Product vs Project thinking: what’s the difference

What is Product thinking & Project thinking? Let’s dive deeper into that because we cannot make much progress without first understanding these things. – Shreyas Doshi

How is it that we all say we want the same thing i.e. to create tremendous value for our customers, to grow the company’s business and its positive impact, and yet we end up with such conflicting versions of “truth” in the throes of the inherent complexity of our work?
What is Product thinking & Project thinking? Let’s dive deeper into that, because we cannot make much progress without first understanding these things. And there’s no better way to start our journey than via a couple of example scenarios we see at work. (based on real events)
Having seen some examples of Project Thinking, let’s explore more formally how Project Thinking & Product Thinking differ. And there’s no better place to start here than to look at the types of questions that interest us when we are doing Project Thinking vs. Product Thinking.
With this foundation, we are now ready to more formally define Product Thinking and Project Thinking.
Project Thinking: Project Thinking is about understanding expectations, formulating plans, marshaling resources, and coordinating actions to meet those expectations.
Product Thinking: Product Thinking is about understanding motivations, conceiving solutions, simulating their effects, and picking a path based on the effects you want to create.
Not just that. Whereas Project Thinker Bob saw this situation as a crisis, Product Thinker Dave has turned this crisis into an opportunity. He can see how valuable it will be for his company if Customer X can be a key “lighthouse customer” for the new Audit Logging feature.
By using the Product Thinking mode in this situation, Pat is able to see beyond the immediate resourcing constraints that the Support team faces, and presents much clearer trade-offs to CEO Eve: “We can create a better experience with creativity, and such-and-such investment.”
Before you proceed, I would encourage you to review that cheat sheet one more time, and evaluate how these distinctions might apply to your work, and, if you lead a team or a company, to the work that your team does.
At the end of this process, you will have much greater clarity on the ultimate solution & the steps you need to take towards making this ultimate solution a reality, taking into account the constraints you face today & ones you might face tomorrow. That enables decisive action.
Before we proceed, I want to reemphasize one thing: Product Thinking is not better than Project Thinking. For a team to succeed consistently, it needs to be able to do both Product Thinking & Project Thinking very well. Some of us will be better at one than the other. That’s okay
Because in reality, you can learn Product Thinking, and you can also teach your team the discipline of Product Thinking. To succeed, we need not all be world class Product Thinkers. But it helps if people can recognize these two modes, so they can communicate & decide better.
This thread is getting long, so I will now leave you with a primer to improve your own Product Thinking and team others about it.
Note how each of these steps is fairly straightforward (perhaps even obvious). Despite that, the problem I see time and time again is that we don’t really give ourselves the chance to systematically perform these steps.
Let’s now look at some examples of products & features that I think demonstrate the essence of the steps we looked at.
As I said earlier, Simulation is the biggest secret of Product Thinking. If you can do better simulations, and you can hire/encourage certain people on your team to simulate, trust me, you will be able to do things that look like magic to the uninitiated. Just like Doctor Strange

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