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Project to Product

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book cover image and link to amazon

Overall, this was a powerful book which teaches a new way to think about how work gets done in organizations. Mik often references a career-altering trip to the BMW factory in Germany. He talks about how they've made huge leaps in improvements in their digital and software thinking by learning and adapting manufacturing methods.

You can find many examples of top tier manufacturing. In many ways, this is a solved problem. Lean, Toyota Systems, Kanban, and other powerful systems have been implemented to nearly perfect levels with so many books and examples available. It seems, however, that we're only just now starting to see how all that can apply to creating digital products and software.

Flow Framework

In this book, the author explains a framework to think through this process. As you work through it, you realize he isn't presenting anything entirely new, just offering a fresh perspective. He calls this system the Flow Framework.

CAUTION

The author owns a company that sells both consulting services in this area and a software tool to streamline framework implementation. There's a sales pitch involved, but I also found value in the overall vision.

As part of the process, you create a fairly traditional value stream map of your part of the business. You identify your "widget" and determine the single unit of work your team handles. In a factory, this might be a single car; in software development, a user story; in engineering, a vibration analysis. You then track each unit as it moves through the value stream.

The author introduces four "Flow Metrics" for measurement and reporting. These metrics help you identify flow bottlenecks, similar to their use in factories.

flow image

Work Labels

Another extremely useful concept we implemented immediately is the author's labeling system. It uses four MECE (Mutually Exclusive & Comprehensively Exhaustive) labels. Simply put, each work item gets one, and only one, of these labels:

  • Risk: Work that prevents future value delivery.
  • Debt: Work that enables better future value delivery.
  • Feature: New value added.
  • Fix: Correcting mistakes or issues in previously delivered value.

We've found these four labels to be exceptionally powerful and useful. Following the author's guidelines, you can plot the volume of each work type to understand your value stream's health.

For example, if you focus exclusively on features, you'll eventually slow down due to accumulated technical debt. If you're constantly fixing things, your processes are broken, and you should slow down to address the debt and improve your processes.

TIP

The concept of MECE is powerful, and we've applied it successfully in other areas of our business. The idea of "Mutually Exclusive & Comprehensively Exhaustive" has broader applications than you might initially think.

Sliced Pie

This framework has been immensely helpful. I highly recommend this book.