Kicking Off a Greenfield Project: What Product Managers Need to Know

Annie Dunham
Former VP of Product Management at ProductPlan


Kicking off a greenfield project can be one of the most challenging tasks a product manager ever faces. Greenfield projects present different risks from other types of product development. Bringing these products to market requires a different strategic approach. And the process can be downright scary.

I’ll walk you through a few strategies I’ve found work well for turning a greenfield project into a successful product.

What Is a Greenfield Project?

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about this concept.

The term greenfield gets its name from the construction industry. It describes a project that builders will be starting from scratch. That is, they’ll be building on a green field with no infrastructure already in place. Adding a science lab to an existing college campus, by contrast, would be a brownfield project.

In product management, greenfield projects refer to products developed entirely from scratch. For software companies, this would mean that the solution your team plans to kick off does not have:

  • Existing codebase for the development team to build on.
  • Current user base to leverage for usage statistics and feedback.
  • Market history to estimate adoption rates, revenue, or customer lifetime value.
  • Company familiarity with the value proposition or user personas.
  • Constraints on how to proceed (which might be the most challenging aspect).

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There’s Greenfield, and Then There’s Greenfield

There’s a spectrum in terms of how green the field is among these projects. For example, a product idea might be new to the company thinking about building it but already available from a competitor.

Then there are projects where the concept itself is new to the market (think Uber a decade ago). The truth is, any greenfield project is going to be challenging. But for a product concept that doesn’t have a comparable on the market, you’ll find even more obstacles.

From this point on, let’s use the latter definition of greenfield. Imagine your team wants to build a product that is genuinely new to the market, has no direct competitor, and which your target users don’t even know they’re missing.

Let’s start with an example of such a product idea. Then we’ll walk through a few strategic steps that can increase your chances of market success with this greenfield project.

Hypothetical Greenfield Product: A Chat-based Hiring App

First, let me briefly discuss the difference between a brownfield project and a greenfield project. An online job site that decides to build an instant-messaging feature into its platform is creating a brownfield project. The company already runs a job site with a wealth of usage data. And they can work with existing users to validate the idea of adding a chat feature.

But let’s assume that’s not your situation. Instead, imagine your company is a startup. And you want to create a brand-new hiring app built as an AI-based chat platform. You’ll be creating the solution from the ground up. Since there are no other chat apps on the market that connects job seekers and hiring managers—you have a true greenfield project.

How the heck are you going to pull this off? Here are a few thoughts.

1. Prepare to spend months on research.

Because you are starting literally from scratch with this idea, your team will need to front-load your research work.

With no competitive chat-based hiring apps to investigate, you’ll need to get creative. Your research might involve activities such as:

  • Talking with representatives of each of the app’s personas: job seekers, recruiters, company founders, department leaders, and HR managers.
  • Learning from these key personas about their current hiring processes. Find out what tools these people use today. Understand how those tools help and where they fall short. Know where these personas struggle in the process, and what solutions they wish they had. The more information you gather, the better.
  • Validating your idea with your key personas. Note: Market validation is more than your focus group liking the idea of an AI-based chat app for hiring. They also need to confirm that they would be willing to pay to use it.
  • Investigating other business areas to discover if any of these areas have successfully improved their processes by using messaging. The investigation could give your team a sense of the workflow improvements that your app can offer the industry.
  • Researching the existing online job sites and other digital tools used to connect candidates and recruiters. Here, you’ll want to learn whether these platforms use messaging in any way. If so, need to find out how people use these tools and how they affect the hiring process.

2. Start educating your market on the problem.

Let’s say you’ve confirmed with your personas that there’s a market out there for your app. You’re confident you’ve hit on an ingenious idea that’s going to cause an earthquake in the recruiting industry.

That’s great. You’ll need to maintain that enthusiasm and share it across your company. But you also need to remember that nobody cares outside the walls of your organization. Nobody knows your product is on the way. And because the market has never introduced such an app to them, your personas don’t feel like they’re missing anything.

Education is a critical component of thought leadership.

Because you are building this app from scratch, you can anticipate a longer timeframe for the initial development. Your product and marketing teams can use this time wisely to create content discussing the problems your personas face today.

Start a public conversation about the many drawbacks

Again, you’ll be facing a similar challenge here in terms of being able to show direct data. You can’t demonstrate that chat-based recruiting tools speed hiring time by XX days. Or that it reduces the number of interviews required to fill a job by XX%. That data doesn’t exist yet.

But you can plant the seed in your future customers’ minds about the inefficiencies they’re living with today. You can base your claim on the existing apps available to customers. For example, you might be able to find data showing:

  • Most hiring managers and job seekers feel unsatisfied with the traditional job interview format. Both sides wish they could engage the other using less formal communication.
  • The average time to hire using traditional online job sites is XX days. It is XX% longer than recruiters would prefer.
  • The average number of interviews per hire is X, which is XX% more than recruiters would prefer.
  • HR managers say that the hiring process consumes XX% of a typical hiring manager’s time.

3. Share the vision with your company, and evangelize the heck out of it.

Your coworkers won’t know why your product team is bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm, either. So you’ll need to persuade them to start bouncing too.

You will need to spread your enthusiasm across the company—and you need to start right away. For example, you’ll want to:

  • Make sure your engineering team understands the app’s objectives, use cases, and value proposition. Engineering is a true strategic partner as they build from scratch. Product and Engineering can work side by side on all coding decisions. The more your engineers can envision the power of this product, the better decisions they will make.
  • Walk your marketing and sales teams through your strategic vision for the app. At this greenfield stage, your plans and ideas are all abstractions. You need to help your marketing team understand the value proposition and market opportunity. Without that information, marketing can’t do its best work.
  • Make your evangelism an ongoing project.

Remember, bringing your greenfield project to market will take many months. Therefore, you need to keep the momentum and enthusiasm levels high for as much of that period as you can. You must encourage ongoing communication. You need to regularly check in with each team. And most importantly, you need to share all insights that show this new app will be awesome.

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