Product Development vs. Project Management — How Associations Can Do Both Effectively

Product Development vs. Project Management — How Associations Can Do Both Effectively
Light bulbs and gears representing product development and project management

Product development and project management are both distinct, essential functions that associations need to advance and evolve their business. Both processes require their own time and resources, but associations face constraints that limit progress and growth.

The Challenge

Here is an example: let’s say that an association director is tasked with developing this year’s new virtual courses and education modules to populate the learning management system (LMS). To create effective educational materials, she must:

  • Identify the target audience(s)
  • Confirm each audience’s needs and challenges
  • Create and structure educational courses that address those needs
  • Evaluate market competition and available alternatives
  • Conduct pricing research and evaluation
  • Recruit subject-matter experts and speakers
  • Work with internal staff to implement the LMS and registration system
  • Develop and implement the marketing campaign(s)
  • Collect feedback from customers/users
  • Repeat this process as needed to meet revenue and registration goals

So, what is her job? Is it to develop and manage the product, or is it to manage its implementation? It is both.

Therefore, she must determine the target audience and its needs, develop the product(s) to address those needs, overcome any challenges, coordinate implementation, and help market and sell it.

That’s a lot to accomplish.

Product development vs. project management

 All of these tasks fall under two functional areas:

Chart showing Product Development vs. Project Management

Table describing difference between product management and product development

Often, associations cannot allocate independent resources, time or money to product development and management. Due to these constraints, the director may have to use old research and rely on member volunteers to fill the product development gap. Further, the director doesn’t have extra support staff, so she prioritizes getting the new education content “out the door.”

There is a better way to do BOTH product development and project management.

How to do it all

While the association might deliver the new product or service, it may miss out on a more significant opportunity. To accomplish both product development and project management bliss, here are some ideas on how to get it all done:

  1. Don’t underestimate project management and implementation — It always takes longer to implement a product or service than we estimate. Therefore, to ensure your organization is optimized, speak with your staff members and record how long it takes to implement a program or service. Review time logs for “management” hours or start tracking time on specific products and services. This data could be essential to determine if efficiencies can be implemented, if more support resources should be added, or if other functions should be outsourced.
  2. Outsource some (or all) researchResearch doesn’t have to be quantitative or laborious. At the very least, try to interview 5-10 individuals from your target audience or conduct some secondary research. If you don’t have the time to conduct interviews and gather insights, outsource this responsibility to another individual or firm. These insights are essential for creating compelling products and solutions.
  3. Give product development and management time and space — Review your staff’s job roles and responsibilities, and make sure that what you are asking them to do is realistic. If you need to create more time for product development and management, how can you support them with more project management and implementation resources? Or, if staff want to focus on implementation, what staff and resources can you dedicate to developing new products and services? What can you outsource?
  4. Jumpstart your product development and management — If you need help or assistance to get your product development up and running, consider conducting staff training, holding coaching sessions or outsourcing. Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Hiring a firm to help can infuse your organization with additional education and a valuable outside perspective.

Remember, product development and management are exercises in saving time and money and improving your chances of success. While it might seem like you are “slowing down,” you’re actually ensuring success for the future.

Learn more

For more information on association product development and management services, please contact us and read our previous blog posts on the topic:

Learn more about our product development and management services.