part 4 in the Product Management Frameworks Series
Agile Methodologies play an enormous role influencing product management frameworks at tech companies. It matters tremendously if you’re working with a team that is focused on waterfall, prototyping, iterative or agile methodologies. Arguably, product management frameworks have also influenced innovation in software development. Agile and scrum were influenced by Design Thinking that originated in the 70s and 90s. In turn, the Agile Manifesto popularized the role of the product owner. Today, most tech startups identify themselves as “Agile,” though that means different things to different people.
The originators of Agile Methodologies came up with the concept in a famous ski trip in 2001. They were all leaders in software development who had become frustrated with the infamously slow pace of software development for their day. They came up with the Agile Manifesto:
Over time, this has developed into a few core concepts:
- Development teams work with a product owner who defines requirements for the product and a scrum master who facilitates the project flow
- Product Owners avoid comprehensive documentation. Instead, they develop users stories that describe how the user will use a particular feature.
- Developers work in cycles called sprints, typically two weeks, in which they release working software with the latest updates and get feedback from the user.
- The product team works in short cycles, iterating until the target customer validates the product or feature, and then they move to launch.
Typical Agile Methodology Process
How Agile has Evolved for the Product Management Role
Agile created the role of the product owner who owns and manages the product backlog. The product owner prioritizes a living, changing list of features and prioritizes, sprint, by sprint, release by release what comes next:
Agile Methodologies Strengths
- Fast and lightweight. Faster than waterfall and stage gate approaches
- Adaptable to change. If you’re developing products in an uncertain market, Agile development works well.
- User-centric. Puts the user first over all the constraints of business planning.
- Reduces risk of missing requirements through continuous involvement of the customer
- Developers Love It. Agile takes the pressure of “when will I get it?” and focuses on execution and getting the job done
Agile Methodologies Weaknesses
- No process for business planning. Agile is heavily favored by engineers who just want to develop without asking why.
- No process for validating product market fit. You may get great feedback from your test users, but how will you know there is a product market fit? What if the users you are working with don’t make up a great commercial market?
- Prioritizes Speed and Product Satisfaction over Predictable Timelines. If you have a project that requires a hard deadline, Agile is probably the fastest way to get there, but don’t ask for a calendar at the beginning of the project.
- Hard to practice in its purist form. The most common challenges people observe are:
- It’s hard to develop working software every time. Some complex projects have to be broken down into components. There isn’t always something to present to users at the end of the sprint.
- Hard to Scale. Agile works great for scrum teams of 7, but it has taken a whole new meta methodology called Scaled Agile to scale it to larger teams.
Agile revolutionized the way that tech startups approached their market. It empowered developers to advocate more strongly for the user over the trappings of business planning. However, it is mainly a development methodology.
However, it heavily favors developing over pursuing product market fit. Too many teams mistake agile for a full product management framework. Roman Pichler and Mike Cohn (one of the original thought leaders behind Agile) have gone the farthest in adapting Agile to true Product Planning.
Again, a lot of startup failures can be explained by the fact the founders were ignorant of business fundamentals. Investors and business savvy product managers look at these expensive market experiments and just say “Duh, what did you expect?”
The next great evolution in product management frameworks focused on the startup’s quest for Product Market Fit.
Next: Go-to-Market Frameworks
More from this series: