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Agile Product Management: Learning from Others Already Using Scrum

In my last post, I offered up an Agile Product Management Manifesto akin to those for software development and marketing.  As nifty and cathartic as writing a “manifesto” can be, we still have to figure out how to actually BE Agile in product management.

Before jumping into “how,” let’s step back and consider “why.” There are a number of challenges faced by product managers that certainly resonate with the challenges enumerated by software developers and marketers in their Agile screeds. In particular:

  • The need to change plans due to ever-changing market conditions.
  • The need for more communication and collaboration.
  • The need for increased visibility/understanding of what your organization actually does.

And I’ll add a challenge that is unique to the product management role:

  • The need to keep all organizations aligned on product vision and execution.

Again, looking at the experiences of folks in Agile software development and marketing, we can see how certain practices have addressed those challenges and get a glimpse of what’s possible for product managers.  And the logical place to start looking is Scrum.  While there are a number of frameworks (Lean, Kanban, Scrumban, XP, etc.) used by Agile organizations, the lion’s share of practitioners either use or started with Scrum.  And when we examine how Scrum addresses the aforementioned challenges, it’s easy to see why.

  •  The need to change plans due to ever-changing market conditions.

This is a no-brainer. By establishing a 1-to-4-week sprint as the fundamental unit of planning and execution, Scrum makes change much easier to accommodate.  For example, if you have 2-week sprints, you’re planning and executing work 26 times per year.  So even if you need to drastically change plans, you can do so with minimal overhead and waste – in this case, no more than 2 weeks of detailed work is derailed.

  • The need for more communication and collaboration.

Besides the general mindset-shift towards simply directly talking to people, the formal planning meetings, acceptance-tests, and demonstrations to stakeholders (at Sprint Reviews) ensure there is regular and frequent interaction between groups.

  • The need for increased visibility/understanding of what your organization actually does.

The same aspects that contribute to greater communication and collaboration also foster greater understanding.  After all, the communication and collaboration wouldn’t work well if people didn’t understand each other’s’ roles and needs at all.  For example, prioritizing a backlog requires understanding the priorities of your stakeholders and your business as a whole.  And subject matter experts who occasionally work with your team during sprints get a taste of the complex nitty-gritty work your team does.  Also, by understanding the bigger picture and the needs of others, your team understands how to show the value of your work in a way that is meaningful to others.

It’s on the last challenge that Scrum really shows huge potential for product managers:

  • The need to keep all organizations aligned on product vision and execution.

Many of us already have standing meetings with our cross-functional organization leaders which is great.  But how many of us simply use those meetings as glorified status reports?  Rather than just rehash each other’s latest status and dashboards, imagine having the separate planning and review meetings and the difference in content and tenor those meetings would have.

Instead of regurgitated status with a few “action items” at the end, you have an engaged discussion every sprint about what product management will do.  And then at the end of each sprint you have an engaged demonstration of the value product management provided to stakeholders.  And both of those events are excellent opportunities to reference your product vision and product roadmap, ensuring people are on the same page about priorities and execution.

So did I pique your interest in using Scrum for product management?  Great!  Because that’s what my next post on this topic will cover as we get into the “how.” Of Agile for product management  In the meantime, how many of you are already using Scrum in product management?  What has your experience been – both good and bad?

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