5 Things Every Product Manager Should Know About Agile–IPMA Event Report

This is an event report from one of IPMA Pune chapters that I was involved in hosting and more importantly, participating and learning with the group. This post is more of an event report covering key points tabled and takeaways I found useful in the session.

India Product Management Association (IPMA) Pune Chapter in its speaker series hosted a session with Bimlesh NG on 7th August at BMC Software premises. Prof. Bimlesh is a renowned Agile Coach, CEO Aguai Solutions and faculty at Institute of Product Leadership (IPL). The session focused on “5 Things Every Product Manager Should Know About Agile”. It turned out to be a very interactive session that went on for over 2 hours. The mix of understanding the Agile process bundled with real-life questions and situations was well received by the audience. This article presents a brief summary of the key points and take-aways from the session.

The session was focused around “Critical 5 factors” for a Product Manager to be aware in Agile:

Critical 5

  • Agile PM is different!
  • Product Owner versus Product Manager
  • Making it work in an enterprise
  • Common pitfalls
  • Critical success factors

The goal of product management is to deliver measureable business results through product solutions that meet both market needs and company objectives. They need to act as “thinkers” to adapt to changing market needs and responding to change faster than the competitors and sometimes faster than the market itself. To achieve this, Product Managers are engaged in an array of activities. Prof. Bimlesh shared the “Adaptive Framework” as one of the effective examples encapsulating this. In essence, a Product Manager’s engagement looks like this:

Product Manager - role triad - Seema Joshi

Product Managers have the opportunity to drive both topline (through driving customer base, satisfaction, etc.) and bottom line (by improving efficiencies, etc.) growth. In an interactive discussion, the audience discussed the success stories of expansion of Redbus by going international and contrastingly the approach taken by Flipkart through the launch of it’s new online payment gateway product by expanding an existing product for a newer market given the growing eCommerce market in India, as effective real-world examples.  

Another great way Bimlesh shared for Product Managers to make this happen is through following appropriate objectives based on the product lifecycle. For instance, while traversing through the product lifecycle bell-curve, the various stages could be targeted as:

  • Build it
  • Nail it
  • Scale it
  • Extend it
  • Milk it
  • End it

Agile Development

The speaker spoke about the Agile Manifesto.  The key components of scrum constitute:

  • The product manager managing the backlog
  • The team working together for sprint planning meetings
  • The creation of a spring backlog through set of targeted tasks
  • And there-by executed in sprints (typically ranging from between 1-4 weeks)

Factor 1 – Agile PM is different

It is a common myth that Agile development is suitable just for websites and smaller projects or products. But that is not true. Many companies are successfully using it in product and service delivery models. The key factors that make managing a product different for a Product Manager in an Agile method include:

  1. Managing roadmaps
    1. Think big, act small
    2. The planning is equally important. It is the small steps where the execution happens.
  2. Collaboration is everything
    1. Everyone needs your time
    2. Build relationships with all intersects of engagement for better understanding and common focus on targeted goals. It is found teams with better collaboration are more successful.
  3. Customer feedback
    Very critical to get this in various stages and forms

    1. Vision
    2. Product canvas/backlog
    3. Incremental additions
    4. Demo to stakeholders for validation
    5. Learn and update backlog
  4. Business value
    Focus on delivering business value going through the iterations. The value should be build such that while going through iteration 1 to n, depending on customer need and market dynamics, say competitive pressure, even if it is required to get the product out at 60% value being built, it should be possible to rapidly bring a product out to the market to deliver the value built to that point. This makes it a very powerful tool to rapidly respond to market dynamics.
  5. Make progress visible
    1. Product burn-down chart
    2. Visibility creates ease in the environment
    3. Visibility of information to make informed decisions

Factor 2 – Product Manager versus Product Owner

As the scope of delivery increases, say for instance in a suite of products or an enterprise product, it is important to understand the differences between the two roles. Typically for larger deliveries, it is recommended to have both roles of Product Manager and Product Owner focused and planned for separately. Following is a quick snapshot of how these roles differ:

  • Product Manager
    • Works close to customer/market – market focus
    • External driven to identify market problems and suitable solutions
    • Internal to drive product direction
  • Product Owner
    • Works with Agile teams and R&D
    • Works with Product Manager
    • Internal driven to drive deliveries
    • Translates identified solutions into actionable items

Factor 3 – Making it work in an enterprise

Making Agile work in an enterprise involves a focus on the following areas:

  • Balancing a roadmap: It is important to plan for a balanced roadmap
    • Internal
      • Technical focused
      • Usability focused
    • External
      • Market focused
      • Customer focused
      • Strategic focused
  • Prioritization: Another important factor is right prioritization. A number of different prioritization methods can be deployed:
    • Risk-based
    • Kano analysis
    • MosCow
    • Effort-based
    • ROI
  • Scope and sizing: Try to be deliberate about scope and keep it small
    • Try to avoid the trap of trying to do much
    • Strategize on what not to do
    • Break features into smaller chunks. Smaller scope for faster and better iterations
    • Relative sizing
      • T-shirt sizing
      • Fibonacci series

 In an enterprise the product manager and product owner work together to plan the product in layers:

  • Planned solution
  • Release
  • Iteration
  • Story

Factor 4 – Common pitfalls

The following pitfalls need to be avoided by Product Managers:

  • Part-engagement with teams
  • Lack of details on stories, acceptance tests
  • Stale items in backlog
  • Unable to get the best of the team
  • Multiple backlogs maintained

A great way to avoid these is by maintaining a healthy backlog and starting with release workshops to help build the context, confidence and steam in the team to deliver planned objectives

Factor 5 – Critical 5 success factors

Critical success factors for a Product Manager in an Agile world include in being able to:

  • Listen, and listen well
  • Ruthless prioritization (using rules consistently is a key!)
  • Summarize and share customer interactions (including ROI and revenue goals)
  • Measure progress and make it visible!
  • Managing time!!

~ Seema Joshi

IPMA – Pune chapter


Learning to learn–well!

Today I want to share with a story told by a leader at one of the previous companies I worked with which is close to my heart. I am sure it will resonate with a lot of you too. I have tried to keep it as much verbatim to avoid diluting the message.

Promod shared a story about his friend. He had noticed his friend seemed to be more energized, lively, eager and open. He felt his friend was indeed onto something. It turned out the secret recipe was from a sense of rejuvenation he was feeling since the time he became a dad for the first time a couple of years ago. Watching how his daughter thrived in the environment around her, and how she approached life, had re-awakened the child within him. This in turn had revived the “continuous learning” that he felt was the main ingredient behind the positive change. This was an interesting reminder of a something we often forget—continuous learning, not just learning…

In Promod’s words continuous learning is best described as “our ability to learn to learn“. It applies to our personal life and professional work experiences. When nurtured explicitly in the right environment, it can provide us with invaluable tools to enrich ourselves in every aspect. Just as his friend had discovered while watching his daughter, he felt the key traits to becoming a continuous learner are to:

  • be open in our views
  • accept feedback
  • be willing to adapt
  • apply acquired information
  • know what is important
  • set priorities accordingly
  • take on active roles

Clear understanding of goals and objectives helps to create an environment that encourages development of these behaviors be it at work or in our personal lives. Promoting a culture that fosters free exchange of ideas, time to listen, reflect, and adapt propels this further. Promod always said this culminates not only in achieving our goals, but also in retaining and disseminating the learning gathered during the journey to be re-applied within this continuous cycle for better outcomes.

It is observed children flourish in such open environments and have many of the traits to continuously learn. As we get older, we tend to forget what worked so well for us, choosing to become experts in narrow domains while giving up the broader learning experiences that surround us everywhere. Although this may seem a necessity to stay competitive in today’s world, if we could manage to recapture this part of our childhood and apply it as a basis for all learning we could help get better in all parts of our life.

While each of us could find a method to “continuously learn”, a very powerful method I think is to not unlearn what we learn. Think of it, while it is essential for all of us to keep learning continuously, would it not be nice if we did not unlearn key lessons as we learn those during various phases of our lives? There are instances in our lives when we experience certain feelings in the most pure and deepest form. As time passes by, these begin to dilute. For instance, think of the trust we place in our parents when we let our fingers slip into their hands before taking our first step. The trust, at this point, is greatest and unquestioned. With time, this feeling seems to get watered down. The trust we place in people in the later parts of our lives is not necessarily of the same intensity and pureness. Would it not be nice if we tried “not to unlearn” these feelings and tried to make it our endeavour to instil these back in the same unadulterated form? This attempt at trying to learn continuously and trying not to unlearn certain things will help us internalize learning’s for better outcomes. Else it can be reduced to a wave of the ocean that meets the coast and tracks back again! Examples are galore. Even if we just pick a sample that most of us would have experienced in our life at one point of the other in one form or the other. 

  1. Determination: The determination a toddler holds is really amazing. Repeated attempts are made to cover even a little ground. A toddler stumbles many times. However, rather than getting bogged down, sports a smile instead and tries again-until he has made it.
  2. Fair competition: As kids, we lark about for the mangoes in the grove and each one of us tries to make the biggest catch. This is not done in the spirit to out-do other friends, but to only get a bigger loot at the end of it for everyone to share.
  3. Belief: The belief that we place in our schoolteachers is totally unbending. During early school days, we never tend to question or doubt anything that our teachers have to say.
  4. Achievement: The sense of achievement that we experience after completing the first task we perform independently, is immense. This task in itself could vary for each one of us, but the idea sure rings some bells when we think of it.
  5. Zest: There is something about the zest with which we work at first job. This enthusiasm to do something new and the willingness to make a meaningful contribution towards the company’s objective, in most cases, is unfathomable.

As we can see, learning is a great way for us to be well prepared for newer challenges and situations we face in every facet of our lives. A great way to walk that path is to continuously learn with an intent to internalize some of the key learnings such that we do not unlearn them! Of course the lists for both aspects would be unique to each person. So, with that I’d like to leave you with some food for thought and a large space to add to this list, as you deem right.


~ Seema Joshi