Dev Talks 2015:   BlogThe need for Agile Product Management

The need for Agile Product Management

This article was written by Pej Javaheri, Business Unit Executive, Business Intelligence and Cloud Initiatives at IBM.

Recently I was talking with peers around the need for agile product management. When we usually refer to agile it’s focused on engineering, as it should, but not having an agile product management group is a big piece of the pie. There are several good books on this as well. These items are just a short list specific to agile which means you don’t substitute all the other items that are required (refer to Pragmatic Marketing framework – and if this is new to you, then I shamelessly plug them – more info here). This, along with Design Thinking, where critical as we developed and released Watson Analytics at the end of last year (and on going improvements). Best part was seeing engineering, product management, and design move at “agile” speed and address customer and market requirements. So just what is agile product management…

In an agile environment you still have to build / address the market requirements and demand. You are not building in a vacuum (nor foregoing a plan). The goal of agile is to provide a dynamic and collaborative environment that promotes adaptive planning and continuous improvement (amongst other benefits). The goal is not to listen to the market but rather be adaptive to market needs as you deliver products.

In order to this, product management must:

Research markets to identify profitable opportunities:

  • Launch products into the market as well as remove them
  • Is the champion for the product, the brand
  • Develops customer/partner relationships
  • Bridges all the various departments
  • Defines the requirements for being a market-driven product

Applying this to Agile, Product Management must

  • Prioritize the features and capabilities and be able to make tradeoffs with the overall product vision/strategy in mind
  • Is the authority on when and what is released to customers

How does this compare to the Product Owner in an Agile team (in some groups, product management and product owner are the same person)?

  • Product managers are responsible for the delivery of the features and will prioritize these to ensure product is market-worthy working closely with product owners who will provide guidance on features and feasibility.
  • Product owners focus on the technology and cost of feature implementation, and overall viability of the product backlog
  • Product managers focus on market/customer prioritization and viability of the overall product backlog.

Quick table that identifies core actions (modified from scale and agile framework):

Product Manager Responsibility Traditional/Waterfall Agile
Understanding customer/market need Time for planning, and then handoff to engineering Upfront planning/research with continuous interaction and validation of market needs
Defining requirements Stated in MRD or other format upfront High-level roadmap/vision set with key themes; continued validation per sprint/milestones with market and customers; prioritization of backlog per sprint; define requirements via stories and success criteria
Validate requirements Done after release of product or during “beta” where feedback is now delayed to next release. Continuous interactivity with stakeholders, through demos, frequent releases, engagement with customer/partners.
Prioritizing requirements Done every milestone Continuous interaction and prioritization of backlog with engineering and market/customers (come through via stakeholders)
Scheduling Set date many moons out Continuous roadmaping; can be delivered by date as big release or set of smaller releases. Aligned with GTM activities

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