Projects vs Products

Nope! I am not talking about Project management or Product management here. Instead, I want to share my experience of painfully figuring out what is a product or what is a project and why should a designer care about it !

The quest started when I had to deliver a UI Strategy for 26 SKUs of OfficeJet printers at Hewlett Packard in 2008. I had no clue how to get it done in such a scale 🤔 Looking backwards, this was one of the crucial project of my career.

I solved one part of the problem first by using Product thinking. Instead of 23 interface variants across 26 SKUs, I combined all of them into just 2 types of interfaces which can be extended across 4 screen resolutions. We rolled out one-fifth of the specs in our OfficeJet Pro 8600 series that year. From this project I learnt, how many new requirements we progressively discovered after market launch.

We took all the learnings from rollout one and implemented it part by part for all the SKUs in five project phases across 15 months. That was the first time I understood the power of projects that help flawless execution of products. Till date HP printers run on that strategy (more or less) and it is already 10 years.

Here is what I learnt about projects and products as a designer👇

A project has a start date and an end date. It has an Objective, an Output and an Outcome. The three OOOs are a must for any project. To deal with a project, a designer must have a mindset of getting it right and optimising risk.

A product doesn't have a time attached to it. Product building never ends. The specs are never carved in stone. A product gets discovered progressively. To deal with the product, a designer must have a mindset to seek clarity and embrace ambiguity.

For a designer, both products and projects are important because products get done within a project. Whether it is a sprint or a release plan or a roadmap, at the end of the day it is a project in which a product gets shaped. I call this a triangle-circle phenomenon. Depending on the dimensions of the triangle (Time, Scope, Resources), the circle (product specs) is rolled-out and not otherwise.

Typically designers go wrong in not understanding the project boundaries for the products they are building (like the younger me). I wanted the entire line to get the UI strategy in one shot. I was an idiot then 🙈

Later I learnt, it is the boundaries that give the freedom. Within each project, we got an opportunity to improve the product leaps and bounds. Without constraints there is no creativity. A designer who understands this is loved by the product team.

🥂 to P&P!

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