LEAN-AGILE PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
BUILDING A PRODUCT MANAGEMENT FUNCTION THAT DELIVERS EFFICIENCY.
Holistic product management is leading a product from idea or need creation to monitoring the product in the market and beyond, this is more than product backlog management. The process requires managing all the teams involved at all stages to buy into the vision of the product and support its delivery. It includes pricing, marketing, market analysis, funding, financing and making decisions like a CEO. A pivotal role in the success of companies in the digital age, products delivered must be customer centric and solve a customer problem. Inefficient product management leads to loss of business capital, wastage of talent, time, and can lead to the collapse of the business.
Over the last two decades, companies have been looking at how to improve their product development cycle to remain competitive in the market. This has led to large scale transformation initiatives to build the capabilities of the organisation and improve the following areas: people, process, technology and the organisation. A system’s thinking approach has led organisations to improve the entire value stream that enables product development rather than a focus on improving a unit of the organisation which leads to inefficiency in the entire delivery process.
The Product Manager aka the mini-CEO has become an extremely important role in driving Lean-Agile Product Management in many organisations. They use all available tools to make the right decision and use business resources to drive the growth of the organisation and the product. The product manager focuses on the customer, product, process, technology and continuous improvement practices with feedback to relentlessly enhance the product lifecycle. In large enterprises they seek insights from large volumes of data to prioritise, make decisions that derive the necessary benefits.
The following points address the challenges faced by organisations in building a product management function that delivers efficiency.
- Aligning and communicating business strategy in the product vision.
This must be spear headed by leadership and the product manager. Leadership serves as the foundation and fully sponsors all the activities of delivering the initiative. They do this by aligning the product vision to the organisational vision, mission, strategy and tactics whiles garnering support from all stakeholders. The business vision and mission statement are the vivid mental image of what you want your business to be at some point in the future.
A good product vision is a description of the future state of the product. This answers the following questions regarding the product:
- How will our product solve our customer’s problems?
- How will it differentiate us?
- What is the future context in which our product will operate?
- What is our current business context?
- How must we evolve to realize this future state?
Constant communication of the product vision motivates product delivery teams and clarifies the “why” for delivering the product. The product manager must use every opportunity to drive the vision as it helps with decision making at all levels.
- Manage the product journey with roadmaps and horizon planning.
The roadmap is a schedule of events and milestones that communicate planned solution deliverables over a planning a horizon. Scaled Agile Framework defines two types of roadmaps: A near-term PI roadmap and long-term solution roadmap.
Product managers create high level plans to enable them to lead the product through its various stages. The Scaled Agile Framework suggest the use of the following: Epic roadmap, Capability roadmap, Feature roadmaps, time centric and growth roadmaps. This is not an exhausted list of roadmaps however they need to be carefully managed to ensure time critical information is captured and acted on. The roadmaps created can be validated with scenarios to select plausible alternative solutions.
Roadmaps link strategy to execution and they provide organisations with the agility to respond to changes. It enables product management teams to forecast for the future and prepare for the unexpected. A multiple phase roadmap addresses the customer, business and market needs for the short, medium and long terms.
- Driving prioritisation at all levels in alignment with the business strategy and market rhythms.
Product managers, business owners, portfolio and stakeholders agree on product priorities that are linked with the business strategy and customer expectations. Stakeholders attending the prioritisation exercise provide perspectives and priorities to enhance the selection of the right initiatives. The exercise could be influenced by factors like the highest paid person in attendance, seniority, business owners with higher stakes, competitor market and rapid changes in the business internal and external environment. Product manager can use the weighted shortest job first prioritisation technique which factors the cost of delay recommended by Don Reinertsen in his book Product Development Flow.
The points above address product management from a strategic view, to execute the product manager develops a customer centric focus and design thinking techniques to create, refine and update the product backlog. In the SAFe product management courses, we delve deeper into the following techniques; Customer journey mapping, User personae, Whole product thinking, Market research and Innovation games.
The most important thing for organisations is to develop the product manager role and provide mentors and coaches for product managers within the organisation. Product managers with the right mindset, skills and resources can accelerate customer and business benefits realization.
- Scaled Agile Framework 5.0
- Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
- Reinertsen, Don. Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing, 2009.
Transformation Consultant, Agile Coach and Trainer