How Agile is Your Product Management?

Comparisons have been drawn between Prince 2 Project Managers and ScrumMasters. Much has been written about agile software development Vs waterfall with a focus on the developers and testers who actually carry out the technical work. However this blog posting focuses on agile management and in particular ‘Agile Product Management’.

Product Management by its very nature calls for agility. Product Managers, in particular those who have responsibility for the P/L of the products they own, are duty bound to keep their eyes on external and internal moving targets. External targets include: threat of new entrants, bargaining power of suppliers, threats of substitutes, bargaining power of buyers (customers), and rivalry among existing competitors. (Porters five forces).
And internal targets encompass: Requests from Marketing, Sales, Engineering, Legal and Chief Executives.

Product Managers will usually be the mediator between the technical and commercial teams – a kind of universal translator – they will often have to work collaboratively across various departments and business units and manage stakeholders and coordinate various activities.

Most Product Managers do not have line management authority so have to work in a matrix management fashion and yet are held accountable and even responsible for the success of the products. This calls for them to be capable of leading without authority and remain agile as business opportunities are spotted and technical teams are constantly redirected in order to exploit window of opportunities. The Scrum agile framework calls this ‘inspect and adapt’.

“In a recent McKinsey survey on building nimble organizations, 89% of the more than 1,500 executives polled worldwide ranked agility as ‘very’ or ‘extremely well’ important to their business success. And 91% said it had become more important for their companies over the past five years.” (Taken from April’s edition of Harvard Business Review) This makes the Product Manager a real asset to any organisation.

Robert Holler: CEO of VersionOne writes about the five Cs of agile management – I have given a brief overview:

Agile management is not for the faint hearted, you should not be afraid to practice, hard work, and failure, especially during the early iterations of software development.

Steer and manage actions and decisions within an overall business context. Work hard to get decisions about project and business context early.

Agile working is no excuse for not having a direction and roadmap. Longer range planning is still necessary and valuable. Ask the question where do you see your product in 18 months time?

Also known as rhythm: once the technical team, Product Manager and commercial teams establish and get used to a rhythm they’ll begin to function and produce in a predictable way – rather like a well oiled machine.

With Agile software development customers begin to see a ROI with in a few weeks as opposed to many months.

Visit The five C's of agile management for the full script.

A good Podcast on this topic can be found at Product Managent View: Agile Methodologies: How Product Management's role is shifting with Laureen Knudsen at HP

  • How agile is your comapnay?
  • How agile is your product management?
  • Does your CEO or MD know how agile you are?
    Feel free to share your thoughts.**

Read : Part#5 How to adopt agile product marketing

Part #8 Tips on being an Agile Manager

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