What is Agile Product Management?
If you are a product manager working in a modern, forward thinking software company you are most likely to be using Agile product management methodology. But what is agile product management and how does it work in practice?
In fact, agile product management is just one role within the process of agile software development. It is the product manager’s piece in the puzzle and is usually the first step that involves setting goals, creating user stories, prioritizing and liaising with the development team to ensure the are created.
For a product manager to be successful in an agile environment it is essential for them to plan their features and product in an organized and clear manner. The best way to do this is to use a product management platform such as Craft which ensures everything is in one place and you can link features to development task management tools like Jira.
What is Agile?
Before we discuss agile product management it is important to define what is meant by “Agile”. Essentially, Agile is a flexible approach to software development which favours developing small slices of a piece of software at a time.
Agile started becoming popular in the 1990s in response to the “Waterfall” approach where product teams were creating long requirements and developing the entire feature at once. With agile, the product and development teams are able to test out each part of the feature once it is finished and then decide whether to adapt and change or continue with the original plan. This dynamism creates a more user-focused approach and allows for continuous improvement of the product.
Product Manager Roles and Responsibilities in Agile
In an agile product environment the product manager is responsible for setting the overall vision and strategy of the product and then deciding which features should be developed in line with the goals. The product manager usually spends time connecting with customers and other stakeholders to ascertain the initiatives that need to be put in place to achieve the goals that have been set. They then create a strategic roadmap which lays out the basic timeline for the goals to be achieved and how they plan to achieve them.
The product manager can also be responsible for responding to feedback from customers, prioritizing features and assigning them to the developers. In an agile development environment the product manager is essentially a team leader without a team – they need to assign tasks and make sure things get done without actually being the official manager of any of the people involved.
Agile Product Manager vs Product Owner
We’ve explained what a Product Manager’s role in agile is, but you may have also heard of a “Product Owner”. So what’s the difference? Are product managers also product owners? The answer is a little more nuanced than a simple yes or no – conceptually, product manager and product owner are very different roles, but in many cases one person performs both roles.
A product manager is the individual responsible for the overall strategy and goals of the product. This is high-level thinking which requires collaboration with other product managers and heads of departments. The product manager is also responsible for creating plans for which initiatives need to be put into action to achieve the goals.
The product owner, meanwhile is involved with the more practical side of product management – namely to take the items in the backlog, turn them into practical feature requests known as “user stories” and work directly with the development team to ensure that the items are developed on time. This is a more tactical role, which is all about ensuring that everything gets done. The question of whether a product manager and a product owner are the same person depends on the size of the organisation. In small companies a product manager is likely to perform both roles, whereas in larger companies with bigger more complex products, a product manager may work with a number of product owners.
Agile Product Management with Scrum
“Scrum” is one of the most popular agile development methodologies. It uses short development cycles, known as “Sprints” which usually last between 1 and 4 weeks each and allows for situations where product managers and customers change their mind during the sprint.
A scrum team usually contains three types of people:
- Product owner
The PO is responsible for managing the backlog of features, deciding the order in which they should be developed and working with the development team to ensure it all happens.
- Scrum Master
The scrum master manages the entire development process and makes sure each item is developed according to the plans from the product owner.
- Team members
The members of the scrum team are made up of developers, QA testers and designers. They work together to actualize the product owners plans.
When it comes to agile product management, the product owner is usually responsible for creating “user stories,” short sentences which describe the functionality that needs to be developed from a user’s perspective and are then passed on to the dev team.
Agile Product Management Process
From the product manager’s perspective, the process of agile product management starts with the definition of goals, the creation of a product strategy and the prioritization of initiatives. However, in a development cycle such as a scrum sprint, the process begins with the sprint planning meeting where the team decides which features will be developed and the product owner presents the user stories.
Scrum teams typically hold a daily meeting known as the “Stand up” where each member of the team stands up and tells the other team members what they have done so far to complete their tasks and what they plan to do today. Although the product manager is not directly involved in the development process, they may attend the daily stand up. The final part of the process is the retrospective meeting which comes at the end of the sprint, when the developments are completed. This gives the team members a chance to discuss what went right or wrong with this sprint and how it can impact future sprints.
If you’re looking to make smart product decisions, align your team, and tell a compelling product story sign up for a free trial of craft.io, the end-to-end product management platform with best practices built-in. Or better yet, book a demo with a Product Executive to walk you through it.