It was the summer of 2016. I was working at India’s one of the biggest fashion ecommerce companies and had come back from a vacation after a big product launch. I knew I would be given a new responsibility — a new product.
“Aniket, I have sent a meeting invite for tomorrow about a new product that you can lead. Let’s have a chat.” My manager said to me on the first day of my return. I didn’t know what to expect. All of the current products had a product manager.
“So, we have a new greenfield product: brand stores. Would you like to work on it?” My manager and I discussed the product, the users, the problems, and more for that entire week. This was the very first greenfield product I worked on as a product manager. And it was surely one of the most exciting ones as well.
In this blog, we’ll learn all about greenfield projects and I’ll share the lessons I learned along the way.
In the software world, a greenfield project refers to a project that does not have any existing infrastructure or legacy systems. It’s essentially a project built from scratch.
The word “greenfield” is a reference to greenfield lands in real estate that are completely untouched by any previous construction. This kind of project gives a blank slate to creators. In the software world, these creators are engineers, product managers, designers, marketers, and sales personnel.
In the context of software companies, a greenfield project could be a new idea developed in an unexplored market. For example, Uber’s creation of an online taxi marketplace. Another example is a completely new offering of service or a product from the company, like Apple launching solar panels to help people save electricity.
A greenfield project’s direct contrast is a brownfield project, which involves making improvements or modifications to the current project. An example could be the recent release of iOS 16.3.1. It has a long list of modifications to current features, as well as some new features that were added.
There are some very beneficial features of greenfield projects, including:
As with any benefits, there are also disadvantages and drawbacks. For greenfield projects, the main ones are:
A greenfield project has five stages:
Let’s explain each stage in more detail below.
The hardest part of leading a greenfield project as a product manager is the kick-off and defining the initial project scope. Unlike a brownfield project, there is no starting point or reference. Should we start with engineering or design? What should the MVP be? How do we bring all the stakeholders together?
Here’s what I did as a product manager back when I led a greenfield project:
At the end of the month, we were able to come up with a plan. This plan included:
Market research is one of the most interesting phases of a greenfield project, primarily because there is no data readily available for the teams to work on. Unlike in a brownfield project, teams don’t have data to go off of and are starting from scratch.
This makes market research a bit more challenging. Here are a few ways to conduct market research and come up with insights that can help in the decision-making of a greenfield project:
A product roadmap helps teams get a clear understanding of what to deliver and when. In a greenfield project, this is an important tool to deliver solutions. Here are a few pointers that will help you, as a product manager, build an achievable product roadmap.
This is an extremely important part of the success of the product. There needs to be a balance of frontend engineers, backend engineers, and designers depending on the product. And understanding the team’s expertise, skills, and interests will help them have clarity of their responsibilities and foster strong communication and collaboration.
This part of the roadmap is particularly challenging because there are multiple variables and uncertainties involved in a greenfield project. This is why it’s important to understand the scope of the project and key milestones, come up with a realistic estimation of the work, and continuously review and adjust the timeline. It’s important to be agile for a greenfield project.
This is the backbone of the entire phase. Ideally, it should be connected with the bigger vision of the product and the problem it’s solving. There are multiple frameworks available to prioritize the features such as Kano, story mapping, the MoSCoW method, opportunity scoring, product tree, or cost of delay. There’s also the ability to come up with a new framework. The most important goal is to prioritize the features so the team can deliver the highest-value feature in the shortest available time.
The allocation of resources for a project requires having a strong understanding of the costs. And how do you estimate that? A few pointers to consider while estimating the cost of a resource are salaries, equipment costs, software licenses, training expenses, travel costs, and anything else that a team member would need to successfully participate. Use this information to create a realistic budget, include potential risks or uncertainties, and allow a buffer.
The logical next step after the allocation of resources and determining the budget is the implementation phase. This is where all the teams come together and start working on the project. For this to happen, you need to develop a project plan, manage the deliverable, and monitor the progress.
A project plan includes a timeline of the respective deliverables and who’s working on them. There are multiple tools available in the market for building this plan, such as Jira, Monday.com, Trello, and Zoho to name a few. This plan also helps to understand any dependencies that the project might have and acts as a single source of truth for everyone.
This is the phase where the teams work together to implement the deliverables. The product manager needs to have an overview of the status of every deliverable. One of the effective ways to do this is to schedule a daily 15-minute standup with the team to share updates and more importantly any blockers they are facing.
In case of blockers, the product manager needs to act on them quickly so that no team members are blocked and the project functions smoothly per the initial project plan. In case the blocker is not solved for some reason, the project plan should be updated and the details should be communicated to all the relevant stakeholders.
This is ideally the last part of a greenfield project, where the product is launched to customers. But only launching a product won’t help, there needs to be marketing of the product for the customers to get to know about it. There are multiple avenues for marketing, including word of mouth, paid advertising, and content marketing. It highly depends on what the product is.
Once the product is on the market, you will receive feedback. And it is important to understand the feedback to come up with improvements and modifications. This may involve making changes to the design, features, or marketing strategy.
Last but not least, as a product manager, it’s important to understand the scaling aspect of the product to meet market demand. Considering that there is positive feedback from the customers and they are willing to pay for the service, there should be a plan in place to scale the product to other customers. This will require continuous monitoring of the KPIs and insights from the data.
Overall, a greenfield project is a daunting task. The beauty of it is that it provides an exciting opportunity for a product manager and the entire team to create something from scratch. It’s a blank canvas that can be converted into a beautiful painting with carefully selected colors.
Having a strong project management process in place, along with a skilled team and effective communication with stakeholders, can help ensure success.
Featured image source: IconScout
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