It’s been over a year since the product management team went on a series of agile/scrum training courses. The transformation and associated challenges over the past 14 months have been quite interesting. Here’s a report on the journey, progress, issues encountered and experiences to date.
Product Management Prior to Scrum
Before agile working practices where adopted the Product Managers role consisted of a lot of short term tactical wins coupled with continual fire fighting. All this resulted in Product Managers being more reactive to situation as opposed to being proactive in delivering new products to market and improving on developing the feature set of their current product portfolio.
How Scrum was Implemented
The philosophy of agile was presented, by the IS Director and Head of Web Solutions Group - Kelly Waters (author of the blog 'all about agile software development'), over a 3 month period to various committees, steering groups and forums in order to get the by-in from Managing and Publishing Directors.
External trainers where also brought in and presented, to the MDs and the heads of Business Development and e-Marketing, the issues that companies face with software development and how agile/scrum could address the challenges we were currently experiencing.
On-line Product Managers, Web Editors and Business Owners spent a few days on a scrum master and product owner’s training course. All Product Managers had a strong idea of the rudiments of scrum and a few where practicing elements of it. The training helped consolidate the principles of scrum within the Product Management team and helped gel a common high level theoretical understanding of the principles and vocabulary of scrum.
Problems and Issues
The real battle started after the training. Whilst some business owners embraced scrum others where less than reluctant to adopt or get involved. A number of open meetings were set up, with the product management team, where business stakeholders were free to ask questions and engage in an open debate regarding the pros and cons of adopting the new way of working. Product Managers also worked on a 1-to-1 basis to evangelize the benefits and to secure and maintain buy-in. Fortunately the Managing Directors fully supported the principles of agile – so inevitably business stakeholders eventually freed up time in their daily schedules to attend the 10 to 15 minutes stand ups each morning and a few afternoons every 15 days to participate in pre-planning, planning, reviews and retrospective meetings.
Identifying and Solving Problems
Implementing scrum did not solve all the company’s problems but went a long way to identifying many of them.
Problems with releases:
Increase in the frequency of releases identified bottlenecks in the resources used/alocated to carry out releases.
Managing the release problem
The Lead Product Manager’s implemented a ‘scrum of scrum’ where releases are put on a white board and at 4.30 every afternoon a Lead Product Manager or the Development Manger meets with the Product Managers who want to release the following day in order to set the release priorities based on business value.
Problems with Agile Testing
Test Analysts found it a challenge adapting to agile – I ran a few sessions with the Web Solutions Group Management team and all the Test Analyst from across the department. Many issues where down to a change in test working practices. No longer did the Testers have a fully documented technical and functional spec to work with. Read Part # 7 Points to watch out for when converting from waterfall to agile testing for more details
Solving the Agile Test Problem
The Test Analyst were sent on Scrum Master training courses, the analyst aspect of the test function was highlighted and the Test Analyst are now given the formal responsibility for gathering and documenting the test cases during pre-planning. The test cases are presented to the customer(s) during the planning meeting in order to get their formal feedback and sign-off. This has formed part of us adopting agile engineering practices and therefore a 'kind of' manual' test driven development.
Return on Investment (ROI) and improvement in quality using Scrum
Just prior to implement scrum I had finished managing a project (re-design of a B2B website). Six months afterwards I worked on another redesign of a B2B website that was more feature rich and technically challenging. However this time I used scrum to manage the project the number of man hours was reduced by 35% and went live with 4 known minor/low bugs – with in 2 hours of launching we discovered 2 bugs that did no show up in our test or UAT environments – both bugs where fixed within a matter or hours.
Product Management Post Scrum
Implementing scrum has resulted in Product Managers being able to be more proactive and think and act longer term. Sure there are still issues with fire fighting and predicting the exact date and time of a release - however the overall negative situation has diminished considerably since the organisation has embraced agile working practices. The profile and trust of the Product Management team has also increased – many act as proxy product owners and are involved in defining features and working along side business owners in making decisions, identifying opportunities to improve the product feature set and advising business stakeholders on a host of different tactical and strategic issues. See:
Part #9 The role of the Product Manager in Scrum
What is the job of a typical on-line Product Manager?
Ironically the few business stakeholders who where sceptical about embracing agile are now some of its greatest exponents .