What is Product Management?
The farthest ‘upstream’ point at which Agile teams are actively involved is often the Release Backlog and the Release Planning process. From the point of view of the organisation as a whole, however, there are several layers of thinking and decision-making that come long before that. The layer closest to the development team is Product Management.
Product Management is the basic strategic process in Agile: it translates the organisation’s goals step-by-step into releases the team will implement. That is, the Product Management cycle translates the organisation’s why (its business strategy) and what (the corporate vision) into the who and the where (the Agile team), and then the when (the Product Plan). The subsequent processes – Release and Iteration Planning – then define the detailed how.
What is a ‘product’?
In Agile, a product is any item or area that forms a unit of business strategy.
- It may be something the business sells or a service they offer.
- Where the focus is more inward-looking, it can also be:
- an internal function (e.g., IT Support, HR, Finance).
- an operational area (e.g., the ITIL functions).
- an architecture.
- a support queue.
- or other clearly defined area of work that would benefit from unified ownership and development.
Looked at from the opposite point of view, the product:
- is the area the Product Owner represents.
- is the area supported by a dedicated product team.
The closer these come to one-to-one correspondence between, on the one hand, a well-defined product and, on the other, a single Product Owner and product team, the easier it is to apply Agile principles and methods, and the greater the benefits Agile will deliver.
The Product Management lifecycle
Product Management is the top layer in the series of layers through which the product evolves, integrating Product, Release and Iteration Management into a succession of nested cycles:
- Product Management is the top-level, permanent function that lasts for as long as the product itself.
- A product passes through multiple releases (often complete new versions of the product, but also localisations for new markets or users, fixes, etc.).
- Each release consists of one or (usually) more iterations, during which the planned changes are actually implemented.
This is illustrated here:
Scaling Product Management
Product Management isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ activity:
- In small organisations or internal service functions whose main work consists of responding to customer or stakeholder requests, Product Management may be limited to managing the Backlog. But even in this limited situation, thought should sometimes be given to systematic improvements and to architectural change – key aims of Product Management.
- In a large, complex organisation, Product Management is an equally large, complex topic, supported by complex sub-systems for:
- Investment decisioning.
- Portfolio & pipeline management.
- Programme management.
- Enterprise architecture.
- And so on.
- However, only the parts of this cycle that influence the Agile team’s work directly are explained here.
The Product Management cycle
The Product Management cycle consists of three recurring steps:
|Set the Product Vision.|
|Build the Product Backlog.|
|Schedule the product releases in the Product Plan.|
It is important that Agile teams understand the Product Management layer, as it:
- sets the context; and
- defines the drivers
for many of the decisions the Product Owner makes and for their work as a whole.