Product Management and Agile Development Process

Engineering teams at more and more companies are using some form of Agile development process. I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the internet on how Product Management (PM) teams can adapt to this Agile world.

PM teams at a lot of companies use our requirements software – so I also get questions from our customers about how best their product managers can work with their Agile development teams.

In this post, I’d like to share my evolving thoughts on this topic.

BTW – One of the questions that is often discussed on this topic is:

How can Product Management teams follow Agile process?

I believe this is the wrong question! I will explain why in this post too.

Agile is a Development Process

First things first. Let us review what exactly “Agile” is. As explained at the Agile Manifesto website, “Agile” is about “better ways of developing software” (emphasis mine).

Agile manifesto includes 4 items:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Development teams following various Agile processes (such as Scrum, XP, etc) follow this manifesto to develop software in a better way.

Product Management is NOT a Development Process

While “Agile” is a development process – “Product Management” is not a development process. While product managers (PMs) work closely with development teams, I believe the role of PMs is (or at least should be) very different than that of development teams.

PMs (should) primarily focus on:

  • Understanding customer needs.
  • Translating those needs into commercially successful products.
    • Create product strategy and roadmap to meet customer needs – preferably better than competition.
    • Prioritize items in the roadmap – preferably using ROI (return on investment).
    • Create (or work with others such as BAs to create) requirements.
    • Communicate requirements to development teams, and work with them to build the product.
    • Work with marketing and sales teams to price, position, promote and sell the product – and achieve market success.

Product management should thus be focused on customer needs, product strategy, product roadmap, and prioritizing roadmap using ROI. All of this requires “Long Term” focus.

Product Manager vs Product Owner

“Product Owner” is a new role, recommended for Agile teams by Scrum Alliance. Product owners usually work with development teams and perform the following roles:

  • Create, expand and/or prioritize user stories
  • Manage sprint-level backlogs
  • Communicate product vision
  • Be the final authority representing customer interest

I believe “Product Owner” is (almost) a full-time member of development teams – whereas a “Product Manager” is not (or at least should not be).

“Product Owner” is mostly focused on the “Near Term”. On the other hand, a “Product Manager” is (or should be) mostly focused on the “Long Term” – as explained in the previous section.

BTW – At small companies, one person may play both roles. This is totally fine – but this does not mean both are the same role!

The Wrong Question – and the Right Question

As a result – I believe the question “How can Product Management teams follow Agile process?” is the wrong question. The right question is:

How can Product Management teams work better with Agile development teams?

I believe product management teams should focus on better ways of working with development teams that use Agile processes – rather than adopting “Agile” processes (such as Scrum, XP, etc) themselves.

In fact, a lot of successful companies (all the way from Fortune-500 companies to growing startups) do just this. How do I know you ask? They use our software to achieve this – and as a result I’ve personally spoken with many of them, in depth, about this topic.

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I’ve compiled my thoughts in more detail into a document, and our design team has created a fun PDF based on it. You can download it now from this link.

Check it out & see what you think…

FYI: If you’d like to see whether our software can help your team too – check out the product tour or request free trial.

Michael Shrivathsan

I'm your author, Michael Shrivathsan, an expert in product management with successful experience at several innovative companies in Silicon Valley, USA over the past two decades. I'm also a USPTO patent recipient. For my day job, I'm the VP of Product Management at Accompa, we make the popular requirements management software used by Product Management, Business Analysis, and related teams.

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