent

A Product Manager or Product Owner doesn’t just oversee development; they care for the product throughout its lifecycle, ensuring it evolves in response to market and user feedback. This continuous ownership guarantees that the product remains relevant and valuable over time.

The MoSCoW Method: A Dynamic Framework for Agile Prioritization

The MoSCoW method is a tried-and-true prioritization technique that stands for Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, and Won’t-haves. Originally developed within the realm of software development, this method has been widely adopted across various industries and project types, particularly in agile settings. The beauty of the MoSCoW method lies in its simplicity and its focus on stakeholder collaboration, making it one of the most accessible and practical tools for prioritizing work.

How Does It Work?

The MoSCoW method categorizes requirements or features into four groups:

  1. Must-haves: These are non-negotiable requirements that form the backbone of the project or product. Without these, the project is considered a failure.
  2. Should-haves: Important but not critical for launch. These are often high-impact features that are not showstoppers if omitted but are usually addressed after Must-haves.
  3. Could-haves: These are nice-to-have features that improve the user experience or add value but can be delayed without a major impact on the project’s success.
  4. Won’t-haves (this time): These are the lowest-priority features that won’t be implemented in the current development cycle but might be considered for the future.

Benefits of the MoSCoW Method

  1. Clear Prioritization: The MoSCoW method provides a clear framework for deciding what gets done now, what gets done later, and what doesn’t get done at all.
  2. Stakeholder Alignment: By involving stakeholders in the prioritization process, MoSCoW ensures that everyone has a shared understanding of what is critical and why.
  3. Flexibility: The method allows for easy reprioritization as the project progresses or as needs change, making it particularly suitable for agile development processes.
  4. Resource Allocation: Knowing what must absolutely be done allows for more effective resource allocation, ensuring that crucial tasks are not starved of the time, talent, or money they require.

Practical Applications and Case Examples

Suppose you’re developing a mobile health app. Must-haves could include secure login and basic health tracking features. Should-haves might be integration with wearable devices. Could-haves could be community features for users to share tips and stories. Won’t-haves might include gamification elements, which while potentially engaging, are not crucial for the app’s initial versions.

Companies like Spotify and Amazon have used MoSCoW or similar methods to ensure that they are focusing on the most critical features first, aligning their teams around these priorities and efficiently bringing products to market.

The MoSCoW method offers a straightforward yet effective way to manage the complexity of feature prioritization, making it a valuable tool for product managers and development teams. Especially for teams that operate in fast-paced, ever-changing environments, MoSCoW provides a dynamic framework for agile decision-making that keeps everyone focused on delivering the most value in the shortest time.

The MoSCoW method is particularly beneficial for agile product teams as it allows them to frequently re-evaluate these priorities in line with customer feedback and market shifts. It’s a dynamic tool for a dynamic development environment.

Additional Methods for a Product-Driven Organization

The Kano Model: Prioritizing Features for Emotional Impact and Customer Delight

The Kano Model, developed by Professor Noriaki Kano in the 1980s, is a theory for product development and customer satisfaction that provides a nuanced way to look at customer preferences. Unlike other models that focus purely on functionality or technical specs, the Kano Model incorporates emotional aspects and helps prioritize features based on their potential to delight customers or cause dissatisfaction.

How Does It Work?

The Kano Model categorizes product features into five main types:

  1. Basic Needs: These are the fundamental features that customers expect. Failure to deliver these will result in customer dissatisfaction. However, merely meeting these needs won’t delight customers; it’s a minimum requirement.
  2. Performance Needs: These are features that customers explicitly desire and are often the basis for making a purchase decision. The better you meet these needs, the more satisfied your customers will be.
  3. Excitement Needs: These are features that customers don’t necessarily expect but when present, can lead to high levels of customer delight.
  4. Indifferent Needs: These are features that are neither good nor bad and do not significantly impact customer satisfaction.
  5. Reverse Needs: These are features that can cause dissatisfaction for some customers if present but satisfaction for others.

The Benefits of Using the Kano Model

  1. Customer Delight: The model helps you identify opportunities to go above and beyond, creating features that surprise and delight customers.
  2. Resource Allocation: Knowing what customers expect, desire, or would be delighted by helps in resource prioritization, ensuring that development efforts yield maximum ROI.
  3. Competitive Advantage: The model can help identify features that could set the product apart from competitors.
  4. Enhanced User Experience: By focusing on all types of needs, including emotional ones, the Kano Model promotes a more holistic user experience.

Practical Application

For instance, if you’re building a hotel booking app, ‘secure payment gateway’ would be a Basic Need. A Performance Need could be ‘multiple filter options for room selection,’ and an Excitement Need might be ‘a complimentary upgrade offer on the user’s birthday.’

Case Studies: Apple’s iPhone

Apple’s iPhone offers a good example of the Kano Model in action. The basic telephone functions serve as Basic Needs. The intuitive interface and speedy performance fulfill Performance Needs. Features like Face ID or the integration between hardware and software could be considered Excitement Needs that delight users.

The Kano Model provides a robust framework for understanding not just what customers want but how they feel about what they want. For product-driven organizations, adopting the Kano Model can be a game-changer, turning ordinary customers into brand advocates by not just meeting but exceeding their needs and expectations. This makes it an invaluable tool for any product team focused on achieving high levels of customer satisfaction and building products that truly stand out.

By understanding what category a feature falls into, product teams can better prioritize their development efforts.

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF): Maximizing Value with Calculated Prioritization

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) is a prioritization model commonly used in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). This method aims to help product teams determine the sequence in which jobs, features, or technical stories should be executed to achieve the highest economic benefit in the shortest amount of time. WSJF is particularly useful for organizations that are looking to optimize their return on investment (ROI) and accelerate delivery by focusing on smaller, more manageable chunks of work that offer substantial value.

How Does It Work?

WSJF is calculated using two primary factors:

  1. Cost of Delay (CoD): This quantifies the economic or value loss if a job is delayed. CoD incorporates three aspects:
    • User-Business Value: The direct value the feature brings to users or the business.
    • Time Criticality: How the value decays over time.
    • Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement: What opportunities are gained or risks mitigated by implementing the feature.
  2. Job Size: This represents the effort required to complete a job, feature, or story. It’s typically estimated in terms of story points, man-hours, or another metric that makes sense for the organization.

The WSJF score is calculated as follows:

WSJF=Cost of DelayJob SizeWSJF=Job SizeCost of Delay​

The jobs with the highest WSJF scores should be tackled first, as they are expected to provide the most value for the least amount of work.

Why Use WSJF?

  1. Economic Focus: WSJF provides a way to make economic trade-offs visible, enabling teams to make more informed decisions.
  2. Alignment with Business Goals: By focusing on the Cost of Delay, WSJF ensures that features and jobs aligned with business objectives get higher priority.
  3. Optimized Resource Utilization: Since job size is considered, WSJF helps in balancing the workload, ensuring that the team doesn’t bite off more than they can chew.
  4. Risk Mitigation: By considering risks in the CoD, WSJF allows for proactive risk management, ensuring that features which mitigate significant risks get higher priority.

Case Example

Suppose you have three features: A, B, and C. Feature A has a CoD of 90 and requires 3 days to complete. Feature B has a CoD of 50 but requires just 1 day, and feature C has a CoD of 60 but needs 4 days. Calculating WSJF yields:

  • Feature A: 903=30390​=30
  • Feature B: 501=50150​=50
  • Feature C: 604=15460​=15

In this example, according to WSJF, feature B should be tackled first, followed by feature A and finally feature C.

The application of WSJF in a product-driven organization leads to more focused, value-driven work, enabling faster delivery of high-impact features. It is an integral tool for organizations that seek to be agile, efficient, and highly responsive to market demands.

Story Mapping: Visualizing the User Journey for Better Product Prioritization

Story Mapping is a powerful agile planning technique that focuses on the user experience and journey through the product. It offers a visual representation of features and tasks aligned with the steps a user takes to complete specific activities. This method helps product teams gain a deeper understanding of user needs, align features with user goals, and prioritize development based on how essential features are to the overall user experience.

How Does It Work?

  1. Identify User Activities and Tasks: The first step is to identify the overarching activities a user performs in the product. These activities are then broken down into more specific tasks or user stories.
  2. Create the Map: On a board or digital platform, write down or display these activities and tasks in sequential order, reflecting the user’s journey from start to finish.
  3. Prioritize Stories: Once the map is laid out, the next step is to prioritize the stories or tasks. Those that are essential for the user to achieve their goal are given high priority, while the less critical ones are ranked lower.
  4. Add Layers: More layers can be added to the map to represent different aspects like dependencies, milestones, or versions in which the tasks will be implemented.

The Benefits of Story Mapping

  1. User-Centric Focus: The method inherently focuses on the user’s experience and needs, ensuring that the product is designed with the end-user in mind.
  2. Collaboration: Creating the story map is often a collaborative effort involving multiple stakeholders. This fosters a shared understanding of user needs and product goals.
  3. Simplified Prioritization: Because the method visualizes the entire user journey, it becomes easier to see which stories or features are most critical for user success.
  4. Agile Flexibility: Story maps are not set in stone. They can be easily updated and adapted in each sprint or development cycle, allowing for agile responses to user feedback or changes in business strategy.

Practical Application

Let’s say you’re developing an e-commerce app. The main user activities might be “Browse Products,” “Add to Cart,” “Checkout,” and “Review.” Under “Browse Products,” you might have tasks like “Search for a product,” “Filter search results,” and “Read product details.”

Your story map arranges these activities and tasks in the order they would naturally occur. The critical stories—like “Search for a product”—would be given higher priority for development, while less crucial stories—like “Read similar customer reviews”—might be scheduled for later sprints.

Case Example: Adopting Story Mapping in Spotify

Spotify, the music streaming giant, utilized story mapping in the development of new features for their mobile app. They started by identifying key user activities like “Discover Music,” “Create Playlists,” and “Share Music.” By prioritizing features that enhanced these activities, they were better able to meet user needs and improve the overall user experience.

Story Mapping offers a comprehensive yet flexible framework for product development. It aligns perfectly with the product mindset, emphasizing long-term value and adaptability. For product-driven organizations, this method provides a more nuanced approach to prioritization, ensuring that what gets developed is not just what is easy or obvious, but what will provide the most value in enhancing the user’s journey through the product.

Buy a Feature: A Collaborative and Gamified Approach to Prioritization

The “Buy a Feature” method is a collaborative approach to prioritization that adds an interactive, almost gamified, dimension to the decision-making process. In this method, stakeholders are given a set amount of virtual “money” and are presented with a list of potential features, each with a corresponding “cost.” Stakeholders then “buy” the features they consider most important or valuable. This method not only helps identify which features are considered most valuable but also fosters stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

How Does It Work?

  1. Feature List with Costs: The first step is to prepare a list of potential features along with their estimated costs. These costs can be representative of the actual development time, resources, or complexity involved.
  2. Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholders, which could include team members, executives, or even customers, are then given a set amount of virtual currency.
  3. Feature Buying Session: Stakeholders use their virtual currency to “buy” features from the list. They can also negotiate and collaborate with other stakeholders to pool money for more expensive, but impactful, features.
  4. Analysis: Once the buying session is over, the features are prioritized based on the amount of money spent on each.

Benefits of the Buy a Feature Method

  1. Stakeholder Collaboration: This method encourages dialogue among stakeholders, which can lead to new insights and a shared understanding of what’s most important.
  2. Customer-Centric: If customers are involved in the buying process, this method ensures that the features developed are genuinely customer-driven.
  3. Dynamic and Engaging: The gamified approach makes the prioritization process more engaging, which can lead to higher participation and more thoughtful decision-making.
  4. Resource Justification: Seeing how much stakeholders are willing to “pay” for a feature can help justify resource allocation during the development phase.

Practical Applications and Case Examples

Let’s say you’re developing a project management software. Features like ‘Task Management’ and ‘Team Collaboration’ might be costly but crucial, whereas ‘Advanced Analytics’ might be less essential but cheaper. Stakeholders could individually or collectively “buy” these features based on their perceived value.

Adobe, for example, has used similar collaborative methods to include customer perspectives in their development cycles. By engaging users in the prioritization process, they ensure that the developed features are not just technically sound but also genuinely useful to the end-users.

The “Buy a Feature” method provides a unique blend of prioritization, stakeholder engagement, and resource allocation. Its interactive nature not only adds a layer of excitement to the otherwise mundane task of prioritization but also ensures a more democratic and customer-centric approach. For organizations looking to elevate stakeholder involvement in product development, this method offers a creative and effective solution.

QFD (Quality Function Deployment): Translating Customer Needs into Product Excellence

Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is a structured methodology designed to ensure that customer requirements are adequately met throughout the product development process. Originating from Japan in the 1960s and later popularized worldwide, QFD serves as a bridge between customer needs and the technical features that a product or service must possess. It’s often symbolized by the “House of Quality,” a matrix that helps teams visualize how customer needs relate to product features, thereby aiding in effective prioritization.

How Does It Work?

  1. Identify Customer Needs (Whats): The first step in QFD involves listing out the customer requirements, often referred to as the “Whats.” These are usually collected through market research, surveys, or direct customer interviews.
  2. Identify Product Features (Hows): Next, the “Hows” are identified, which are the technical features or functions that will satisfy customer needs.
  3. House of Quality: The Whats and Hows are mapped against each other in a matrix known as the House of Quality. This mapping helps in identifying which features are most crucial for meeting specific customer needs.
  4. Assign Priorities and Weights: Both customer needs and features are assigned weights based on their importance. These weights can come from customer surveys or team assessments.
  5. Correlation Matrix: This part of the House of Quality identifies synergies and conflicts between different features, allowing for more informed decision-making.
  6. Planning and Development: Based on the weighted scoring and correlations, the features are prioritized for development.

The Benefits of QFD

  1. Customer-Centric: QFD starts with the customer, making it inherently customer-focused. This ensures that the product or service is developed with the end-user’s needs in mind.
  2. Alignment: By correlating customer needs with technical features, QFD aligns the development process closely with market needs.
  3. Risk Mitigation: Understanding the correlation between various features helps in mitigating the risks associated with neglecting crucial aspects or focusing too much on less important ones.
  4. Resource Optimization: With clear priorities, teams can allocate resources more effectively, ensuring that the most critical features are developed first.

Practical Application and Case Example

Let’s consider an electric car manufacturer looking to break into a crowded market. They might identify customer needs like “Long Battery Life,” “Fast Charging,” and “Affordable Pricing.” The corresponding features might include “High-capacity Battery,” “Quick Charge Technology,” and “Cost-efficient Materials.”

By using QFD, the manufacturer can determine which features are most vital for customer satisfaction and thus should be prioritized. For instance, if “Long Battery Life” is a significant customer need, then “High-capacity Battery” would be a high-priority feature.

Companies like Toyota have effectively used QFD to align their product development processes closely with customer needs, thereby achieving a competitive edge in the market.

For product-driven organizations, QFD offers a rigorous, customer-focused methodology for feature prioritization and development. It is particularly useful in complex projects where multiple departments must align their efforts to meet customer needs effectively. By providing a systematic approach to understanding and meeting customer requirements, QFD helps organizations not just in developing products but in delivering value.

Each of these methods has its own set of advantages and is suited for different scenarios and types of products. The key is to choose a method (or a combination of methods) that aligns best with your product strategy, customer needs, and organizational goals. In a product-driven organization, effective prioritization is not just an activity but a culture. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be embedded into the fabric of the organization to continually deliver value to the customers and stakeholders.

The CDO TIMES Bottom Line Summary and Conclusion: The Choice that Defines Your Digital Destiny

The shift from managing deliverables as projects to products isn’t just a change in terminology; it’s a change in mindset, methodology, and ultimately, in business culture. The project approach, while tried and true, may not meet the demands of the dynamic, fast-paced digital landscape. On the other hand, a product-based approach aligns more closely with the core tenets of digital transformation—agility, customer focus, and long-term value creation.

This shift is not just an operational change but a strategic one, having a ripple effect on organizational agility, customer satisfaction, and long-term success. As you navigate the complex waters of digital transformation, this choice—between projects and products—could very well be the compass that guides you to your desired destination. Choose wisely.

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In this context, the expertise of CDO TIMES becomes indispensable for organizations striving to stay ahead in the digital transformation journey. Here are some compelling reasons to engage their experts:

  1. Deep Expertise: CDO TIMES has a team of experts with deep expertise in the field of Digital, Data and AI and its integration into business processes. This knowledge ensures that your organization can leverage digital and AI in the most optimal and innovative ways.
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  5. Competitive Advantage: Finally, by hiring CDO TIMES experts, you are investing in a competitive advantage. Their expertise can help you speed up your innovation processes, bring products to market faster, and stay ahead of your competitors.

By employing the expertise of CDO TIMES, organizations can navigate the complexities of digital innovation with greater confidence and foresight, setting themselves up for success in the rapidly evolving digital economy. The future is digital, and with CDO TIMES, you’ll be well-equipped to lead in this new frontier.

Do you need help with your digital transformation initiatives? We provide fractional CAIO, CDO, CISO and CIO services and have hand-selected partners and solutions to get you started!

We can help. Talk to us at The CDO TIMES!

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Carsten Krause

As the CDO of The CDO TIMES I am dedicated delivering actionable insights to our readers, explore current and future trends that are relevant to leaders and organizations undertaking digital transformation efforts. Besides writing about these topics we also help organizations make sense of all of the puzzle pieces and deliver actionable roadmaps and capabilities to stay future proof leveraging technology. Contact us at: to get in touch.

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