As agile practices become more prevalent across organizations, product management divisions face increasing challenges to adapt to these agile techniques and respond to their partners in IT. Sure, both groups seek the values of agile, in terms of higher productivity, improved product quality and predictable business values. We must ask, however, are agile techniques inherent to the way Product Managers create and manage their product portfolio? The quick answer is No. A change in mindset and technique are needed. Given that strategic objectives are frequently set at an executive level, Agile product/portfolio managers struggle to address the dual requirements of defining a product roadmap aligned to those strategic objectives while simultaneously addressing the constraints of resources and budgets consumed at the release and sprint levels. This dual challenge is testing the bandwidth of current practitioners of the Product Management discipline. More often than not, most Agile project teams look forward to direct collaboration with the strategy makers for quick and effective decision making over reporting extensive metrics for each and every project/program; the reality is that only a few product/portfolio managers are actually capable of making that shift to accommodate this drift. What is needed to make that shift?
This article outlines a modest agile-enabled framework adopted by the product wing of the digital division of a publishing house to charter their product roadmap and simultaneously enable their project team with the “big picture”. We adopted highly collaborative, feedback dependent, iterative and time boxed activities geared to developing and maintaining a rapidly evolving product roadmap. This report reinforces the necessity of embracing agile product management principles as being central to successful agile projects and teams. Without appropriate product management that integrates continuous feedback loops, agile teams might end up delivering the wrong products faster. This article provides the tools to enable medium sized practicing agile teams and their product owner(s) to steer their product portfolio in the right direction.
In his book “Agile Estimating and Planning, [i]” Mike Cohn stresses that the accuracy of a plan decreases rapidly the further we attempt to plan beyond what we can see. Hence agile teams usually get involved in the elaboration of planning at three distinct horizons ( if you cannot see past the horizon, you need to look up and adjust your plan ) – daily, iteration (sprint), and release. By planning across these time horizons, agile teams focus only on what’s visible and important to the plan they are creating. Though most agile teams are usually concerned with only these three levels of planning, an Agile Product Manager doesn’t stop at release planning; product managers need to plan with equal ease at multiple levels. They have to scale from release planning to creating a full product roadmap, portfolio management, and finally to executive strategy making. The scale of activities for the Product Manager now spans across all the following horizons: daily, iteration (sprint), release, product, portfolio, and strategy.
Figure 1 highlights the different levels at which an Agile Product Manager is expected to work; the outer levels (product/ portfolio/ strategy) usually have a different audience and different rates of progression than the inner circles. This makes it more important for the Product Manager to be agile in their communication and deliverables. Unfortunately, it is more often the case that enterprises have traditional product owners or managers who are unable to catch this fast drift from release planning to product strategy and vice versa. Agile Product/Portfolio Management is geared to address a number of these concerns of product managers by embedding key agile principles of iterative feedback, constant collaboration and