Product Management & Agile Development: A Real-Life Cautionary Tale (and a Free eBook)

ben-franklin-3I’m writing this post spurred by 2 things:

  1. A real-life story I heard from the VP of Product Management at a large tech company in California. He gave me approval to share his story, as long as I anonymized it & avoided any details specific to his industry. Many thanks to him for the approval.
  2. A very insightful blog post by Jeff Lash of Sirius Decisions & my ensuing Twitter conversations with Jeff, Roger Cauvin, and others.

“Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” – Benjamin Franklin

As some of you know, I regularly speak with Product Management executives at mid-to-large companies as a part of my job at Accompa.

About 7 weeks ago, I had a very interesting conversation with the VP of Product Management at a large tech company in California. Let us call him Steve (not his real name, I’m anonymizing it per his request).

Steve’s story is a cautionary tale for Product Management (PM) teams everywhere. While I’ve heard “lighter” versions of this story before, this story is very stark & so is good to learn from. Without further ado, here’s the story…

Cautionary Tale

More than 4 years ago, the Development team at Steve’s business unit (BU) switched to Scrum. Before this switch, the primary deliverables for their PM team were Market Requirements Documents (MRDs) and Product Requirements Documents (PRDs).

Once their dev team switched to Scrum, they didn’t need detailed requirements any longer. So, the company decided they didn’t need MRDs and PRDs. Once this decision was made, they debated how to transition their PM team to fit the Agile/Scrum process.

caution-agileLong story short – Steve’s BU ended up shutting down their PM team, and replacing them with a Product Owner (PO) team. Only a small number of PMs were let go, the others were converted to POs.

When this happened, their BU (~ 1,000 employees) had a slight lead over their biggest competitors. This was measured via Win/Loss reports of their Sales team, and Competitive Analysis reports by their PM team.

Fast forward 4+ years, their BU has fallen behind their biggest competitors – as reflected in the Win/Loss reports of their Sales team.

What Caused It?

As per my discussion with Steve, primarily 3 things caused it:

  1. POs were spending almost all of their time focused internally, i.e. working with the sprint teams.
  2. Plus, the POs were almost exclusively focused on the short term, on the current & upcoming sprints.
  3. Unhappy with the PO role, a significant percentage of senior PMs left the company. A lot of domain knowledge was lost as a result.

With the focus having shifted to short-term & internal – no one was doing product strategy, market needs analysis, competitive positioning, and other PM activities focused on long-term success.

What Are They Doing Now?

Driven by the sad reality of Win/Loss reports, they have a mandate from the Chief Product Officer of their BU to rebuild their PM team.

They now realize the mistake of eliminating their PM team. They are rebuilding it starting with the hiring of Steve who expects it to be a multi-year process.

Lessons for Product Management Executives & A Free eBook

If you’re a PM executive (VP, Director, Group PM, etc) – these days you must be able to answer this question well:

“So, now that our dev team is switching to Agile, how is our PM team going to change?”

Inability to provide a strong answer may be hazardous to the health of your PM team (in some cases, may even kill it) & the long-term success of your company.

Download Free eBook

Click Image to Download FREE eBook

So, what is the right way to think about the answer to this question? I’ve compiled my thoughts into a short document, and our design team has created a fun PDF based on it. You can download it now from this link.

Check it out & let me know what you think…

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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