Agile introduces a new product management role: the product owner responsible for grooming the product backlog, presenting stories to developers and acting as the customer voice for the development team.

The agile product owner role interfaces between developers and customers, quickly collects customer feedback at the end of each sprint and adapts the development path to changing customer needs. The product owner embeds product management into the development team to: ensure that customer value drives decisions, remind product managers that not all features are technically equal and proactively respond to the changing needs of the market and customers before the release goes out.

Prior to sprint planning, the product owner writes user stories and collaborates with testers on acceptance criteria. At sprint planning, she tells her development team the stories to work on next. During the sprint, she monitors progress, makes decisions on alternative implementations, answers questions, validates completed stories and prepares stories for the next sprint.

Avoiding the Single Biggest Pitfall

When teams adopt agile methodology, product managers are often not part of the first pilot when agile development teams become accustomed to agile development methodology--from short time boxes to continuous integration and test-driven development. Often a technical lead assumes the role of product owner. Once the team is familiar with these key agile development methodologies and starts delivering on a more frequent cadence, they then want to make sure their efforts lead to greater value to users. This is when the product owner role needs some agile project management tools.That’s when the traditional product manager is usually pulled in to join agile training.

A big pitfall is to simply transition existing product managers to become agile product owners. It seems like a natural transition when everyone is focused on adopting agile, yet there is a heavy price to pay. When a company chooses this pathway, two things can happen:

1) Most commonly, a product manager fully embraces her new agile product owner role. She learns to write good stories and gets to know her agile development team.

            Short-term cost: reduced time for the traditional product management tasks, so those fall by the way-side.

            Long-term cost: an incredibly productive agile development team that delivers software at the wrong time, with the wrong price, with poorly-enabled sales and support that is unable to reach the target audience and bring the expected revenue.

2) Less common is the product manager who does not embrace the product owner role. She focuses on big picture topics rather than the tactical day-to-day product owner duties. In this scenario the sprint user stories may lack acceptance criteria. Because traditional product managers were not in involved in validating requirements, acceptance criteria is often a challenge and is quickly overlooked.

          Short-term cost: the team flounders with poor requirements, making assumptions as they go, because the customer voice is absent.

          Long-term cost: team frustration and costly rework. Without  well-defined acceptance criteria, the work runs the risk of not being accepted at the end of the sprint, resulting in frustrating and costly rework to deliver actual customer value.

Read the next two blogs in this series to learn a better tactic.What I Wish I'd Known When I Transitioned to Agile Product Management” and “How to Staff Appropriately for a Successful Transition to Agile Product Management".

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

 

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