HomeBlog Agile Is Not a Product Management Framework

Agile Is Not a Product Management Framework

October 04, 2013 | By Jeff Lash

Whether you’re using agile, waterfall, some combination or something else entirely, you need a process for product management. The fundamentals of good product management remain the same, regardless of development methodology.

When we ask clients about their new-product innovation and go-to-market process, they often respond with: "We use agile." There's just one problem: Agile isn't a process for product management. It's a method for product development.

Whether you're using agile, waterfall, some combination (Scrummerfall? Iterative water-kanban?) or something else entirely, you need a process for product management.

Saying you use agile as your process for product management is like saying tasting your dishes as you're cooking is your process for being a chef. Many chefs do this to ensure the output is as they expect and to make corrections along the way. But there's more to being a great chef.

Imagine you’re preparing a dinner for friends. You need to know their preferences, expectations and needs, how many people you’ll be serving, and when and where the meal will take place. With these inputs, you can develop a rough plan or “roadmap” for the meal. Make sure you have the right ingredients and know how long each dish takes to cook so you can plan when to start preparing each one.

Tasting as you cook may help the meal turn out better, but if you don't know what your guests like or are allergic to, or if you don't have the right ingredients before you start – and it’s too late to run to the store – your meal will be a disaster. The moral is: Whether or not you use agile, without proper planning and analysis, a new product, or an enhancement to an existing offering, is unlikely to succeed.

The fundamentals of good product management remain the same, regardless of development methodology – understand the market and customer needs, design products that address those needs while meeting financial or other goals, take responsibility for the overall commercial success of products and manage each product through its entire lifecycle. Many crucial product management elements are unrelated to the product development process – from market sizing to pricing to sales enablement. To equate agile with a product management process is to ignore product managers’ other responsibilities toward making their products commercially successful.

Obviously, there is an impact on product management when a waterfall approach is traded for an agile approach – e.g. the method for communicating requirements (user stories), the role of the product manager in working with the product development team (product owner), and the approach to customer research and prototyping. These differences often challenge product managers (and others) to adapt, and require new knowledge and skills. But this doesn't mean that everything pre-agile gets thrown out the window. Instead, some of the elements of the product management process must simply be modified to reflect agile.

Whether you use a waterfall or agile process for product development, our Product Marketing and Management Model offers product managers an innovation and go-to-market process based on our research on the practices of best-in-class b-to-b companies. It provides a framework for the activities and deliverables necessary to create, launch and sustain customer-oriented offerings. Product development is an important piece of this model, but not a replacement for it.

Jeff Lash

Jeff Lash is Vice President and Group Director of Go-to-Market at SiriusDecisions, where he leads the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing Research and Advisory Services. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 15 years of experience in product management, product development, product marketing, and user experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.

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