While there might not be a single correct formula for fitting product management into an Agile setting, there's one inescapable rule: Prepare to have your PM skills put to the test.
Recently, I was speaking with Barry Paquet of Quantum Whisper, a small firm that has a tool designed to help PMs with these Agile-related challenges. To the right, you'll see one of the slides from Barry's presentation. The message is pretty self-evident: if your company is going to take the "voice of the customer" part of Agile seriously, PM must keep a lot of plates spinning. Feedback loops in Agile development don't run themselves—someone has to be on top of the collection, analysis, validation, communication, and review. With Agile, these activities are happening nearly constantly.
While any PM who has a passion for building good products should welcome this change, it also can be a little scary. In my own research and advisory work on Agile adoption in tech industry companies, I've heard some PMs express no small anxiety about this new model. In part, they're worried that the company might not support or even understand this process fully. However, they also experience some dark nights of the soul about whether the have the skills and experiences needed to play that sort of role. Here are a few common concerns:
One of the great things about researching Agile is, given the scope of both its applicability and effects, you'll never run out of interesting topics. Agile product management, Agile used outside development, contract details in Agile projects, Agile channel management, the effect of Agile on requirements—researchers like myself and Dave West, writing about Agile directly, will have plenty to do for years to come. So, too, will others, like Mary Gerush, exploring the effects of Agile on requirements and other aspects of development.
As Agile goes mainstream, video game developers like Bioware have taken the Agile plunge. This corner of the technology market is very interesting because of the high level of challenge. In some cases, video game developers face extreme versions of common problems, such as an unforgiving standard of product quality. (Ship a crappy product, and your dreams of making obscene wealth will be replaced with the nightmare of watching your game vanish from retail channels.) Other challenges are unique to the video game industry, such as managing all the creative talent—artists, musicians, and actors—critical to product success. (But heck, if you get to meet John Cleese, Claudia Black, or Gary Oldman, the work can't be all bad.)
I swore that I was not going to say anything further. I really, really tried, but I'm going to have to throw away the little plastic medal that says, "Two Weeks And No Buzz." Here's a must-read quote that a colleague forwarded to me:
So why exactly did Google Buzz launch with some key social features missing? Jackson said that while Google employees were testing out the product internally, they never had much desire to mute any of their coworkers, and that their email contact list closely matched the people they wanted to follow on Buzz. Obviously, that wasn’t true for most people once the product was released outside of the Googleplex. Which is why Google is considering pre-releasing new Buzz features to a few thousand opt-in users long before they’re rolled out to the public.
The short version: "It worked for us inside the firewall, so we never thought it'd have a problem outside the firewall." Of course, an enterprise collaboration tool is a wholly different kind of solution than a social networking tool, so the requirements for the former do not completely cover the latter.