Product Management is Agile already
When it comes to building and marketing business solutions, as a former VP that I reported to used to say, “we’re not building software as part of a science project. We’re in this for the profit.” The business doesn’t care whether you’re agile or waterfall, as long as that return is delivered.
That ROI can only be delivered by creating (in Pragmatic Marketing’s terms) a compelling solution to a pervasive market problem that buyers are willing to pay to solve. Lean Startup refers to “product-market fit,” which ensures that you have a market problem buyers will pay to solve, and that the solution you are delivering is the one that will capture the market. That fit isn’t present until your users can’t live without the product. Marty Cagan states that such a fit can only be achieved by imagining a solution in tandem with a designer and a technologist, and then iterating based upon real customer input. Some call this “customer development.” Others call it being Agile. Agility is in product management DNA, and by far is NOT simply a more adaptive project management framework.
The Increasing Importance of UX in B2B
B2B products have traditionally focused less on design than B2C. As the industry matures, consumer expectations have been raised by revolutionary User Experience (UX) in products like the iPhone. The result is that startups in B2B will overtake established companies if they don’t invest more in UX, because users will be less tolerant of average UX. Enterprise software can’t continue to underwhelm–so product managers can’t hand design over to engineering and ignore design. A cloud startup with good UX can easily displace an entrenched client-server product–look at Salesforce!
Product Management Must Participate in the Solution Space
Product managers are traditionally owners of the problem space, but they need to play an active role in the solution space also to achieve optimal product-market fit. By ensuring thoughtful, user-centered design, the solution can be as good as the definition of the problem. Agility is a product development approach that helps get to product-market fit faster, which is what Greg Cohen and others call Lean Product Management.
It is not enough for product managers to throw a PRD or MRD over the wall to engineering after passing the relevant gate, and for engineering to begin developing the product in two-week iterations. That’s not agile! The business needs product management to be agile, too. If your engineering team is iterating but you haven’t validated that the solution is the right one, why are you still building something you haven’t confirmed the market will purchase?
Don’t Stop…Thinking About Customers
Product Management should be bringing new market insights on a regular basis both before and during construction. Product Management leaders should track how frequently backlogs change. Markets change; customer visits reveal new insights. If a backlog is too static, the product manager may not be getting enough input! Certainly the top of the backlog, the most important items, should be relatively solid. Anything below them is fair game for perpetual re-evaluation. It’s the product manager’s responsibility to continually re-evaluate–or in scrum parlance, groom the backlog.
Product managers should think Lean Startup: Work towards MVP using prototypes [Build], get user feedback [Measure], and adapt [Learn] to achieve optimal product-market fit. Once released, each subsequent major enhancement should go through the same cycle–prototype, get real user feedback, finalize. Don’t just play product owner, sitting in the scrum room to shepherd your static backlog through the development process. Be agile!