Newcomers to the software development world often use the words “software project” and “software product” interchangeably. This is a big mistake. 

It isn’t just the tech sector’s desire to be precise (though we are really into being precise) calling out the difference. The two words – project and a product – each connote an entirely different approach to and aspect of software creation. Not acknowledging and understanding that gap could be the make-or-break factor between software success or failure.

What is a Software Project vs. Product?

Software projects are the sum of the steps and actions taken to make a product.

Software products are the deliverables created during the software project and served to the market to fulfill a want or need or solve a problem.

Projects are constrained by a preset timeline and a predefined deliverable. 

Products are continually evolving. A product is born from a project (or a series of projects) and each evolution will occur as a result of another project.

Projects are over when they are over. They’re a temporary undertaking focused on an objective.

Products have entire life cycles. They are ideated, developed, launched, altered, relaunched, and even retired.

Projects are focused on doing. The goal is to arrive at perfect final execution.

Products are focused on thinking and creating. The goal is to innovate and create a minimum lovable product (more on that later).

Who’s Who Matters with Managers

Project Managers and Product Managers are also not people you want to confuse or conflate. These are two entirely separate roles, and often, the right person for one role would not be the right person for the other.

Product Managers guide their team from idea conception with countless unknowns to a launched product and then beyond into testing, market response, and updates. Product Managers must be able to cultivate a long-range view of the product, its current and future role in the market and its path of evolution. Product Managers own the success of a product throughout the entire product lifecycle.

Project Managers are responsible for seeing through the successful completion of a project within the timeline and budget. They follow a project roadmap and oversee the development team, manage numerous parties to ensure the proper allocation of resources, and mitigate risk. Project Managers have to walk the tightrope of time, cost, and quality finding the best way to adjust each in the face of changes.

What Should Founders Focus On: Product or Project?

The short answer is: don’t neglect either.

Although projects and products function as a continuum of one another, founders, especially in the early stages of ideation and development, should be focused on the software product and how it will fare on the market while being aware of how it’s being built in the software project.

Both Product Managers and Project Managers report to the executive team, so you can oversee the whole project and ensure that decisions are being made that support the business objectives.

If you want to increase your chances of success – success being defined as creating a product that users adopt and adore – you need to build an innovative product by way of a series of well-executed projects.

This is where ENO8 takes a stand for minimum lovable product (MLP) standards. If you’ve been around a tech team, you’ve likely heard MVP thrown around a lot. An MVP, or minimum viable product, is a product with just enough features to attract just enough users to get just enough validation for the product idea. It’s a facet of the Lean methodology, introduced by Eric Reis. 

By creating and releasing an MVP, a company can test a minimum product to users and draw from their reaction and feedback to determine if the product is on-course for success – all without fully developing the product.

It seems like a great idea. However, ENO8 believes if you’re going to do something, do it right.

Most Lovable Product

Doing it right, in our book, means creating a minimum lovable product (MLP). We don’t want the end users to simply say, “Sure, okay, for now.” End users should have heart-eyes-emojis where their heads used to be, because they are so enamored with your software product. That’s the minimum standard we have here at ENO8. It’s served us as we’ve built hundreds of products for clients in countless industries 

Remind yourself and your team that you are creating a product that will one day hike up its britches, pick up its briefcase and march into a cacophony of boos or cheers. This way, you can be sure to prioritize the end user throughout the build process and support your product team to do the same. As for your project team? The greatest gift you can give them is a clear-eyed founder who can communicate the vision in a way that translates easily into executable software projects. You’ve got this.

Or, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’ve got you!

If there was a motherland for both Project Managers and Product Managers, it would be our Innovation Lab. In the Lab, we dig deep in discovery, run experiments, and develop a prototype so that Product and Project teams have the clarity and roadmap they need to be wildly effective.



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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and co-founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff and his business partner, Rishi Khanna, created ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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