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Being Agile in Product Management

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Many product managers find themselves working with Agile development teams now.  And lots of product managers have gone through training, like Certified Scrum Product Owner class, to learn more about Agile development practices in order to work well with their development teams.  But how many of us in product management have thought about establishing an Agile-inspired framework for product management?

One of my ventures is teaching Agile Marketing.  You heard me right – there’s Agile for marketing folks.  And no, it’s not the same as Agile for software development.  Agile Marketing has its own manifesto and its own way of applying Scrum.  Of course, it takes inspiration from the Agile software movement, but marketing folks made it their own and it’s been steadily picking up steam.  An Agile coach and trainer recently told me about a human resources team she’s teaching to use Agile Scrum.  So if development, marketing, and HR can all be Agile – why is product management so late to the party?

When I read the Agile Manifesto and the Agile Marketing Manifesto, a lot of stuff resonates with me as a product manager.  Parts that resonate from the Agile Manifesto:

  • Value individuals and interactions over process and tools
  • Value responding to change over following a plan

What about the “working software” and “customer collaboration” values?  Yeah, they’re good but they actually allude to areas that I’ve seen cause conflict for product managers – specifically, some development teams have taken those values as license to do cowboy coding.  I absolutely understand that’s NOT what the Agile software development folks intended.  But I would state them slightly differently for commercial software development.  In fact, some of the parts that resonate from the Agile Marketing Manifesto address that issue:

  • Value validated learning over opinions
  • Value customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  • Value the process of customer discovery over static prediction

If you’ve never seen the Agile Marketing Manifesto, go and read it even if you’re not in marketing.  It’s clear that they “made it their own” with values that directly and uniquely apply to marketing.

I firmly believe that if we got our heads together, product management could forge its own way too.  In fact, I’m going to try to do exactly that, and I’m going to do it in an “Agile” way – I’m going to produce a prototype (below) so I can quickly start to get feedback and start to refine it.

My “Agile Product Management Manifesto”:

As Product Managers, we are discovering better ways of creating value for our customers and our businesses while providing alignment and leadership for our products and services.  Through this work, we have come to value:

  • Vision and roadmaps over detailed specifications
  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Customer and market facts over opinions
  • Cross-functional alignment over silos and hierarchy
  • Collaboration and sharing over having all the answers
  • Organizational wins over personal achievement

Honestly, that list could go on and on, but I stopped myself after a certain point and started to reflect on whether additions were adding value or were just ways for me to vent years of frustration.  The latter is still helpful, but not necessarily what you want to write down for posterity (just typing it out feels good even though it gets deleted).

If I asked you to contribute a line to this Agile Product Management Manifesto, what would it be?  And if I arranged an event to hammer one out, would you come?  Really – let me know!

Next time – how Scrum and Kanban can benefit Product Management (and also blow peoples’ minds).

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