Product management is a dirty word in Agile software development circles, and I am baffled by this blatant omission. Considering that most people have no idea what it is, the resistance is due to ignorance and/or fear, more than a disagreement with the philosophies or methodologies of it.
Agile is incomplete without product management. As I see it, the intent of the agile methodology is to allow for emergence in the development process. But in order for emergent phenomena to occur, all participants must have two basic things; a clearly defined common goal, and a set of guiding principals by which they can evaluate all decisions.
This is precisely what product management is about.
Most of the skeptics are already rolling their eyes. I can see them. But I present to you a minimalist version that you can start implementing now and see for yourself if it’s an idea worth further exploration.
Before I start, if you are not having a kickoff meeting for new projects, you should stop reading this now and seriously reconsider your career choice.
If you are, start your meeting with these four questions to set the target. This way everyone knows what the goal is and the constraints they are working in. Constraints are very important. Knowing the constraints will help you know where the client will be willing to compromise to achieve the goal.
1. Why are we building this, and what problem are we solving?
This is the goal setting part of the process. Be clear and concise. A goal needs to be easily repeatable and easily understood by someone unfamiliar with the product.
2. Who is it for: Primary Audience? Secondary?
Define a very loose profile of your primary user, and if necessary the secondary user as well. The primary user is most important, and should be considered first in any overlapping use cases.
3. What is important to that audience?
Considering the user profile, what kind of things would be important to them when using your software. For example, if your primary user is elderly, they may require large easily readable fonts and simple structure. If they are 20-something it professionals it should be customizable and accessible via an API.
4. What are the constraints?
This can be anything that constrains the development of the product. It can be anything from browser compatibility to fixed budget. Money is usually the most common and most obvious, but other constraints could be accessibility, timeframe, or competitors.
Questions 2 through 4 combine to form a profile of the criteria you should be using to evaluate every decision that you make in support of your goal.
This is a very basic start, but it should help you to see how product management can help you deliver exceptional software.