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IT projects vs IT products vs KJR

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When you buy your next smartphone, what features will you compare to make your decision?

So far as I can tell, the dominant contrasts appear to lie in their cameras – cutting edge smartphones have, in addition to their main camera, ones for wide-angle, telephoto, and front-facing (selfie-mode).

Add to that a bunch of different image manipulation features and you have a complex comparison.

Next question: When you buy your next point-and-shoot camera, what features will you compare to make your decision?

Answer: Most likely you won’t buy your next point-and-shoot camera. You’ll upgrade your smartphone instead, and for higher-end photography you’ll buy a DSLR.

As a category, point-and-shoot cameras are, along with Monty Python’s famous Norwegian blue parrot, on the way to joining the choir invisible. Steadily-improving smartphone cameras are rapidly extinguishing them, just as steadily-improving digital cameras extinguished those that use film.

Which will get us to this week’s topic in a moment, right after we ask ourselves whether better product management on Nikon, Canon, or Olympus’s part might have staved off this category calamity.

The answer: Probably not. Product management is an in-category discipline, which is why Canon’s product line dominates the DSLR marketplace but doesn’t provide OEM componentry for any smartphone. More broadly, it’s why the major camera companies didn’t add telephone-oriented features to their point-and-shoot cameras.

Which (finally!) brings us to this week’s topic: Whether IT should organize according to software product management principles rather than software project principles (see, for example, this lucid explanation on martin.Fowler.com).

The answer? No, but IT shouldn’t continue to organize around software projects, either. As all enlightened members of the KJR community (if you’ll forgive the redundancy) know, there’s no such thing as an IT project. It’s always around business change or what’s the point?

Organizing IT around IT products is certainly better than organizing it around IT projects … product-mode thinking does expressly incorporate business improvement into its planning and governance practices, more easily incorporates agile thinking into the mix, and solves the problem of maintaining a stockpile of expertise instead of disbanding it once the initial implementation project has completed.

On the other hand, most agile variants keep teams in place until the backlog has shrunk beyond the point of diminishing returns, so this last “benefit” is something of a strawman.

Meanwhile, the product perspective brings with it a potentially crippling disadvantage – the inevitability of internal competition. Here’s how it works:

Imagine you’re the product manager for your company’s in-house-developed, highly optimized, strongly supported SCM (supply chain management) system. You and your team have deep expertise in its workings, which lets you respond quickly and efficiently when business needs change or new needs arise.

Meanwhile, as a result of several mergers and acquisitions, three other business units also have SCM systems and supporting teams, each with capabilities roughly comparable to what your team brings to the table.

And so, the CIO and IT planning committee decide it’s time to rationalize the applications portfolio, building out the architecture to a hub-and-spoke model anchored by Oracle ERP Cloud (this is, understand, just a ferinstance, not an endorsement).

Suddenly, your team’s expertise is irrelevant. And so, being savvy at the game of corporate politics, you invite the head of your business unit’s supply chain function to join you for conversational lubricants, in which conversation you explain the disadvantages of forcing his team to use a software vendor’s plain-vanilla SCM module instead of the finely-tuned application they’re used to.

Describing how this scenario plays out is left as an exercise for the reader. Suffice it to say, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Bob’s last word: More problematic than everything else, the product perspective leaves in place defining IT’s relationship with the rest of the business as a vendor dealing with internal customers. This is a bad idea, something I’ve been explaining since1996.

IT should be organized to support business optimization, where each business function defines optimization according to what it will take for it to run differently and better, and the company defines IT’s relationship with the rest of the business as partner and collaborator in delivering profitable value to Real Paying Customers.

Bob’s sales pitch: Not the first time I’ve mentioned this, and it won’t be the last – you’ll find an in-depth explanation of how to make this work in There’s no such thing as an IT Project: A handbook for intentional business change. And it isn’t just in-depth coverage of content that matters. Dave and I took pains to make sure it’s readable, too.

Comments (3)

  • At a luncheon, when the speaker was asked how to priorities projects (from an IT perspective), he said:

    “Learn the bonus structure of your peers (C-level officers). Push projects that make those bonuses bigger.”

    Completely changed how I approached IT.

    Reply
  • Example is somewhat dated. DSLRs are on the way out and are being replaced with mirrorless cameras. You can still buy them and the big three (Canon, Nikon, Sony) still make them but the R&D and marketing are laser focused on mirrorless.

    Reply

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