Skip to main content

Agile Product Management

In the realm of software development, agile and iterative processes have been in vogue for a number of years. For those unfamiliar with the concept, agile processes contrast with waterfall processes. A waterfall process looks like:

1. Define the requirements the product must satisfy.
2. Analyze the requirements and produce models of the domain.
3. Design the product.
4. Implement the product.
5. Test the product.

The hope is that you perform each step so thoroughly that any retracing or repetition of steps in the process is minimal. Unfortunately, vast amounts of real-world experience shows that waterfall processes fail. It goes without saying that testing typically reveals mistakes developers make during the design and implementation steps, resulting in some redesigning, re-implementing, and retesting.

However, the most significant failure of the waterfall process stems from the fact that requirements are practically impossible to define adequately up front. Customers do not know exactly what they want, and even the most skilled product manager cannot elicit all of a product's requirements without trial and error. Implementing the product and demonstrating it to prospective customers almost always results in the discovery of new requirements or the recognition of errors in the original requirements.

Agile processes, in contrast, assume up front that retracing is inevitable, so they incorporate iterations in the process. With iterations, you perform the steps to yield a working version of the product for review. You then revisit the steps, incorporating the discoveries you've made and fleshing out further functionality. To help maintain discipline, you may time-box the iterations, meaning that you set a fixed amount of time to complete each iteration, and schedule the tasks to complete within each iteration accordingly.

Unfortunately, while product development teams have at least attempted to use agile processes, most companies do not formally include product management in the iteration cycle. Companies assume that the product manager's role in defining product requirements ends when he "throws them over the wall" to the designers and developers. This practice defeats a large part of the purpose of agile product development.

At Cauvin, Inc., we urge our clients to incorporate our product management and market research services in an agile product development process. Even if we can't integrate directly with a client's process, we at least produce our deliverables (product requirements, market segmentation, buyer profiles, messaging recommendations, etc.) iteratively, starting with templates and incrementally fleshing them out on a weekly basis. That way we can ensure that clients receive the information they need, in a format they can use.

Comments

Gaurav said…
Nice article, Roger.

I completely agree with you.

Even though product development is becoming agile in many organization, the consumers of these products (mostly internal) are not ready yet to cope up.

Agile Community needs to come up with guidelines for all other elements surrounding product development - product management, marketing, sales, support et all

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Use Case as a Black Box

Consider the following use case: Purchase Items Actor: Purchaser Precondition: Purchaser types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40. Postcondition: For the average Purchaser acting at full efficiency, the number of seconds elapsed is no more than 30 + 20 * n, where n is the number of items purchased. The name of the use case represents a functional requirement. What does the product do, or enable the user to do? Purchase items. What are we to make of the preconditions and postconditions? What relationship do they have to the requirements for the product? Answer: the preconditions and postconditions are the nonfunctional requirements attached to the functional requirement . Another way of expressing the nonfunctional requirement would be as an attribute and associated constraint: Usability: For a Purchaser who types at least thirty words per minute and has a web navigation efficiency rating of at least 40, it shall take no

Henry Ford's "Faster Horse" Quote

You may have heard the ( apocryphal ) Henry Ford quote: If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse". Over at the On Product Management blog , Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations. Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation. The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are: You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers. You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information. Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.) Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the