Agile Product Managers and Product Owners: A Scalable, Nuanced Approach

The Product Owner in the Agile Enterprise: Part I
In the first article of this three-part series, Dean Leffingwell describes a nuanced approach to the role of the agile Product Owner in the enterprise setting, concluding that the enterprise is likely to need both agile Product Owners and agile Product Managers to achieve success.

Note: This is the first of a three part series on the critical nature of the product owner's role within the agile software enterprise. In Part I, I'll describe why software vendors need to adopt a nuanced, rather than off-the-shelf, approach to this role; one which empowers both Agile Product Managers and Agile Product Owners to drive the enterprise to meet its objectives. In Part II,  Responsibilities of the Agile Product Owner in the Enterprise ,  I'll provide some specific guidance for the attributes and activities of the Product Owner in this larger and more challenging, enterprise context. And finally, since staffing the Product Owner role in the emerging agile enterprise creates its own set of issues, I'll provide some case studies of how real enterprises are addressing this challenge in Part III, Seeding the Agile Product Owner in the Enterprise .

Recently, I've had the opportunity to assess progress in a number of large scale agile transformations, touching hundreds and in some cases, thousands, of new agile practitioners. Most typically, these involve comprehensive Scrum training for team members along with training for some number (10-100s) of ScrumMasters. Less typically, they include training for agile product owners, some XP-like technical practices (peer review , pair programming experimentation, TDD pilots, etc) and such enterprise extensions (lean requirements, agile release train, lighter weight governance models, etc.) as have been brought to these companies by enterprise agilists such as myself.

Happily, I can report three common and positive findings:

    • Productivity is going up
    • Time to deliver new features to the market is going down
    • Morale is higher, often times MUCH higher

Not one entity I've encountered has any interest in returning to their former practices. So all in all, these enterprises efforts to date are an emerging success and many are now redoubling their efforts to achieve the next level of productivity and quality possible with agile methods. To achieve this, we often assess current results and accomplishments - strengths and weaknesses - and then make specific recommendations for ongoing improvement.

During this process, it strikes me that the critical role of the agile Product Owner is often near the top of the list - though unfortunately it appears most often in the "areas we need to improve" rather than on the other side of the ledger! This finding causes me to reflect on the bigger picture of the agile movement as it "crosses the chasm" to the enterprise and to record my thoughts about the nature of the Product Owner role in the enterprise, along with some specific guidance and recommendations for improving these practices.

In this, Part I of this series, I'll describe why I believe software vendors need to adopt a nuanced, rather than off-the-shelf, approach to this role; one which empowers both agile Product Managers and agile Product Owners to drive the enterprise to meet its objectives.

The Product Owner in the Enterprise Context
First, it is important to note that I write this whitepaper from my own experiences in the larger enterprise context. While I have also been involved in a number of highly agile, smaller projects, it is in the context of the really large enterprise that the challenge is greatest. It is there that some of the standard, off-the-shelf Product Owner practices and trainings break down, and the otherwise successful oversimplifications that drive agile success ("what is the simplest thing that can possible work") simply do not scale to the enterprises challenge. The principles remain the same, but the practices must be extended.

The Product Owner in Scrum
It is to Scrum that we


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