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"Real" Agile Product Management

By Robert Webber posted 12-21-2022 19:03


Read time:
3 minutes

I often see the term “Agile Product Management,” but what does it really mean? Many believe they became “Agile Product Managers” when their development teams adopted an Agile development framework. Others would argue that they were “Agile Product Managers” back in the waterfall days because they changed development priorities on a weekly basis.

Here’s my definition:

An Agile Product Manager leverages Agile development to increase product development Return on Investment (ROI) by rapidly reacting to new opportunities and threats.

Remember that the business invests in product development to increase shareholder value, typically measured in Earnings per Share (EPS). Making users happy can create business value. However, there is typically no way to relate user requests or new features directly to income. Building what users ask for is often sub-optimal. What if you could replace the user completely by automating the role?

Based on my definition, the true Agile Product Manager must be able to rapidly execute the feedback loop depicted below:

What is “rapid?” In a feedback loop, the feedback rate must be a fraction of the rate at which conditions change. I would say that in today’s dynamic software industry, feedback signals like burn-down projections, income forecasts, opportunities and threats change on a daily or weekly basis.

Take the quick test below. How many of these apply to your organization?

  • Planning cycle > 1 month
  • Release cycle > 3 months
  • Feature-level planning
  • Annual roadmap budget commitments

Any one of these precludes Agile Product Management. It’s generally not possible to associate features with financials. And if you are in a larger organization that demands a detailed roadmap to justify your annual product development budget, you don’t have much room to maneuver.

How many of you have at least one of these constraints? If so, your organization precludes Agile Product Management. Is there any hope?

Most of the larger organizations I worked with over the past 10 years preclude Agile Product Management because they retain waterfall planning, mostly at the feature level. For these companies, business agility as promised by Agile development is a myth. Unfortunately, these larger organizations constitute most of the software industry.

The business agility examples presented by the Agile community are typically smaller companies, or those that have product development budget flexibility. You are likely constrained by one or more of the four Agile Product Management criteria listed above in your organization. For most of you, your company depends on product development predictability to forecast and achieve aggressive earnings commitments.

Author: Bob Webber, VP Product Flow Optimization at Construx Software

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