March 1, 2023

Product vs. Project: The test of Freedom. Part 1

From the personal experience of Alexey Kulakov, CEO at JetStyle digital agency and product development director at Ridero publishing service.

For several years of working as a director of JetStyle production studio and a product development director at Rideró, I have personally experienced the difference between the product and the project-based businesses. 

People believe that product development is a kind of a "deep ocean" full of freedom, unexplored spaces of new possibilities, and romance. For some, project development is a business for those who don’t want to take risks. For me, it means the following: in projects, money is little, understandable and relatively predictable, and in product businesses it’s long, unclear and risky. However, the main difference is not about that.

A product is always about creating interfaces and customer service processes. A product should reflect the process of value delivery to the whole world. The keyword for the product is scaling. If you don’t want to scale – don’t make a product.

A project-based business means that you have a team that accumulates some kind of competence and gives access to this competence to those around them. For me, the project business is the way to live life. You can build a company of like-minded people around yourself. You can organize everything around yourself the way you like it, and live in this created world, stay relevant, and change with the team.

A product is a way to conquer the world. It is much more difficult to predict, it doesn’t have to be like you. And actually, if you do everything correctly, a successful product should outgrow you one day. In other words, one day you will become irrelevant for the tasks that the product will be facing. Simply because at the next stage of development, the business will need people with other competencies. You will either have to change yourself, or get out of business, or ruin the business with your inadequacy and incompetence.

I’m going to show the difference between these two very similar, but at the same time, very different spheres. 

The management object

Managers in the project and in the product direct their attention to different things because they manage different objects. 

In the project business, the clients' projects become such an object. Sooner or later, they end. In the product business, we organize processes. A product is such a set of processes created to be infinite. 

If you suddenly decide to launch a product inside your project business, the first thing you need to do is to build a concrete wall between the projects and the product. Because otherwise more predatory projects are guaranteed to devour young and still defenseless processes. 

Here's how it happens. In the very first days of the startup, a project manager says: "A client came to me, gave me two million dollars, I need a developer". You need to really, really, really believe in your product, to tell this manager to get lost. Because if you give him or her the developer for at least a day, it's all over! There won’t be a product. Other managers will get in through the hole in the dam. And your idea will remain an idea because people will continue to do projects.

My way of building the wall is to give the product a different ownership structure. The product and the projects shouldn't be managed by the same people. If the developer is in the product team, then I can’t just take him or her for the project – I have to negotiate it with the partners who are interested in the product development.

Part 2.

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