Remember when the Internet was going to eliminate the middleman? We all know how that turned out!

Whenever something new and revolutionary comes along, the bold predictions usually play out in three forms:

  1. The part that was way off base.
  2. The part that was accurate.
  3. The part no one predicted – which brought unexpected benefits.

Agile development is no exception, especially as it relates to product management.

The Part That Was Way Off Base

When the Agile Development Manifesto hit the scene, there were bold predictions that were on par with “the elimination of the middleman.” I can remember sitting through several presentations as recently as 2010 where Agile prognosticators were foretelling Agile as a major force in the C-suite and how it would become the centerpiece of strategic planning and ultimately drive the company.

Personally, I haven’t seen anything that remotely resembles that prediction in any of our client organizations. Please enlighten me if you have!

 

The Part That Was Accurate

Agile development is now into its teens and showing us what it will ultimately be for the long haul – an iterative software development methodology that’s far superior to waterfall. The software industry is more customer-focused, delivering better software and doing it more predictably and more efficiently.

 

The Part No One Predicted And The Unexpected Benefits

From a product management perspective, Agile created a big fat mess in terms of role clarity that had the tail wagging the dog. Thankfully, it’s finally coming to an end. Product managers with technical backgrounds have been reincarnated as product owners, functioning as user surrogates and feeding stories to design and development teams.

With these newly minted product owners in place to focus on the “how” part of the equation, market-minded product managers are finally in a position to turn their full-time focus to the market in search of the “who, what & why” answers that ultimately set the course for the products. This was never possible in the waterfall era without dedicated business analysts.

The “strategic product manager role” that’s been coveted for years is finally arriving because of Agile but in a much different way. These market-facing product managers have no alignment to products, which means they’re out of the daily grind (for the most part). They’re aligned to markets in the purest sense of the definition – vertical industry segments like energy and healthcare, and horizontal business disciplines like finance, IT and risk management. And they’re using those market and customer insights to drive entire portfolios of products.

New product management roles have emerged for the market-facing product manager. Solutions manager, market manager and portfolio manager are the most common titles I come across. Just think, if Agile hadn’t forced the dedicated product owner role, none of this would be happening. Product managers would still be expected to function as both problem-finder and problem-solver, and by their own admission, not doing very well at either.

 

Where We’re Landing

When it’s all said and done, Agile is creating much stronger product management and product development functions because the lines between the market owners (problem-finders) and the product owners (problem-solvers) are clearer than they’ve ever been.

The Internet didn’t get rid of the middleman as predicted. It actually created more of them – but did so in a way that’s more beneficial for how we live and conduct business. Amazon, Kayak, iTunes and Zappos come to mind.

Agile development is playing out in a similar fashion. The most radical of the predictions didn’t pan out. The prediction of better software did. And the impact on product management that no one saw coming is resulting in a much stronger product management discipline – because the problem-finders and problems-solvers are in their comfort zone, doing what they love to do.

If you’re wrestling with role clarity and the integration of product management and Agile, contact us to learn how we can help you develop seamless processes that strengthen product management and development.