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Why choosing the right product operating model matters

Updated: Mar 8

April 20, 2023 | Product Operating Model | Product Management | By Priyanka Nagpal

Why choosing the right product operating model matters
Why choosing the right product operating model matters

A product operating model is often seen as a solution to the chaos of product development, but can it limit creativity and innovation?


A product operating model defines how a product team operates to achieve its goals. It includes processes, tools, and roles that help the team execute and deliver products efficiently. It encompasses various aspects such as product strategy, product development, product management, and product operations.


A product operating model is often seen as a solution to the chaos of product development, but in reality, it may limit creativity and innovation if followed rigidly.

By defining processes, tools, and roles based on a framework without a tailored approach, a product operating model can become rigid and inflexible, leading to missed opportunities and stunted growth.

While it is important to consider project scope, requirements, and customer needs when selecting a product operating model, it is equally important to recognize that no model is perfect.

Every product development project is unique and requires a tailored approach that takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, project constraints, and business objectives.

As a product and program management expert, I have seen firsthand the impact of choosing the right product operating model on the success of a product. Over the years, I have worked with various teams and organizations, each with its unique set of challenges and requirements.

Through these experiences, I have learned that choosing the right product operating model is not only about following the latest trends, but it's also about understanding your needs, your customers' needs, and your team's capabilities.

In this article, I will share some real-life lessons and challenges, and recommend solutions and alternatives to help you choose the right product operating model for your needs.


There are various product operating models, among the most common are Waterfall, Agile, and Lean. Adopting the right product operating model can make a significant difference in the success of a product. Using a model that is a good fit for the project can help the team execute and deliver the product efficiently and effectively.


In recent years, there has been a shift towards more agile and customer-centric operating models, such as lean startup methodologies and using minimum viable products (MVPs) to test and refine products before scaling them up. Other companies may focus on creating a strong brand identity and user experience to differentiate their products from competitors.

Regardless of the specific approach, an effective product operating model should enable companies to efficiently and effectively bring their products to market, respond to changing customer needs and preferences, and continually improve their products over time.


Waterfall

The waterfall model is a traditional product operating model that follows a linear process. It starts with defining requirements, followed by design, development, testing, and deployment. The model is popular in industries like construction and manufacturing, where the project scope and requirements are well-defined upfront. However, it can lead to long development cycles, making it challenging to adapt to changes in requirements.

The linear process does not account for unexpected changes in requirements or market conditions, resulting in a lack of agility and innovation.

The Waterfall model, although popular in some industries, can lead to delays and missed opportunities.

The Waterfall model is popular in industries like construction and manufacturing, where the project scope and requirements are well-defined upfront.
The Waterfall model is popular in industries like construction and manufacturing, where the project scope and requirements are well-defined upfront.

Waterfall model: sink or swim? how one team's isolation cost them the market

I once worked with a team that had a groundbreaking idea for a new low-code-no-code app. They decided to use the Waterfall model for the software development of the app. They spent months developing and refining the app, only to find out that it was too late - their competitors had already captured the market share with a similar, but simpler product that met the basic needs of the customers. The team had spent so much time working in isolation that they failed to realize the needs of the market, and the relevancy of their product. They had to go back to the drawing board with a new value proposition, redesign the product, and start the development process again, which cost them valuable time and resources. Don't be like them! While it's important to take the time to do thorough market research, understand your customers and where the product fits in the customer journey. It is important to have a pulse on the market and time the product launch.

The Waterfall model is not suitable for situations where requirements are likely to change, and the market is dynamic. This model assumes that you can define all the requirements upfront and develop the product in a linear, sequential process.

However, this is rarely the case in the real world.


Agile

Agile is a popular product operating model that emphasizes flexibility and collaboration. It breaks down work into small, manageable chunks called sprints, which typically last 1-4 weeks. The team focuses on delivering a working product at the end of each sprint and iterates based on customer feedback.

Why choosing the right product operating model matters
Why choosing the right product operating model matters

Agile focuses on delivering a few core features that solve a customer pain point exceptionally well, rather than trying to do everything simultaneously.

Agile is a great fit for where requirements can change frequently and speed to market is crucial.

Agile: A popular product operating model or a tricky trap? Tips to avoid the pitfalls and ensure project success

In another project, I worked with a team that was developing a mobile app using the Agile model. They worked in sprints, with each sprint lasting two weeks. At the end of each sprint, they delivered a working product that they could test and get customer feedback. This allowed the team to iterate quickly, adapt to changes in requirements, and deliver a product that met the customers' needs.

The agile model is great for situations where requirements are likely to change, and speed to market is crucial. This model emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and customer feedback, which enables teams to deliver products that meet the customers' needs quickly.

While Agile may be a popular product operating model, it is not without its drawbacks. The emphasis on delivering a working product at the end of each sprint can be inefficient for projects with a well-defined scope and requirements.

In fact, the focus on delivering small chunks of work can result in losing sight of the big picture and overall project goals.
The Agile model can lead to scope creep and missed deadlines. The flexibility and collaboration that Agile encourages can result in team members taking on too many tasks or spending too much time on small details that may not be critical to the project's success. This can cause the team to miss deadlines and fail to deliver on important project milestones.

However, there are ways to avoid falling into the trap. Here are some tips:

  1. Set clear project goals: Before beginning any project, it's essential to define clear project goals and ensure that everyone on the team is aligned with them. This can help prevent the team from losing sight of the bigger picture and ensure that everyone is working towards the same end goal.

  2. Define a clear scope: While Agile emphasizes flexibility, it's still important to have a well-defined scope to prevent scope creep. This can be achieved by breaking down the project into manageable chunks and establishing clear requirements for each sprint.

  3. Prioritize tasks: Agile encourages collaboration, but it's important to prioritize tasks and ensure that team members are not taking on too much work or spending too much time on non-critical tasks. Prioritizing tasks can help the team stay focused on the most important aspects of the project.

  4. Regularly review progress: Regularly reviewing progress can help the team stay on track and ensure that they are meeting project milestones. This can also help identify any potential roadblocks early on and prevent the project from derailing.

In conclusion, while Agile may be a popular product operating model, it's important to recognize that it may not be the best fit for every project. By setting clear project goals, defining a clear scope, prioritizing tasks, and regularly reviewing progress, teams can avoid falling into the Agile trap and ensure project success.


Lean

Lean model involves launching a minimum viable product (MVP)
The Lean model involves launching a minimum viable product (MVP)

Lean is another product operating model that aims to minimize waste and maximize customer value. It involves testing assumptions and hypotheses using rapid experimentation and learning. Lean focuses on delivering value to customers quickly by launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and iterating based on feedback. It is a popular model in startups, where resources are limited, and speed to market is essential.


The Lean startup success

Finally, I worked with a startup that was developing a new online marketplace. They used the Lean model, which involved launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and iterating based on customer feedback. They focused on delivering value to their customers quickly, which allowed them to build a loyal customer base and gain traction in the market.

The Lean model is great for situations where resources are limited, and speed to market is essential. This model emphasizes experimentation, rapid learning, and delivering value to customers quickly, which allows startups to validate their assumptions and hypotheses and iterate based on customer feedback.

It is important to note that while the Lean product operating model is popular for startups, it can also have its drawbacks. While the model's focus on rapid experimentation and learning is intended to help teams quickly deliver value to customers, it can lead to a situation where the team becomes too reliant on customer feedback and neglects their own creativity and expertise.

In the pursuit of delivering value quickly, the team may end up cutting corners and neglecting critical features that are necessary for the product's success. Moreover, the MVP may not always be sufficient to fully test the product's viability in the market, and the team may miss out on opportunities for innovation and differentiation.

To avoid these traps, it's important to strike a balance between customer feedback and the team's expertise.

While it's important to listen to customers and incorporate their feedback, the team should also rely on their own insights and experience to identify opportunities for innovation and differentiation.

Another tip to avoid the trap is to ensure that the MVP is designed to test the critical features of the product and its viability in the market.

It's important to focus on the features that will make or break the product's success rather than just delivering a bare-bones product.

In summary, while the Lean product operating model can be effective for delivering value quickly, it's important to avoid the trap of over-reliance on customer feedback and neglecting critical features or innovation. By striking a balance between customer feedback and the team's expertise and focusing on critical features, the team can deliver a successful product that meets customer needs and exceeds expectations.


Conclusion

While a product operating model can be a helpful guide for product development, it should not be seen as a rigid framework.

Choosing the right product operating model is essential for the success of a product. It's not about following the latest trends, but it's about understanding your needs, your customers' needs, and your team's capabilities. The Waterfall model is suitable for situations where requirements are well-defined, and the market is stable. The Agile model is suitable for situations where requirements are likely to change, and speed to market is crucial. The Lean model is suitable for situations where resources are limited, and speed to market is essential.

By understanding these models' strengths and weaknesses and choosing the right model for your needs, you can increase your chances of delivering a successful product that meets your customers' needs.
Ultimately, the success of a product development project is not solely dependent on the product operating model chosen but on how the team adapts and iterates based on feedback and market conditions.

A team that is open to experimentation, willing to take risks, and has a strong sense of purpose is more likely to succeed, regardless of the product operating model chosen.


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