Agile is a Development Practice, Product Management is a Business Practice
Agile software development has transformed how we approach software product development, and has delivered some enormous benefits for efficiently delivering software products to the market.
This has all been good, but in the process of improving our approaches to software development, Agile has created a lot of confusion for Product Management, resulting in some dangerous and damaging interpretations of what Product Management means.
Where does the confusion come from?
According to The Scrum Guide™, considered the authoritative source for Scrum Principles, the only mention of anything that looks like Product Management is the mention of a Product Owner and the work of the Product Owner is to maintain and order the Product Backlog to optimize the business value of the efforts of the development team.
The only planning described in The Scrum Guide is a planning meeting led by the Product Owner at the beginning of each sprint to determine the sprint objective and which user stories from the ordered backlog should be worked on in that sprint to achieve that objective, and that the basis for this planning meeting includes the product backlog items, the latest increment of the product and the expected performance of the development team.
Based upon this guidance, a common interpretation by too many companies is that they only need a Product Owner and that the only planning required is the planning done at the beginning of each sprint, which, in my opinion, has relegated Product Management to a very tactical role of “helping the development team” by writing using stories and acceptance criteria, working issues with the development team, testing user stories and maintaining the product backlog.
While many may see this scenario as perfectly fine, we must remind ourselves that Agile is only a development practice, while Product Management is a business practice.
Why does this difference matter and why should you care?
More than just Agile.
First of all, Agile development is only a small part of what it takes to make a product successful in the market. A product requires a complete lifecycle methodology, such as the 280 Group Optimal Product Process™, to manage it from conception through launch to retirement.
Agile development only addresses one phase of the lifecycle methodology, meaning that there are six other phases that come before and after agile software development.
Owning the whole product lifecycle.
Second, someone has to own all seven phases of the lifecycle methodology, and that role is Product Management. Product Management is responsible for “achieving business outcomes”, which entails a lot more than optimizing the value of the work done by the development team.
Achieving business outcomes requires a range of activities that include market analysis, formulating strategies and managing all of your Ps of Marketing (Product, Price, Promotion and Place) to maximize the success of the product in the market. The Product Owner responsibilities are a subset of the work required for successful products.
Finally, a product planning process that only occurs in a sprint planning meeting can result in product development efforts that are driven by the latest sales deal, by the whims of what development prefers to work on or the feature du jour, which leads to a product with a bunch of interesting features but no clear value proposition or competitive position.
Product planning must begin with a clear strategy and guiding objectives that are developed prior to product development, and this strategy in turn guides the meaning of business value and sprint objectives as well as the many product development decisions and tradeoffs that must be regularly made during release and sprint planning, increasing your chances of creating a valuable and competitive product.
So in closing, if in your role as a Product Manager, Agile has sucked you into the development process, it’s time to take a step back and understand that your role is more than just maximizing the efforts of the development team, but it’s to achieve business outcomes, and that requires you to manage your product through the full lifecycle based upon your market expertise and a well-defined strategy.
Remember, Agile is a Development Practice, Product Management is a Business Practice.
If you would like to learn more about Product Management role in an Agile environment, take our new training course: Agile Excellence for Product Managers and Product Owners, available in-person or as an online self-study course.
Download the first two chapters of Agile Excellence for Product Managers the book that inspired our new Agile course here:
Meet the Author
Tom Evans is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with 280 Group. Tom has over 25 years of technology business experience, working in engineering, sales, marketing and Product Management and in startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer