tetris from dice

Products, Projects, and Programs

When you think about the end result, these are three very different things.

A Product…

Is something people use or experience.

A Project…

is something you complete.

A Program…

is a series of steps and milestones that you work through to achieve an outcome.

What’s interesting is that you need the same foundational set of skills to figure out how to create, complete, or structure any of these things.

Attention to detail

Goal definition

Cross-functional collaboration

Milestone identification

Clear communication

Problem solving

Requirements definition

Stakeholder alignment

Consistently track progress

Expectation management


Process design

Structure and prioritization of tasks

The ability to unblock teams


The Most Relevant Experience

Most companies look for people who have X years of experience doing one of these things. The idea is that over a certain period of time in a specific role, a person is more likely to have built up the muscle memory needed to do the primary functions of the job well.

While that is a pretty safe way to prequalify people for one of these jobs, I wouldn’t say it’s a smart way to do it. Here’s why:

  • People who spend too much time in a very specific role are more likely to get comfortable operating in specific swim lanes. This tends to dull the individuals ability to step up as a leader or step in as a problem solver.
  • People who operate in a very specific function can also become comfortable solving the same types of problems and lose some of their ability to adapt and take on new and unique challenges.
  • A great leader should be able to shape a solution that is not limited to a specific strategy or format. To effectively solve a problem or reach a goal, an organization will likely need to tap into all of these things, and it’s a little silly to need three different “managers” to execute that solution.

Let’s be real. Product work tends to be shaped into smaller projects. Long-running product engagement and activation initiatives might end up looking like programs. Programs require some serious upfront project planning and more agile product-like iteration.

The most impressive people I have ever worked with pull together the tools, methodologies, and philosophies needed to execute effectively. They let their experiences build on each other to make them more adaptable and agile — which makes them infinitely more valuable to any business/org.

I’ve been fortunate to have a wide range of experience with different products, platforms, and programs. I’ve worked through discovery to figure out what we’re building or how we’re solving a problem and I’ve been pulled in to course-correct projects that were over budget and blowing past deadlines. I’ve been hyperfocused on specific experiences within a product, and I’ve had the chance to take comprehensive ownership of the end-to-end experience.

Rather than thinking about the specific role that needs to be filled, I suggest we all start thinking about the types of problems we need to solve and looking for the people who are best-equipped to solve them.

I’m currently looking for my “next thing” and I’ve been reminded that the entire talent acquisition system is still a little antiquated.

I came across a post this morning that suggested creating a career portfolio over a resumé and I like that idea enough that I might just put one together this week.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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