I like to think you can simplify the building of products in our industry into the management of four things: people, projects, process and content. The people are the engineers, designers and product managers who produce the product. The projects are the initiatives being executed in support of the creation of a product. The process is the method by which the product is produced. And the content is the features and functions that go into the product.
Different people in our profession place different values on people, projects, process and content. At Dell I met some great people managers who cared deeply about their staff, placed less value on projects and process, and felt content was for someone else to manage. At Sonian I had a team of functional programmers that valued the process by which they developed their software over the actual projects and content. And in various places over the years, I have met program managers for whom projects and process trumped everything else, as though prescriptive execution of Scrum or another methodology would solve all product ills.
For me, it’s always been about the content. While I have seen great products built with poorly managed projects and process, I have never seen a great product built without great content (and at least a few great people). And it should come as no surprise that one of the attributes that separates good from great people in our profession is their expertise at managing the content. As a result, my list of great people with whom I have worked is exclusively populated with professionals that are experts in managing the content that goes into their products.
Customers buy products because of the content - not the process or projects that went into its delivery. It is the content that delights them, and the content that makes them recommend the product to friends and colleagues. Successful startups may have great sales and marketing engines - but they almost always have great products.
While you should always seek to build your products with great project and process execution, don't ever forget: it’s all about the content.