More companies are using agile methodologies – according to the latest State of Agile report from April 2017, 94% of respondents said their organizations practiced agile (at least some of the teams).
Moving to agile has a major impact on our work as Product Managers. While it improves visibility, increases team productivity and enables managing priority changes more efficiently, agile introduces challenges such as finding the time to be available for R&D while handling all other product tasks, breaking requirement documents to user stories and more. Here are 4 tips that can help you be a more effective Product Manager in an agile environment.
#1 – Do not neglect longer term Product Management activities
Agile introduced the Product Owner role, which many confuse with the Product Manager role. Although in many cases one person performs both, these are different roles (with some overlap). The Product Manager is more customer-focused and market oriented, and the Product owner has internal focus and handles more detailed definitions. You can easily find more information about the differences between these roles, for example, this post from Aha! Blog.
If you are a Product Manager who is also acting as a Product Owner, you can easily become entangled with Product Owner responsibilities which are usually more urgent. Be careful not to neglect your Product Management responsibilities which are more strategic and long term. Allocate specific, well defined, time for your Product Management activities. Do not allow those times to be compromised with your Product Owner activities.
#2 – See the forest for the trees
In agile, you break requirements into many user stories. With so many user stories, it is not easy to keep the bigger picture in mind. Furthermore, the constant pressure to define enough user stories for the team to work on may draw you to detailed definitions and distract you from strategic definition of requirements that add significant value to your product.
Follow a structured Product Definition process that starts top-down with definition of strategic goals and themes for your product. Make sure the detailed requirements you work on are not there because they help you fill the team capacity, but because they are steps on the way to the product strategic goals.
#3 – Do not define details ahead of time
In order that the agile team will be effective. You need to provide them well defined User Stories they can implement. If you use SCRUM, you have to provide enough User Stories until a deadline before every sprint. You may be tempted to define many detailed user stories for backlog features, in order to avoid the deadline pressure. Don’t!
While you do need to have enough stories that you want to implement in the near future (next sprint and a few more), defining User Stories that you plan to implement later is in most cases a waste of time, since by the time you get to implement them, things change and you have to rewrite the User Stories. When you add items that are not for immediate implementation, write only a high level definition, start with a title and elaborate later. Write the detailed definition only when you plan to implement the feature.
#4 – Adopt agile product processes
There is no reason that only processes that involve R&D will be agile. Apply agile process and practices to other Product Management dimensions – Product Strategy, Product Marketing and Product Definition. Increase visibility of these processes, involve relevant stakeholders early in the process and manage changes using strategic goals as guidelines.
If you use rituals when you work with R&D, use rituals for strategic activities. Following such rituals will help you allocate the required time for longer-term activities.