November 10

Agile Development — What it Means for Product Managers

Product Managers will likely need to be involved with some variation of an agile development process. If you have not come from a software or highly technical background, the methodologies associated with agile can be intimidating to learn. So this Brief shares a few of the many resources available online which will get you more comfortable with agile concepts.

What is agile product management? This is a good question to start with. In his answer, Roman Pichler summarizes the differences between old school and agile product management. The agile product manager you’ll see is directly involved in development, is constantly refining requirements and regularly speaking with customers.

The role of a product manager in Scrum. Scrum is central to an agile process. In it, the role of a Product Owner is defined as a person who has “final authority representing the customer’s interest in backlog prioritization and requirements questions”. However, it’s important to note that the duties of a Product Owner is only a subset of the duties of a Product Manager. The Owner definition stems from a highly technical environment where that person is responsible for making development decisions based on customer feedback, priorities or other factors. Whereas the Manager role involves broader company activities including strategy, marketing, and sales.

Epics, stories, versions, and sprints. Getting comfortable with the components of an agile program is crucial for a Product Manager. These are the jigsaw pieces that define what is being built when things will be delivered, how the team is performing and will also enforce discipline in estimations. This article from the folks at Atlassian gives a nice overview of each of the components.

Agile vs lean vs design thinking. So far, we have concentrated solely on agile development. But there are other practices out there that emphasize many of the same techniques and ultimate benefits, including lean and design thinking. Jeff Gothelf believes that these different practices were productized by trainers and coaches eager to sell their services to company teams. And ironically, rather than ultimately deliver efficiency and collaboration, the bevy of practices to choose from has only made it harder for different teams in a company to work together. The answer is to identify the common components and find unique ways to use them together across your organization, including short development cycles and putting your customer at the center of everything.


Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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