I already wrote about the difference between product management and project management but I believe there’s room to go a bit deeper on the differences between product and project. So, a quick remembering of the definitions of product and project:
A project in business and science is usually defined as a collaborative venture, often involving research or design, that is carefully designed to achieve a particular goal.
The term product is defined as “something produced by work or effort” or as “the result of an act or process” and has its origin in the Latin verb produce(re), ‘make exist’.
That is, while the project is a process with a beginning, and an end; the product is the result of a process.
The above definitions can be expanded to help understand a bit more the differences:
To help us better understand these differences, I’ll provide one example from the tech world and two analogies from our daily lives.
And now the two analogies from our daily lives to help illustrate the difference between project and product::
Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why” and “Leaders Eat Last”, launched in 2019 a very interesting book called “The Infinite Game” where he built on top of the argument from the classic book “Finite and Infinite Games”, by James P. Carse, an American academic who was Professor Emeritus of history and literature of religion at New York University. In his book, Carse explains that while a finite game has an end and a clear winner, like sports, politics, and war, infinite games, like our life, cities, countries, carreer, are those activities that has no clear and defined end and not necessarily a winner. According to Carse:
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
Sinek “started to see that many of the struggles that organizations face exist simply because their leaders were playing with a finite mindset in a game that has no end. The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations.”
It’s easy to see that projects are finite games while products are infinite games.
When I’m asked about the difference between a project and a product, I’ve been using the two analogies above, apartment building and marriage to help illustrate these concepts, with good feedback. Hopefully now that I was able to write down these concepts and analogies, they can help more people.
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