In the swiftly evolving world of digital transformation, software development stands as a cornerstone, enabling businesses across various sectors to innovate and thrive. Notably, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the software industry are at the forefront of this transformation, contributing significantly to the technological advancements shaping our digital landscape. In Germany alone, there are approximately 80,000 software and IT-service companies with revenues under €1 million, highlighting the sector’s vastness and its competitive nature.

However, these SMEs face a myriad of challenges, including fierce global competition, the rapid proliferation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, and the constant battle for talent. Moreover, trends such as the increasing adoption of No-Code / Low-Code platforms and the integration of artificial intelligence in software development are redefining the industry’s boundaries and expectations.

In this competitive and fast-paced environment, service productization emerges as a strategic response for SMEs seeking sustainability and growth. Service productization involves transforming bespoke, project-based services into standardized, scalable offerings. This transition not only enhances operational efficiency and profitability but also enables companies to carve out distinct market niches, providing clear value propositions to their target customers.

While the agility and innovative capacity of SMEs provide them with a unique advantage in adapting to niche markets or offering specialized services, the transition to a service productization oriented business model entails significant organizational change. This change encompasses shifts in leadership behavior, organizational focus, and company culture, making the journey towards service productization a complex one.

A valued colleague of mine, Bernhard Pfleger, wrote his MBA master thesis about exactly that subject: “What are Common Challenges and Critical Success Factors for Service-Productization in Small and Medium Sized Software Companies with Regard to Leadership and Managing Cultural Change?”. Bernhard Pfleger (LinkedIn-Profile: Click HERE) is managing director of the IT Services Company “Codelab” (Website: within Beta Systems Group.

The thesis explores how leadership styles and behaviors influence the productization journey, the leadership challenges encountered, and the impact of service productization on company culture. Moreover, it provides insights into managing the cultural transformation accompanying service productization. The journey towards service productization is heavily influenced by leadership. The role of leaders is pivotal in navigating the complexities of this transition, from conceptualization to implementation. Transformational leadership, characterized by idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration, is particularly relevant in this context. Leaders who embody these qualities can effectively inspire their teams, foster innovation, and support individual growth, thereby facilitating a smoother transition to a product-based business model.

The transition to a product-based model also necessitates a significant cultural shift within the organization. The study explores this aspect through the lens of the Competing Values Framework (CVF) and the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), providing insights into the evolving dynamics of organizational culture in the context of productization.

The Competing Value Framework (CVF) uses two main dimensions to map organizational culture:
1. Flexibility and Discretion vs. Stability and Control
2. Internal Focus and Integration vs. External Focus and Differentiation

Based on these two dimensions this results in four archetypical cultures, which they also linked to factors like orientation, leader type and theory of effectiveness:

The OCAI was developed by Professors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan. It is based on the competing value framework (CVF). This instrument is a research-based diagnostic tool, which helps to assess and document an organization’s culture while aiming to help leaders to understand and formalize the shared values, beliefs and operating principles. The purpose of the OCAI is to assess key dimensions of an organizational culture:

A notable finding from the research is the predominant presence of a clan culture within SMEs, characterized by a family-like work environment, collaboration, and teamwork. However, as companies embark on the service productization journey, there’s a noticeable shift towards adhocracy and market cultures, emphasizing innovation, risk-taking, and competitiveness. Additionally, some companies experience a movement towards a more hierarchical culture, necessitating formalized processes and structures to support the standardized service offerings.

The findings reveal a complex picture of adaptation and change. While the core values of collaboration and teamwork remain intact, there’s a clear movement towards embracing innovation, results-orientation, and a more structured approach to service delivery. This evolution reflects the broader industry trends and the inherent demands of transitioning to a product-based model.


The author is a manager in the software industry with international expertise: Authorized officer at one of the large consulting firms - Responsible for setting up an IT development center at the Bangalore offshore location - Director M&A at a software company in Berlin.