By Saeed Khan
I think ours is the only Product Management blog in the entire blogosphere that has not yet had at least one post on Agile/Scrum software development. That is….until now.
But seriously, I don’t think we have written about Agile because, and I’ll speak for the 3 of us, it’s not that critical to product management. There I said it!
NOTE: where I use “Agile”, it implies a combination of Agile/Scrum
If you are not familiar with Agile or Scrum software development, you can read more in many locations on the web. A good starting point is, as expected, Wikipedia. Read up on both Agile and Scrum methodologies. While quite distinct in many ways, it’s important to understand both Agile and Scrum and how they are inter-related in practice. In fact, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on Scrum reads:
Scrum is an iterative incremental process of software development commonly used with Agile software development.
While not an absolute definition, and clearly some may argue, I view Agile as more of a culture or approach to software development, whereas Scrum is more truly a methodology, with specific roles, practices etc. that can be implemented. In many cases, when people say Agile, they imply Scrum as well.
As mentioned earlier, Scrum defines a set of roles. One of the key roles in Scrum is the Product Owner. That role is defined as:
The Product Owner represents the voice of the customer. They ensure that the Scrum Team works with the right things from a business perspective. The Product Owner writes User Stories, prioritizes them, then places them in the Product Backlog.
Now, this would most likely map to the Product Manager in most software companies. While true at a high level, another key element of Scrum is the daily scrum meeting where every member of the team, including the Product Owner attends.
Now, imagine if you as a Product Manager had to attend a development meeting every day. When would you get out of the office? When would you meet with customers, partners, prospects etc.?
One big mistake a lot of people make is assuming that the Product Owner has to be the Product Manager. While conceptually that may be true, the Product Manager cannot, and in my opinion, should not attend these daily scrum meetings. I’ve worked in PM role in two previous companies that used Agile/Scrum development methodologies, and I think I attended one Scrum meeting. We still had regular communication with the development teams and regular product reviews etc. but we weren’t embedded into the development process the way some people might think we should be.
Other roles such as Product Designer need to be defined to take that day to day decision making role and act as the Product Owner, or at minimum, be the proxy for the Product Owner (if that is the PM) so that the PM doesn’t get bogged down by daily scrum meetings.
Keep in mind, Agile/Scrum is a DEVELOPMENT methodology. It is a great model for developers and engineers and other R&D team members to work and communicate more efficiently. There are very clear benefits to this model. It provides greater visibility into current work status, work remaining, can identify development hurdles earlier and can communicate them outward more easily.
But, in the end, it is still a development methodology. It should have minimal impact on Product Management’s job as a cross-functional leader marshalling the product from development through marketing, sales etc.
Here’s an analogy. Sales teams invariably follow some kind of sales methodology. It could be strategic selling, solution selling, or conceptual selling. It could be some other model, or even none at all. If the sales team decides to adopt or change their sales methodology, do other related teams like Marketing or Product Management have to change how they work?
The answer is NO. So, then why should those changes happen to Product Management if the development team adopts Agile/Scrum? Our job remains the same. Understand the market, customers, competitors, merge that in with business objectives etc. define what needs to be built and move that through all the stages of development/launch/post launch to enable product success.
If in a few years, some better development methodology comes along, and is adopted by the engineering teams, will that change what Product Management does?
Development methodologies should be a grey box for Product Management. We should have an understanding of them, but we don’t need to become an “embedded” part of their implementation. It’s all about loose coupling and clear lines of communication. We have our objectives, and Development has theirs, and when we need to interface, we do so in an efficient and mutually convenient manner.
Let me put it this way, and pardon the analogy if it is a bit inappropriate. Product Management and Development don’t need to be married to each other to be efficient. The relationship needs to be more like a “friends with benefits” arrangement. i.e. the two hook up on a regular or as needed basis. 🙂