Agile is a software development methodology. It’s not a way to do product management. It’s not how you do product marketing or sales. It’s not a way to do strategic planning or run your business. Agile development is a methodology for building software, and it’s a good one! But that’s it! Period, end of story.
Smaller teams cranking out measurable units of software every 2-4 weeks and iterating toward usable features has done wonders for software development. More emphasis on deliverables, greater accountability and better product usability. What’s not to love?
There is, however, one critical part of product management that got lost in the shuffle!
The Critical Part of Product Management That Got Lost
There’s one part of product management that’s been lost with agile development – longer-term value-based plans that map to customer strategies, goals and priorities.
With agile, you have multiple product managers/owners fully consumed with grooming their backlogs and feeding stories to their agile teams. They have little or no bandwidth to focus on the bigger picture strategy. How do all those incremental problem-solving features in each product come together collectively to create high-value solutions for the customer?
Sure, users find plenty of value in new features and usability improvements. But how does the collection of features across multiple products and releases come together to produce business outcomes that are strategic to the customer? Is there a longer-term vision or plan for helping your target customers break down their organizational silos so they can serve their customers better?
The Irony of Agile Development
Here’s the irony. The dedicated product owner role, a staple of agile development and one of the best things about it, was supposed to free product managers from the day to day development minutia so they could be more focused on bigger-picture requirements and higher-value solutions.
But we’ve come full circle. Just like the waterfall days when most product managers also wore the business analyst/SME hat, most product managers in agile environments are also wearing the product owner hat. And just like the waterfall days, they have far too little time for the critical upstream product management activities because they’re consumed with the day-to-day development process.
Here’s the bottom line. The factory (product development) came up with a better way to build and deliver software. But in no way, shape or form did agile development change how your target customers define their business goals and priorities. It didn’t eliminate or lessen the need for product management to craft a longer-term vision and execution plans that deliver greater strategic value to the customer above and beyond user benefits.
The only thing that really needed to change with agile was how those longer-term plans and requirements were parsed and fed to agile development teams.