Meet the Product Manager

What do you do when you’re a product manager (for web applications and tools) who has started a new job, assigned to an existing team who are just about to embark on the development of a range of new products and product features? We’ll whatever the correct answer is, this is what I have started to do. The first step I took was to review the situation and give the team the opportunity to voice their opinion.

I soon realized in my first week in my new role as product manager that there was plenty of scope to improve a number of aspects of the product development process. We are currently using a hybrid of Scrum and waterfall (the logic behind this will form the basis of a later blog post). I waited for all the team members’ to return from their holidays before holding a team meeting that I tagged “meet the product manager”.

I introduced myself as a product manager who ‘eats their own dog food’ – in other words I’m an active user of online tools, blogging platforms, social media and networking sites.

I also took the opportunity to let them know the things (from a professional perspective) that I’m passionate about:
  • All things to do with Product Management/Marketing.
  • Working with engineering/development teams and cross functional teams.
  • Agile software development particularly, scrum.
  • Creating strategy and visions and driving them through all the stages to completion.
The things that I’m not passionate about – in fact the things that we should, as a team, avoid at all cost. See the familiar cartoon strip below.

I followed this with a case study: comparing two redesign projects that I was the  product manager for.  One using waterfall which had a shared test resource and the other using scrum with a dedicated test resource. The results were alarming. The waterfall project took +60% more man hours and went live with 100 plus small and medium bugs, whilst the redesign, that was developed using scrum, went live with 4 known minor bugs. I used this experience not only to demonstrate my active involvement in scrum but to illustrate the type of transformational product development we can achieve if we work closely together and use the scrum frame work wisely.

I highlighted that as the scrum product owner I would initially be spending a lot of my time and energy  over the next 4 to 8 weeks, developing: in conjunction with the business owners, commercial owners and other senior stakeholders, the product strategy, product roadmap and release plan - the end result being a backlog with at least 6 to 18 months worth of work in it. Naturally the backlog would need constant grooming as coarse grain items become high priority.  I would also naturally be on hand on a day to day basis to support the team and work with the scrum master to remove impediments

I then handed out post-it notes and ask the team to write on each note their likes and dislikes and also to introduce themselves e.g. where they've previously worked, what they’re passionate about, hobbies and interests…

One of the key messages message that the scrum training drummed home to me when I was first trained on the scrum framework was that scrum does not solve problems it only identifies them. However scrum, if practiced appropriately, will make change and tracking and tracking the results of change much easier. Here are the top three likes and dislikes the developers highlighted.

  1. No dedicated  full time test analyst, not using  automated test tools; the team failing to carry out unit testing and code reviews.
  2. Changing requirements /scope creep causing work to be either wasted or having to be reworked.
  3. Opinions of the team not always being embraced when it comes to decisions on functionality.

  1. Knowledge sharing among the team – experience and ideas are traded freely.
  2. The fact that we use scrum/agile – the team liked all aspects of scrum especially the ability to select tasks on a daily basis.
  3. Product Manager being part of the team as opposed to being absent (note complement was aimed at the interim contract product manager cum technical team leader).
My job as product owner aka product manager in conjunction with the scrum master aka technical team lead – is to ensure that the team is empowered to change those things that we have the power to change. Understand and communicate the reasoning behind the things that we can’t change and be patient with the things that will take time to change.

I said to at the beginning of this blog post that the first thing was to review the situation and give the team the opportunity to share their thoughts – the second thing I’ll do (and publish the results in a future blog post) is to survey the team to see how mature they are with regards to practicing scrum.


  1. Derek,

    Nice post. I'll be interested to hear more about the reasons behind the hybrid Waterfall/Agile methodology.

    I'm curious...what was the teams reaction when you told them that you would be spending 6-18 months formulating the strategy? While I totally agree that PMs need to spend dedicated time formulating strategy and planning, that seems like a long time to carve out.

    Ivan Chalif
    The Productologist

  2. Hi Ivan,
    Good to hear from you – I’ve reworded the text around 6 – 18 months spent on strategy and roadmaps etc... In short what I was attempting to say was that I’ll be putting a roadmap together that will identify work for the next 6 to 18 months – apologies for the ambiguity.

    The team was glad that this was happening as to date they tend to get feed work on a sprint by sprint basis – nobody’s fault it’s part of the company’s organic growth combined with a number of key people joining and others leaving.


  3. Burhan Nizameddine17 September 2010 at 15:03

    A great blog about the challenges the product manager meets throughout the development process. An interesting point that the team should be empowered to change. Although not easy to create, once achieved the eight elements of team work will be attained sooner.
    Throughout my product management experience, I have been dealing with team issues which slowed down the team progress within the innovation value chain.
    I think team empowerment will help the team move smoothly through the “Seven Pillars” steps.

  4. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

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  5. I saw the cartoon strip 2 months back on FB, I think you make very valid points and I appreciate them and agree with you.@bose
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  6. just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

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