Agile Product Management

Product Management and the role of Product Manager have existed for far longer than Scrum and Agile. It is defined and used differently between organisations but typically includes the following kinds of activities:

  • Business case creation and defining new features
  • Market, Customer, and Competition Research
  • Marketing, Branding & Pricing
  • Planning & Budgeting
  • Risk & Issue Management
  • Measuring & Analysing Results
  • Customer Communication

The Product Management domain is much larger than Scrum, and Scrum has little to contribute to Product Management. However, Scrum does include the Product Owner accountability.

In a smaller organisation, the Product Owner may take on all the Product Management activities themselves. In a larger organisation, they may work with Product Managers to carry out Product Management activities. Either way, a Product Owner can be considered an Agile Product Manager with a primary focus on developing a product with a Scrum Team.

Not all Product Owners are equally trusted and empowered. In organisations new to Scrum and Agile, Product Owners are typically treated as scribes or proxies. They capture other people’s needs and wants and communicate them to the Scrum Team with little input or authority. This type of un-empowered Product Owner is not uncommon but is undesirable. It typically leads to delays and frustration. When decisions need to be made, as they do hundreds of times each week when developing a product, they cannot act and have to go away and consult, resulting in delays. The more delays you have, the harder it will get to deliver anything at a reasonable cost and in an acceptable time.

What Scrum requires is an empowered Product Owner. One trusted and supported by management and stakeholders to make day-to-day decisions to reduce delays. The ideal scenario is a Product Owner who becomes the “CEO for the product”. They have decision-making responsibility for all aspects of the product strategy. They should treat the product as their own and work to ensure a return on investment for any expenditure.

It may take time for a Product Owner to develop the trust required in Scrum and themselves to become this empowered “CEO”. They will likely not be empowered like this when they first start. The art of moving towards it lies in the 3 V’s of Vision, Value & Validation. A Product Owner can build trust and gain empowerment over time by successfully delivering and validating value as they move towards the product vision. As management sees a Product Owner maximising value over time, they will trust and empower them more. There is no shortcut to this, and it requires patience and perseverance.