Agile Product Management? Product Management is, by definition, agile.
What is product management?
Product Management in a revenue-producing software product company is responsible for market success of a product, from inception to end-of-life. This starts with voice-of-customer efforts, to find market problems that are urgent in nature and experienced by a large enough segment of customers who will pay to solve it. It includes identifying the relevant personas, and continues through the product lifecycle: inception, initial development, market release, through (hopefully) market adoption through maturity, and finally sunsetting.
Contrary to popular opinion, product management isn’t just new product development! The job requires a generalist with skills spanning finance, marketing, product marketing, sales, software design and project management. Many product professionals think of Steve Jobs, despite his flaws, as one of history’s great product managers. The profession isn’t mature yet, but it certainly is ambitious!
How did product management contribute to the need for agile?
Product managers have a wide spanning job. Over time, engineering teams felt starved of the attention of the one person whose vision was being built.
Big-up-front-requirements (BUFR) documents were an attempt to specify everything up front, but as a paradigm, failed to deliver results. One of the many reasons for failure was cost over-runs because of changed specifications. Product managers were changing their minds months into a development project because the world had changed. Product management was acting in an agile fashion, but the waterfall process prevented engineering from delivering. As I wrote in March of 2012, the business needs us to be agile, too. I also recommend a post by Roger Cauvin from 2009, in which he deftly asserted that “Agile is Not Just a Development Methodology.”
In 2012, startups have started throwing around a term called “Growth hacking.” I believe this term refers to what product managers should actually be doing. This happens to correspond to what product managers no longer do, due to their recent morphing into agile product owners. As product owners, they’re focused on defining the product in (excruciating) detail on an ongoing basis, and being available for clarification at all times.
Over time, this leaves little time to think big picture, or to properly understand the market. A single person who understands the whole picture is ideal to deliver the first version of a product to market. Once a product is delivered to live customers, however, the product ownership and product management responsibilities need to be split sooner rather than later.
Market Facing Product Management
The product manager has immense responsibilities across the business in a commercial product company.
The product manager must understand the market, not just single buyers. This may result in new product inception or enhancement ideas / feature requests, to drive revenue on his/her product through the ongoing effort of prioritization. They write business cases to obtain needed resources. They have to balance the iron triangle, consisting of cost vs. time-to-market vs. feature set, to deliver quality. They try to avoid the risk of releasing a minimum sellable product, pushing for delivery of minimum viable product.
They set the vision for the product or portfolio of products, as tangibly as possible, and manage efforts to sell the vision of the products to come as well as the product that already exists. They participate in demos and sales calls and work with sales engineering extensively to ensure value proposition is portrayed, prospect insights are captured, and the proper prospect and client expectations are set.
Internal Facing Product Management
Product managers manage executives and their expectations. They may manage a team of product managers, product owners and/or business analysts, and interaction designers in the context of an agile enterprise. They balance the short term vs. long term, including defect fixes, implementation gaps, and features the sales team feels pressured to promise in order to deliver more sales. They pay special attention to implementation gaps because those often impact revenue recognition.
They keep internal teams coordinated, in particular the sales team with regards to the intermediate term roadmap, and the implementations teams with regard to recently released features and features about to be released. They solicit input from prospects, directly from current clients, indirectly from implementations teams.
Product managers consider risks: business risks, technical risks and cost/schedule risks.
They may need to drive marketing and positioning that cuts across individual products in a portfolio to deliver targeted solutions composed of bits of several. John Mansour of Proficientz speaks frequently about “Product Silos” and encourages companies to think more holistically. The folks at Innovation Games advocate the “Whole Product Game” which may help think beyond Mansour’s silos. The key objective is to ensure a company doesn’t simply sell widgets, but sells the solution to the problem the widget addresses.
TL;DR: There’s nothing to it!
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