Agile and Product Management

Question: "Everybody is talking about agile product development. What exactly is agile and what is the relationship between agile and product management?"

Answer: Agile is a re-branding of the concept of Lightweight Software Development and a collective term for a group of product development methods, such as SCRUM, DSDM, Crystal, FDD, and XP, which all reside in the solution space (designing and building a product). Agile development methods are not product management methodologies since the product management domain resides in the problem space (identifying and articulating market problems, from a product planning perspective).

Agile and Product Management in Technology-Driven or Sales-Driven Companies
In technology-driven or sales-driven companies the product management function is commonly muted or defunct due to the specific nature and business culture of these companies in which technology and engineering practices dominate. Consequently, the agile team assumes broad ownership and responsibility for various roles and tasks which traditionally belong to product management, including the formulation of market requirements, use cases, and product roadmaps. In this environment, individuals working in the company's product management department are often asked by the agile team to transition from their original role and contribute to the agile process by acting as a representative of the customer. These individuals are then tasked to help the agile process by dynamically providing market and business information that helps guide the agile team in building the product backlog table (Agile Scrum's master list of all functionality desired in the product) or similar product feature lists.

The result of working in this manner is that the agile team manages the company's entire product delivery process. This is a generically problematic situation because allowing any one function to simultaneously hold complete ownership of roles in both the problem and solution spaces will most likely create a conflict of interests (primarily between the product's delivery schedule and the product's feature scope) and result in over-engineered products that could be misaligned with market needs.

Agile and Product Management in Market-Driven Companies
In a market-driven company the product management function is correctly staffed and is at equal standing with the development function. In this case, the agile team is not compelled to take over traditional product management roles which presently exist and are being properly performed by individuals in product management. With the introduction of agile to the company, the relationship between product management and development now hinges upon the agile team receiving a classic market requirements document (MRD) which the product planner (a primary role in product management that is responsible for identifying and articulating market problems) wrote and using that MRD to build the product backlog table (or similar product feature lists) instead of writing a product requirements document (PRD). In the market-driven company, agile smoothly coexists and cooperates with other corporate functions and primarily affects the development team's internal processes without affecting the roles in product management.

Agile and Blackblot Product Management Relationship
Blackblot's market-driven Blackblot Product Manager's Toolkit® (PMTK) product management methodology provides the processes and tasks to support the problem space and connect it to the solution space. This also means reshaping the relationship and connecting product management with development to work together more efficiently. Consequently, Blackblot's PMTK product management methodology coexists well with agile development methods in companies with a true market-driven business culture.