Shifting from a project-centric mindset to product-centric mindset for AI-driven innovation

Original article was published by Abhishek Kaul on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Shifting from a project-centric mindset to product-centric mindset for AI-driven innovation

Today, in this fast-paced digital transformation era, it is important for organizations to keep ahead of the industry curve and innovate continuously using AI technologies. Continuous innovation requires an organization to move from a project-centric mindset to a product-centric mindset. This article provides a point of view to help pivot your IT organization towards a product-centric mindset.

Traditionally, organizations have been working with project-centric mindset ie spend a lot of time and effort in defining, refining and fixing the requirements and then execute a timeboxed, fixed scope, fixed schedule and fixed budget project. This approach assumes that the market, technology, and business requirements will not change over the next 1 to 3 years. Hence, reprioritizing of business requirements becomes a painful “change request” exercise and user adoption become the “change management” problem. Further once a project is live the solution passes to the maintenance team who work on tickets, issues, keep the lights on, and cripple innovation. In the next six to eight months the AI technology leapfrogs, market environment changes and the business is stuck with the obsolete application.

Product centric mindset requires adopting New ways of working and is a cultural change for IT that goes beyond just using Design thinking and agile methodologies.

Design thinking — creative thinking process to solve the user problem by having a deeper understanding of the user’s context, journey and experience

Agile — Bringing together a small team from diverse background that work towards a common goal and deliver incremental functionality within 2–3 week time buckets and reprioritize requirements based on feedback

In Product centric mindset investment is driven by value, analyzing the market needs, releasing incremental functionality, and adapting to feedback. The product roadmap is evolutionary in nature and requires courage and trust in the development team. Below, I present the top FIVE characteristics of a product-centric mindset

1. Discipline on requirements prioritization

Requirements, ie backlog prioritization, and grooming is critical to a product-centric mindset. Given unlimited resources, all the features and functions can be developed in a product. In reality, we have to make choices and prioritize requirements. A product owner can prioritize the requirements by asking the right questions like

Is my backlog prioritization aligned to the product vision and end-user (persona) needs?

Does it provide me the differentiation over other market competing solutions and is aligned to the industry roadmap?

Will it help me move forward towards modern architecture, latest technology paradigms?

2. Focus on end-user design

Design is central to developing a best in class product. Product teams should follow use case and design-driven development. Engaging with user experience experts to map out the user journey will ensure end-user adoption after release. Some of the design aspects which should be included as part of the application development are

· Who are the types of users (personas) using the application ?

· How will they be using the application (map out the user journey) ?

· What is most critical feature if included will create the wow factor (removes the pain point) ?

3. Agile development

Agile increases software development velocity. At the end of each 2–3 week time buckets (Sprint), there is incremental functionality delivered. At the end of 2–4 sprints a product release (application update) is done. There are few critical aspects in agile development for a release which are important for product-centric mindset

· Does each release deliver a user need statement (who-what-wow)? The team can also write a press release and frequently asked questions about the release before starting the build (eg PRFAQ). This can help to better describe the features and align towards a common goal for release.

· Is the release communication Purposeful ? Communication about the release should be easy to understand and describe the benefits of upgrade. Graphical snippets of new functionality and the Wow factor helps. Similarly the information given to other internal stakeholders in the organization should be abstracted for purpose.

· Are engineering best practices followed ? like automated devops pipeline, automated testing and more.

4. Architecture and Maintainability of Product

Product should be built on scalable architecture with consideration for maintainability of the codebase from day zero. If there is a bundle of products, then the architecture platform chosen should help the vertical products leverage a common framework. Some of the questions that architects, data scientists, data engineers, and developers should ask are

· Is the product using scalable architecture like microservices, containers and virtualization environment ?

· Is the code written in a way that it is easy to read and understand without comments, documentation ?

· Can new features and functions be added without breaking the code, and upgrade cycles not cause downtime ?

5. Budget for product

In a product-centric mindset the investment budget should be allocated based on value. Ideally, the organization should identify strategic products, aligned to their future vision, providing them a significant competitive advantage. For these products, a high-level roadmap for the next 1–3 years should be defined with adaptive requirements and demand-driven continuity.

· How is the budgeting process ? is it yearly or based on the 2–3 year roadmap?

· How is the ROI measured? ongoing or only at the beginning?

· When does the investment stop ? when the committed value is delivered or when demand reduces?


As discussed above, making the shift from a project-centric mindset to a product-centric mindset requires a cultural change for IT however, better aligns the market, business needs with delivery of continuous innovation to help you succeed in the digital transformation era.