Jim Shore’s recently made some observations about projects and products, James Shore: Successful Software.

Rather than thinking in terms of projects, I’ve come to prefer thinking about products and releases. Rather than talking about the project I’m working on and the tasks it involves, I’ll talk about the product and how it’s valuable. Rather than talking about deadlines, I’ll talk about releases.

I doubt companies will ever stop using the word “project”. I’ll play along. But when somebody says “project” and “deadline”, I’ll think “product” and “release”.

I like what he has to say about the lifecycle of software products: the initial release is often the start of the path rather than the end. I take a slightly different view than Jim on the choice of vocabulary (though I am tainted by ). My team works on a particular product. We release every two weeks. My business users, however, view large institutional changes as projects. For example, we’ve spent much of the last year working to bring about a big change in how information flows through the business. We’ve released useful pieces at least every 4 weeks. We released the bulk of the work months ago, and the business has been tweaking pieces of it since then.

The overall project is done. Another project iteration has begun. We’ve started and completed dozens of small projects during that time, and a few medium sized ones as well. All of these are improvements to the same product, and delivered using our release cycle.

Another influence in my use of the term project is the work of David Allen. His definition of a project (from Getting Things Done) is anything that takes two or more steps to complete. Using that definition, just about anything from a bug fix through a multi-year improvement to a product is deemed a project.

For working with others, I find that the business definition of project meets what most people expect and I find I can apply it well to my product and make progress toward the project through releases. For organizing my personal work, the GTD concept of project is flexible enough to handle the various things that come up.

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