Agile Transformation: How to Leverage Product Management

A Person Instructing a Class in the background with "PM Change Agents for Agile Transformation" Written as an Overlay

Transforming the Organization

Steering an Agile Transformation should not be confused with simply adopting Agile software development principles. Rather, it is about transforming an entire organization—Product Management, Development, IT, Customer Support, Sales, etc. Everyone must be ready to react to customer and market changes, and ensure they are working on the right task at the right time.

Adoption of Agile software development practices by the Development organization is often the catalyst to look at the whole organization. Sometimes, the transformation is driven when an organization has become too product-centric and must now become customer-centric to scale and succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Why Agile Transformation?

Agile Transformation is key to product management because it offers so much scope for making a difference in a company and it’s product success. Agile Transformation is about removing communication barriers between departments or data silos, reducing organizational complexity, and empowering teams and individuals to make real-time decisions in order to better address customer needs without too much inertia to overcome.

Product Managers can more effectively exercise product leadership in an organization where teams are aligned around creativity and innovation. Then, they are empowered to make decisions and quickly realize the right solutions to delight customers.

Agile Transformation will vastly improve communication across teams, department, and hierarchical boundaries, keeping everyone aligned toward a common product vision. Everyone’s inputs and outputs will be clearly understood and all will know what their contributions mean to the overall plan and why.

A Long-Term Program and a Company-Wide Effort

Product Management’s role in an Agile Transformation

Although Agile Transformation is and needs to be a company-wide effort, Product Management is often seen as the Change Agent for this program. Product Managers are already adept at communicating extensively across departmental boundaries. And within an Agile Transformation effort, PMs are best suited to champion the message of innovation, customer-centricity, and creativity.

A lot of the ingredients for a successful Agile Transformation effort are already familiar to Product Managers. PMs know the need to set success criteria, get organizational buy-in from executive leadership (including executive sponsorship), and how to create a roadmap for the overall effort.

Measuring success

Success metrics for this type of transformation effort need to be carefully considered, socialized internally, and explicitly agreed upon across the organization as part of the planning effort. In addition, the success metrics for the product as a result of the Digital Transformation effort need to be considered as well so that there is a plan to correlate the effect of the overall change to the bottom line. These metrics can also be used to correlate what product success will be measured against: adoption, usage metrics, customer success metrics, etc.

How to Kick Off an Agile Transformation

So, with the mandate, or at least support from executive leadership to implement Agile Transformation, Product Management can begin to work towards identifying the scope of the overall program. This is an opportunity to reach out to the industry for best practices and more experienced practitioners or consultants with whom to partner with for scoping out and project managing such a crucial project. The deep understanding of the organization’s DNA and structure that Product Management brings to the table will allow for rapid assessment of the necessary steps to defining the overall program. We recommend you discuss with a consultant the need to diagnose and analyze your people, process, and tools—be sure they can help co-craft a strategy with you.

Such steps would include, but not be limited to:

  • Assessment of opportunities for improvement by functional area
  • Identification of key pain points with desired improvements, and metrics for success
  • Uncovering potential and discovered roadblocks in process or communication
  • Assignment of teams to pilot the change: similar to product conceptualization and planning

Roadmap it

Now, the goals and objectives for the Agile Transformation program can be set. This includes the 30/90/180 day roadmaps, the success criteria for each stage, the communication plan, and the expected input/outputs by each stakeholder.

Set up a periodic check-in to your executive sponsor, as well as the executive team. State your operating mechanisms for team and department leaders to communicate on a frequent and regular basis on progress, issues, and challenges.

What Are Some of the Common Challenges?

The most common challenges include:

  • Inertia, reluctance to change
  • Success to date not an impetus for change
  • Lack of organizational stamina to make a change
  • Lack of commitment to change by executive sponsor(s)

Overcoming these challenges

There must be a commitment to Agile Transformation from the executive team. Product Managers should explicitly state to Executives the importance of being able to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk”.

Then, just as in outlining the Product Vision, Product Management must consider how to communicate what the benefits are to each stakeholder within the company in order to make the Agile Transformation successful. Clarity on the “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM) factor will provide the needed leverage to explain and remind all why the Agile Transformation initiative matters and must be actively supported by all.

Use a comprehensive plan of action like 280 Group’s Product Management Assessment and Optimization Program that allows you to identify and overcome the challenges in your organization. It relies on a proven method for getting teams and entire organizations to a fully optimized state in a short period of time.

What Benefits Can the Organization Gain by Undergoing Agile Transformation?

  • Improved communication across departments with clarity of purpose—How does each individual’s and each team’s efforts contribute to the product vision, the company goals, and objectives?
  • Improved responsiveness to customer-driven innovation triggers
  • Alignment as a customer-centric vs product-centric organization
  • Team empowerment in understanding and responding to customer and market changes and opportunities with decisions made at the “right” level within the organization

So, What Can the PM Team Do to Start an Agile Transformation?

Start with the Why and What!

Lead the organization’s thinking into what the problem is that you would like to solve via Agile Transformation. Why Now? Paint a picture of what the future state of the company would look like after a successful transformation. What key improvements and better outcomes can you expect to see at that point? Get excited about the future, get emotional buy-in, prepare the various stakeholders for what improvements they can expect, and get them enthused about the work.

Take Your Company to the Next Level

280 Group’s Product Management Assessment and Optimization Program uses a proven methodology for doing a deep and holistic diagnosis and analysis of your company’s Product Management function. We work with you to craft and implement a highly-effective set of recommendations. The deliverable is an optimization plan and program that we co-craft with you based on your specific company challenges that you can implement to see results fast.

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About the Author

John Haniotis
Principal Consultant and Trainer

John Haniotis is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with 280 Group. John has 20+ years of business experience in Agile Product Management and Development, Project Management, Customer Success and Adoption. He has extensive experience in managing the full gamut of the Product Lifecycle, both as an individual contributor and executive leader, developing and scaling teams of Product Managers, Project Managers, and UX designers. John is particularly adept at cross-functional communication and building bridges across the organization. John has led product management efforts working for large technology companies including Apple Computer and Intuit, medium companies such as Aspect Communications and Chordiant, as well as several start-ups such as Neoforma, Accept Software, and WhiteHat Security.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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