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Programs, Not Projects

In our software-driven world the concept of a "project" is an antiquated point of view.

The concept of a “project” is a short-term view of a business initiative. It implies a discrete end to initiatives. This is an antiquated point of view.



In our software-driven world initiatives never really end. They are optimized, evolved. They are launched, achieve their goals or fail. We respond. We assess and respond again. Projects with discrete end dates and time frames also imply a specific level of quality. That quality bar serves as a gate to deployment of new ideas. Unfortunately, that quality cannot be known in advance. So how can we pretend to know when we’ll get there? Sure, we’d like it to work well, look good and make customers happy. But we have no idea what combination of factors -- engineering, design, features, marketing, advertising, content -- will get us to that end state.

Ex-Nike CTO, Chris Satchell once said, “Quality is not a gate. It’s an ongoing operation.” What Satchell was referring to was taking a long-term view on your initiatives -- programs, instead of projects. Too often, we task our teams with achieving perfection. When product feedback cycles required months, if not years, of time to determine efficacy, this made sense. Product iteration cycles are much shorter now. Our initiatives should be programs of action aimed at improving specific aspects of our customers’ experience with our products. Each release teaches us something. The more releases we can deploy, the sooner we’ll know how on-track our thinking is and the sooner we can start to improve.

Organizations applying a “project-based” mindset to their initiatives are assuming their work will be finished at some point. But the world evolves. Technology gets better. People’s expectations change. Power shifts between companies and consumers. Continuous change is truly the only constant. To some this is disheartening. To the successful, this is inspiring. Every day you have the opportunity to make things better. This is particularly true in a software-driven world.

As Salvador Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”


If you’d like to hear more, Josh Seiden and I are writing our next book on organizational agility, continuous learning and technology. You can sign up to stay in touch.

 

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