We’re kicking off a blog series to celebrate World Product Day!

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of six blogs that detail the journey we took at Hatchd from operating as a project-based organisation to the product-led company that we are today.

We’ll explore everything from the mindset shift required to build remarkable products, through to the importance of creating a ‘fail fast and fail forward’ culture.

Today’s post outlines the measurable benefits teams can reap by moving away from a traditional project-based outlook towards product-based thinking that focuses more on customer outcomes and long-term value delivery.

Stayed tuned to the Hatchd blog over the coming weeks for more.

People are becoming increasingly dependent on digital services. With the number of mobile apps across the Apple and Android stores tipping 5 million last year, a growing proportion of the population would balk at the idea of having to visit the local branch of their bank or insurance company to access key account services.

Our accumulated exposure to Silicon Valley’s best digital products across all sectors is shaping our tastes, habits and demands. We expect to have immediate access to information and services at any time of the day or night, and for it to be delivered to us through a smart and appealing experience.

The emerging 'always on' marketplace demands that organisations respond to these changes, or face eventual irrelevance. It’s no coincidence that 'digital transformation' has been the main corporate agenda item in recent years, and that global investment in digital transformation technologies is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2019, a 42% increase from 2017. 

To meet the challenge, organisations are becoming creators and custodians of digital products, often without realising that's what they’re doing. But how do organisations adapt and thrive in the current landscape? 

One of the tools for successful transformation is 'product-mode' - that is, shifting the organisation’s operational mode from a project-based approach to a product-based approach.

What is 'product-mode'?

Product-mode is an idea that originated in the software engineering world. In an environment of continuous product development, the traditional project management approach was proving inadequate for providing responsiveness, quality, maintainability, scalability and high staff morale. As it turned out, the idea of product-mode is relevant beyond the confines of development teams, and aligning with its principles at an organisational level provides advantages that a project-based approach can’t match. 

An organisation’s digital services are expected to be 'always on' for the duration of the service lifetime. Customers use these services whenever it’s most convenient rather than be limited by traditional office hours, and they expect the service to continue to be available for the foreseeable future.

Taking that reality into account, product-mode’s long term and strategic view is appropriate. Driven by a clear vision of how the service addresses an existing need or problem, product-mode focuses on continuous delivery of a profitable solution to a large group of customers.

A product mindset is both customer-focused and aligned with business objectives. Success is determined in part by customer satisfaction, which requires close observation of customer behaviour and engagement, and is measured by performance metrics and other business KPIs

The continuous delivery ethos dictates that incremental improvement through optimisation and innovation is required to ensure the product evolves with the customer and the market. At the same time, impact to all customers is considered before changes or improvements are shipped, which results high levels of quality being maintained.

To be able to deliver the above, product mode requires the support of a dedicated long-term team, focussed on the product vision, and having full ownership of it’s continuous delivery for the life of the product. 

Product vs Project

Comparing the two outlooks can help to understand how they differ in key ways:

Product-mode Project-mode
Long term Short term
Strategic view Tactical view
Roadmap Project plan
Follow through Set and forget
Continuous delivery Intermittent delivery
Focused on solving customer problems Focused on delivering scope
Consistency over the long term Consistency within a short term project cycle
Quality maintained Quality fluctuations
Considers all customers Considers the customer that benefits from the current project
Tied to customer satisfaction and market success Tied to budget cycles
Collaborative Siloed
Delivers value Delivers predictability


Long term view vs Short term view

Product owners are led by a product roadmap, and are planning product evolution months, if not years, ahead. Product teams are long-lived and maintain a continuity of ownership for the life of the product.

Project-mode, in comparison, looks as far ahead as the end of the project plan. As long as it is delivered on scope, in time and within budget, the project-centric view is not concerned with what may happen after the project is completed. Project teams usually disband and are assigned to other projects, and expect no further accountability. 

Consistency & Quality

Product-mode increases consistency and quality. The long term ownership by a single team, driven by a clear product vision, means that design and code consistency persists, maintaining product integrity.

By contrast, in project-mode, consistency inevitably fluctuates as teams come and go. Without the continuity of team ownership and responsibility, maintaining quality levels becomes a far more challenging proposition.

Funding differences

In product-mode, teams are funded for discrete periods, usually a year at a time, with performance tracked and reviewed at intervals. During this time, the team focuses on solving the problems identified in the strategically aligned product roadmap. Ongoing funding for the following period is typically determined by performance against business KPIs and customer satisfaction targets.

In project-mode, typically a single defined and scoped solution is funded. Future projects require the request and approval of further funding.

Product-mode benefits

Time saving

Product-mode teams can be responsive to incoming feedback, and more quickly take advantage of opportunities as they're identified. Being long-term teams, less time is wasted negotiating the re-prioritisation of work or onboarding new teams.

Increased flexibility to iterate

Autonomous product-mode teams benefit from validation input and have the mandate to develop solutions in a truly iterative way, as they are not bound by restrictive project scopes and associated budget limits.

Shared knowledge and history

Knowledge is built and retained when teams remain intact for longer periods. Product-mode teams reach optimal levels of performance as they accumulate shared history, and don't have to lose momentum by end of project demobilisation.

Quality through ownership

Product-mode teams maintain higher levels of quality through having long-term responsibility and visibility. The consequence of poor short term choices is made more apparent when the long-term integrity of the product is prioritised. This applies equally to customer experience, design and code quality.

Challenges of shifting to product-mode

Despite the considerable advantages and efficiencies of product-mode, there are tough challenges to be faced when any organisation chooses to adopt a product-based approach.

Funding and vision

It can be be difficult to convince the powers that be to unlock the ongoing funding required for long-term product teams. Fixed budgets for short-term and highly scoped projects appear less risky and tend to be what are organisations are most used to and comfortable with. This shift is easier when the organisation shares a strong product vision and much harder if it lacks one.

Top down cultural change

An appetite for change needs to be present, as a decent amount of transformation is required for an organisation to successfully shift to operating in product-mode. The product-based approach can be trialled for fit at a smaller scale before comprehensive adoption occurs, but eventually the organisation structure and culture will need to adjust to support the product-mode ethos.

Product management

Acquiring product management skills, which are critical for product-mode, can be difficult due to scarcity of experience. Product management is a distinctly different skill with a different focus to project management, and typically, project managers are not well equipped to fulfil this far more strategic role. 

Continuous innovation

Maintaining a state of continuous product innovation and finding the right skills sets to do so is a further obstacle to overcome.

The emerging reality of the digital economy is that from a customer's perspective, your product / organisation / brand is always on.  Overcoming the challenges to shift your organisation into product-mode is one of the best ways to be able to deliver on this expectation.

Interested in working with us?

Whether you have a clearly defined product brief or you're not sure wherein the problem lies, drop us a line for a no-pressure chat about where you are at and how we might help.

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