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

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2 thoughts on “5 Things Every Product Manager Should Know About Agile–IPMA Event Report

  1. Thanks for posting this. I got your link from the LinkedIn pragmatic marketing group. I’m a product manager in the US. I’m just transitioning into managing a backlog with an agile team.

    • @vanessajupe: Glad you found this useful. I’ve been a Product Manager too for the last 7 years and have worked in a number of adaptations of Agile. Feel free to reach out if there are any questions or thoughts you’d like to exchange. Good luck on getting Agile 🙂
      Cheers,
      Seema

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