You can’t change an IT system without investing in time, money and resources. If your change exceeds the maintenance budget of the system, most companies require you to start a project to raise the necessary funds. In a typical company, project budgets are allocated on a year by year basis. This means that on average, it will take you six months before you can start on your change. And then we did not even mention the politics of competing projects and the bureaucracy of getting your project defined, approved and started.

The continuous nature of product development conflicts with the limited lifetime of a project

The nature of a project is that it has a clear deliverable and an end date.  After the end date, the project is completed and its team disbanded.  However, a system requires continuous improvement in order to provide a competitive advantage to the company.  There is a mismatch between the two concepts: projects have a discrete nature, while improvement requires a continuous approach.

Project managers focus on scope rather than value. This is a logical result of the discrete nature of projects: the task of a project manager task is to finish a defined amount of work before the project ends. They tend to sacrifice features and qualities in favor of meeting the deadline and staying within budget.

After a requirement is placed out of scope, it is unlikely that the requirement will ever be fulfilled, unless a new project is started. Business owners know this mechanism and try to avoid missing functionality by pushing as many feature requests as possible into the project. When your business owner has a large budget, the scope explodes beyond what is practically manageable.

Focus on Products rather than Projects

Business goals don’t end when a project ends. So rather than setting up a large project, you want a continuous flow of money to gradually improve your product or service, responding to customer feedback.

Budget flow is treated like water from a tap which you can control, rather than large barrels of water all at once. Small companies work with limited budgets. Rather than deciding on a fixed large budget every year, small decisions are made every day, depending on how well the company or a specific product is doing right now. Budgeting is continuously adjusted to market feedback and new insights.

In the continuous process of product development, prioritization is more important than planning. This is not to say that there is no planning anymore. However, there is more focus on building the right thing than on building the thing we planned to build. The steering factor here is business value.

This post is part of a series on Continuous Delivery. Please see our tag Continuous Delivery for more posts on this subject. Or check our Continuous Delivery website to learn how Xebia's consultants can help you improve your time to market, reduce costs and improve quality using Continuous Delivery best practices.