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Agile Product Management


Agile software development has transformed how we approach software product development. It has delivered some enormous benefits for efficiently delivering software products to the market but oftentimes the strategic thinking of Product Management has been overlooked. The practice of Agile Product Management is integrating traditional Product Management concepts into organizations doing Agile development. In order to do this the organizations must implement a way to translate these long term business strategies into shorter development cycles. This can be done by a Product Manager, a Product Owner or someone that performs both roles although this is not a desirable situation because the workload will quickly become overwhelming.

Agile development methodology grew out of a desire by software programmers to create better working code faster and with a more reasonable work-life balance. Because the focus of Agile was on the programmer, the role of the person defining the requirements was created from the perspective of the developer. In Agile, this role is called the Product Owner. In contrast, the Product Manager’s role is often defined as outward facing especially focused on talking with customers about their needs. Thus, the role of the Product Manager versus that of the Product Owner has been problematic because they have had a different focus from the beginning. While there mindsets and strategies may differ ultimately they both have the same larger goal of a delivering a product that meets the customer and company’s needs.

In Agile Product Management, certain tasks and strategies need to be put in place so that development is working on the most important, customer-focused items. Agile Product Management provides the strategic context to make sure developers are working on the most valuable aspects of the problem. The tasks listed here are what Agile Product Management uses to guide their work:

  • Product vision: The essence of your product shared with your team to give them a shared direction.
  • Product roadmap: A time-based view of the different product versions your team will create as they deliver increasingly valuable product to customers.
  • Product Lifecycle: The stage in your product and industry lifecycle each of which has key success drivers.
  • Prioritized Product Backlog: prioritization is discussed further down this page.
Stages products pass through from introduction to decline - diagram
The Product Lifecycle

Agile Product Management and the Product Lifecycle

The product life cycle indicates which types of products are more likely to be successful in your market. With Agile Product Management, you’ll want to have guidelines as to the types of product lines you want to have at each stage of the product life cycle. Beware. Although this is called the product life cycle, it is more accurately known as the industry life cycle.

Introduction: When a product type is introduced, you may only have one version of your product. For example, early on in the smartphone market, each company offered one version of their product.

Growth: During the growth phase of a market, more versions become available. Larger, smaller, more and less powerful for example. During this phase, companies work out the boundaries of the most common customer types.

Maturity: In a mature market, your product is available anywhere that it makes sense. It is packaged so that it’s easy for virtually anyone to get it working. And you create the broadest product line possible. You want to avoid product holes where competitors can sneak in and take market share.

Decline: As demand for your type of product declines, you take a hard look at every model. Which models make the most money. Which have the bulk of the profits and revenue. And you cut the ones that are not very popular. You can see this with telephones.

Does the stage your product is in change the product vision for this development cycle or sprint? Does the stage your product is in change the way your product backlog is ordered?

5 Inputs of Prioritization diagram
5 Inputs of Prioritization

Agile Product Management: Prioritization

Choices, choices. Inevitably there are a lot of great ideas and not enough time or money to create everything. You have to make the hard tradeoffs. You have to prioritize. In Agile Product Management, the five inputs to prioritization are as follows:

Customer: Who are the customers? What are they looking for in a product?

Market: How many people are looking for this product solution? What do they expect to pay for it? How do they expect to buy it?
Competition: Who else is in trying to sell to the same customers and markets? Why are people selecting their offering? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Technology: What are the trends in the underlying technology in your product? Are there other technologies that will change the playing field? How will my company compete as and when the technology shifts?

Strategy: What business, market and differentiation strategies can I implement via my product?

Once all these inputs are understood, strike a balance in determining what is most important to do next. Then explain it to your team and move forward. Agonizing over small differences in prioritization vs getting something into customers hands isn’t worth the wait.

Product Manager: “If you give me this money, I will deliver you this business result.”
Product Owner: “If you are going to spend this money, I will make sure you get the most value from your development investment.”
Different Mindset: Product Manager vs. Product Owner
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Mindset of an Agile Product Manager vs. an Agile Product Owner

Product Managers and Product Owners have a different mindset when they approach their work. Given a certain set of resources (money and people) Product Managers want to deliver a certain business result. They might say: “Give me $200,000 and I will make you $1 million in revenue.”
Product Owners mindset is subtly different and definitely reduced in scope. “Give me $200,000 and I’ll make sure that the development team will deliver the most value for that investment.”

If you are both a Product Manager and a Product Owner, be conscious whether at this moment you are focusing on the business result or the maximizing the value of development investment. Your decision could change according to which hat you have on.

Next Steps

Agile Product Management is a topic that is too broad and complicated for this guide to fully cover. You can dive deeper in our online and in-person training. To get your feet wet even more learn about Scrum development cycles and key terms as well as the members of Agile and Scrum teams.