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Mik Kersten on Moving from Projects to Products

In this Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Mik Kersten of Tasktop about his new book, Project to Product and how the Flow Framework can be applied to changing the way of working in organizations.  

Key Takeaways

  • The project model of software development is fundamentally broken
  • The management techniques which were invented in and needed for managing in the era of the industrial revolution are not applicable or useful in the era of software development
  • Most organizations’ rate of change in improving how they build software is so slow that they are unable to compete against any of the tech giants who choose to adopt a new market
  • The shift from projects to products enables organizations to realize more value and respond to top market changes quicker
  • The flow framework is a tool to help identify where to make changes based on finding the bottlenecks and releasing value in the system

Show Notes

  • 00:45 Introductions
  • 01:35 The problems and challenges of building software at scale
  • 01:48 The need for a new approach to how we manage software delivery in the large
  • 02:37 The project model of software development is fundamentally broken
  • 03:00 Exploring the work of Carlota Perez looking at the economic and societal impact of technological revolutions
  • 03:28 The management techniques which were invented in and needed for managing in the era of industrial revolution
  • 03:57 Organisations are still applying the same techniques today; the techniques needed for building bridges do not work for building software
  • 04:28 Align delivery to what customers pull, and customers pull products
  • 04:56 The disconnect is in the management approach, not in the ability to build products effectively
  • 05:15 Different vocabulary used by different groups in the organization
  • 05:46 We don’t have a common language between business leadership and technology leadership
  • 05:56 This isn’t a problem in startups and in the tech-giant organizations because they are driven by the technologists; this doesn’t apply in more traditional organisations
  • 06:25 We won’t bring the benefits from the age of software to the world until the traditional businesses become comfortable with the language of software
  • 06:58 We can’t afford to wait for the current generation of managers to retire – we must make concrete changes soon
  • 07:14 Two phases of technology adoption – phase 1 is the Installation period, which typically runs for around 50 years
  • 07:32 The age of software started 60 years ago, so we are coming to the end of that phase
  • 07:48 In this period there is an explosion of startups and capital chasing ideas
  • 08:18 The second phase is when the focus shifts from financial capital to production capital
  • 08:42 Once the shift is made, it is no longer possible for financial capital to compete with production capital
  • 09:02 The global economy is in the middle of the turning point from phase 1 to phase 2
  • 09:18 Companies that survive the turning point will be successful in the next phase
  • 09:38 In order to survive companies need to change their approach to the management of software delivery
  • 09:46 Currently there are only really five tech giants who are likely to survive the change
  • 10:08 The distance that the giants are ahead of the pack gives them an almost unassailable advantage
  • 10:25 It’s time to explore what the tech giants are doing from a people, process and structure perspective that is making them successful
  • 10:44 Most organizations’ rate of change in improving how they build software is so slow that they are unable to compete against any of the tech giants who choose to adopt a new market
  • 11:10 The new way of thinking has to be one that today’s leaders can apply, we can’t wait for them to retire
  • 11:43 There are ways of adapting and the adoption needs to be incremental
  • 12:10 The way that software investments are managed needs to start changing now – there is clear evidence that the current approach does not work
  • 12:32 By the time you have enough business school case studies showing it doesn’t work, it will have been too late
  • 13:07 The way IT organizations have been set up is not related to value delivery, it was about efficiency and utilization
  • 13:13 Digital transformation is happening, but they are happening on the wrong foundation
  • 13:31 Many of these digital transformations are still fundamentally project structured – it is time to change direction
  • 13:42 We are now starting to see some of the carnage of failed digital transformations undertaken on the wrong foundation
  • 14:35 The research which went into the book looking at 308 organizations
  • 15:02 We need a more direct mapping between the business and building software
  • 15:26 The bulk of the book is a framework to bridge the gap between business people and technologists
  • 15:35 The technologists have frameworks which work and can be applied to business problems
  • 16:03 Agile adoption has been focused on the high-touch software parts of the transformation and often neglected other areas of the value stream
  • 16:25 DevOps is an attempt to overcome some of the blockers that agile adoptions ignored
  • 16:52 The book recommends ways of structuring to delivering value more effectively
  • 17:14 Measuring the wrong things in agile transformation – it’s not about how many people are trained on Scrum
  • 17:38 The flow framework is about end-to-end metrics so you can find the real bottlenecks and remove them
  • 18:07 The tradeoffs that need to be made when choosing to build new features vs addressing technical debt
  • 18:38 The four flow items in the framework are Features, Defects, Risks and Debts and we need to make constant trade-off decisions across all four
  • 18:54 You need to look at these things as products from the business perspective and you need to measure how value flows so you can optimize for business outcomes
  • 19:56 The need to establish cross-functional teams with end-to-end product responsibility
  • 20:52 A digital innovator brings value to the market through digital products
  • 21:14 In the continuous flow environment what is being pulled by customers are useable features
  • 21:35 In order to achieve this, organizations need to consider product value streams which encompass multiple feature teams
  • 21:54 This requires engaging all the roles and areas responsible for value delivery across the whole organization
  • 22:25 How this played out when looking at employee engagement at Tasktop across value streams
  • 23:50 Advice for influencers who want to bring these ideas into their organizations – prove it in a single product and measure the flow across the whole value stream
  • 24:57 Correlate flow metrics to business results
  • 26:28 Show the results in ways that are meaningful to the business


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