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Navigating the Difference Between Project Mindset and Product Mindset

By Jaydeep Kulkarni – General Manager- Product Management, Michelin

It’s easy to get confused between project and product management. But in today’s continuously evolving market, it is crucial to differentiate between these two roles. While both roles contribute to organizational success, their approaches, objectives, and responsibilities vary significantly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Project mindset is execution oriented and is concerned with meeting timelines.
  • Product mindset is outcome-oriented and is concerned with building successful products.
  • Companies like WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Uber are good examples of a successfully executed product mindset.
In this article
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    Project Mindset

      • Project mindset is basically execution oriented. So basically, a project manager is concerned about questions like- What is the requirement? What is in scope, what is not in scope. Is it on the roadmap? What are the timelines?
      • Objective: Getting the stuff done quickly. Meet timelines and deliver. They are looking at the execution.
      • Responsibility: Time, budget, resources, delivery
      • Product life cycle: Plan, define, design, code, test

    Product Mindset

      • A product manager has a different mindset from a project manager. He has a product mindset where he is focusing on basically how we can improve engagement. He is concerned about solving questions like- What problem are we trying to solve? Why are we doing this? Is it going to add value to our customers on the ground? How do we make it easier for our customers? Could we try this feature based on current volatile market conditions? Can we boost our conversion rate by increasing the number of users or increasing our revenue by adding a very out-of-the-box feature. So they are basically outcome-oriented.
      • Objective: Outcome
      • Responsibility: Product’s goal, key metrics definition, market fit
      • Product life cycle: Learn, ideate, design, test

    Product mindset- Some examples

    1. 3 Pillar

      • There was a company called 3 Pillar that had a good product concept. The product concept was a hit with their customers. The customers couldn’t wait to use that product. But somehow, the company failed. They couldn’t cash in on the new product concept that was being showcased to customers. Why do you think this happened? This happened because they were not able to convince the stakeholders to release the product to the customers before it was completed. So they waited for the entire cycle to be completed. Hence, instead of enabling the product concept at a very early stage, they took a lot of time in delivering the product but by then the market conditions completely changed and the product collapsed. This is an example of an unsuccessful product.

    2. Cardmunch

      • There was a company called Cardmunch. In the early days of mobile, Cardmunch proposed getting rid of the business card. They developed a way to take a picture of a business card from your phone and automatically input the information into your address book.
      • Cardmunch was smart. They got their product into the hands of customers who would use the product, which helped them build momentum. 
      • They focussed on creating a value exchange- trading something valuable that you have produced (in this instance, digitizing business cards) for something of value from others (in this instance, adoption, usage and ultimately dollars).
      • Cardmunch quickly built a simple interface on which users could upload a picture to the cloud. The company manually transcribed the information on the card and pushed the results back to the user’s phone, where it could be automatically imported into the address book. Instead of building the costly technology for character recognition, cardmunch used manual labor. If the concept worked and people liked it, then they would build out the technology. It worked so well and so quickly that they sold to LinkedIn in 2011 for over $2.4 million and never had to build the technology at all.
      • This is a success story of how product managers went for early adoption and early selling of the concept and made their product successful. And then all the next parts of the process fell in line. 

    3. Whatsapp

      • WhatsApp is another success story. They started small and were able to reach 900 million users only with 50 engineers. The company did one thing well, pushed it out at a very early stage and grew its user base substantially without growing its staff. 

    4. Other unicorn companies

      • There are other examples of unicorn companies like Airbnb and Uber. These are rare, privately held startups valued at more than $1 billion. They understand that value is at the heart of a self-funded product. 
      • Companies like Linkedin and Stitchfix build momentum with value exchange and as the value of their products increases over time, that value translates into more eyeballs, more users, and more revenue.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Project mindset is execution oriented and is concerned with meeting timelines. The responsibilities here include time, budget, resources, delivery. Product mindset is outcome-oriented and is concerned with building successful products. Responsibilities here include product’s goal, key metrics definition, market fit.

    Product is concerned with generating value and revenue from customers, whereas project is concerned with solving a particular problem within timelines.

    Whatsapp pushed the product out at a very early stage and grew its user base substantially without growing its staff. It was able to reach 900 million users only with 50 engineers.

    WhatsApp, cardmunch, Uber, and AirBnB are examples of companies with a good product mindset.

    About the Author:

    Jaydeep KulkarniGeneral Manager- Product Management, Michelin

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