This week we’ll discuss how to staff the agile product management function to best serve your organization’s product management needs.

You need to think of two key roles to staff:

  • Agile Product Manager – focused on the business aspects and the market at-large, tasked with “Building the Right Features” to make a compelling product offering.
  • Product Owner – embedded in the agile team, focused on delivering features to customers, tasked with “Building them (features) Right”.

Don’t get too hung up on actual titles, rather focus on matching up people skills and passion to the tasks associated with each role.

Rigid organizational structures make the product management shift to agile challenging, so getting executive support goes a long way. Without executive support, clearly communicate the specific product management tasks you will focus on and those you won’t — and start thinking about who in the organization could help handle the product management gaps.

Most often, when I hear “we only have one person for both roles and she is doing just fine,” it is a case of a super(wo)man (slowly burning out) or a limited view of the product management discipline.

One person is enough with a “simple” product (small development team, few customers) and for an established product in maintenance mode. On rare occasions, I have seen a proficient individual fulfill both roles for a subset of a product. That model relies on having several individuals proficient at both roles who also happen to share a common product vision across their product subset. If all those planets align, then this staffing model may work for you, but I would not start with it.

Over the past year, I have seen a significant number of customers adopting this Product Owner – Agile Product Manager pairing model. Here are my recommendations based on 7+ years of experience in various Agile Product Management positions.

Product Owners should:

1. Enjoy working closely with developers.

2. Be physically co-located with the development team in order to build a strong bond.

3. Be adept at engaging with users to discuss enhancements to existing features.

4. Have a deep respect for the unpredictability of software development, acceptance that technical roadblocks surfacie at the least convenient time. 

5. Be comfortable making decisions with limited data (I still recall this quality from the Product Owner class I took from Mike Cohn many years ago). Need a decisive type for that role.

Empower whoever takes on the Product Owner role to be physically and mentally available to the team, and expect her to validate stories as soon as they are completed so the team gets credit for the hard work they delivered. Most importantly, avoid sending her on business travel, so she can be fully available to her team. Pairing her with an Agile Product Manager tasked with gaining a deep understanding of the market and its target customers will provide her the “Voice of the Customer” to convey to her team.

Agile Product Managers should:

1. Enjoy working closely with customers, sales, marketing and the rest of the business.

2. Position the product to industry analysts and other external stakeholders.

3. Be proficient at energizing and enabling sales about the product.

4. Be constantly tracking competitors’ moves.

5. Undertand customers’ problems to identify features with high market value (especially when you adopt customer development)

Match individuals and these roles carefully. Pick personalities compatible with the task. As general guidance, analytical minds and detail-oriented folks tend to do well as product owners. Big picture, extroverted folks tend to do well as product managers.

Summary

Agile management adoption does not mean the end of product managers. The biggest transition product managers face is being embedded into the development team. Adequately staffing and fulfilling the new product owner role, while not losing site of the strategic role of product management, is the key to changing product management to enable the agile enterprise.

Organizations that try to “make do” with their current product managers without reassessing the new product management role (in light of agile needs) won’t fully reap the benefits of scaled agile. When you staff product management roles effectively you'll successfully deliver competitive solutions to your markets.

Read the previous two blogs: What I Wish I'd Known When I Transitioned to Agile Product Management” and "What Happens When To Product Managers When Organizations Go Agile."

This blog is syndicated from CA Technologies.  Read more on Highlight, the CA blog.

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