Posts Tagged ‘Product Management’

Deciding “What” To Build

Posted on February 20th, 2011 by Dennis Stevens  |  No Comments »

This is my presentation from Product Camp Atlanta. I address two big issues facing product management. First, establishing an approach to connect product strategy with business strategy, customer value, and risk. It provides the structure for feedback and rapid reassessment of the product road map (backlog). Second, the presentation demonstrates how to leverage the model to reduce the miscommunication, over analysis, over design, and over engineering that leads to scope creep and misalignment between the desired solution and what is actually delivered.

Standing By My Agile Claims

Posted on November 25th, 2010 by Dennis Stevens  |  2 Comments »

I recently posted a presentation, Agile Foundations and Agile Myths, at My goal in the presentation is to juxtapose destructive behaviors arising from a predictive approach and destructive behaviors from an agile approach. This is a deliberately provocative presentation – finding flaws with the common interpretation of both sides of the discussion. Glen Alleman over at Herding Cats responded to my presentation in his post More Agile Claims. He took offense to my “strawman” arguments against the predictive approach.

Predictive Approach to Improving Software Development

What I am calling the Predictive Approach addresses the “mental scaffolding” or underlying assumptions I see everyday in companies practicing what they believe they are guided to do in the PMBOK®, OPM3®, CMMI and DoD . The Predictive Approach describes the practices that arise from the overzealous and misguided belief that the following approach is the best way to improve software delivery.

  • Standardize processes
  • Optimize resource utilization
  • Perform rigorous up-front design
  • Produce comprehensive documentation
  • Get up front commitment to a definitive Scope, Cost and Schedule
  • Enforce strict adherence to the detailed plan

This is where Glen takes offense. He points out that nowhere in the PMBOK®, OPM3®, CMMI or DoD literature are we instructed to apply these in the value destroying way that I discuss. In fact, he charges that I am just “making it up.” But, Glen misses the point. I am not arguing about the literature – I agree with Glen’s interpretation. And I am not making it up. Every day I go into companies that are applying this approach in value destroying ways. In the last year I have been in multiple companies whose documented methodologies prescribe:

  • linear-document driven "over the wall" process thinking
  • assigning resources to multiple projects
  • comprehensive upfront design with detailed documentation
  • commitment to definitive scope, cost, and schedule, and
  • strict adherence to precise start and stop dates for individual tasks

I am not debating the literature – it is an issue of practice. Glen suggests in our discussion in the comments to his post that even the government sometimes exhibits this value destroying behavior.  My points aren’t straw man arguments against the literature – they are attacking a common set of misguided underlying beliefs that the value destroying practices arise from.

In fact, the Agile Manifesto itself arose as a response to common practice – not as a set of new practices. As of the writing of the Agile Manifesto, the writers (and many others including Glen Alleman and myself) had been practicing software development in an “agile” way for a decade or longer. Read the agile manifesto as a response to value destroying practice that is trying to bring attention back to what is necessary to successfully deliver software projects.

The Agile Manifesto

  • Individuals and interactions over process and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Agile Approach to Improving Software Development

And now, … the rest of the story.

The Agile literature rails against too much planning, non-value added documentation, misguided change control, de-humanizing linear process, and layers of bureaucracy.  There is clear recognition in this faction that these are value destroying. But the overzealous and misguided application of these beliefs lead to the other common set of value destroying practices I frequently run into.

  • No Planning
  • No Documentation
  • No Estimating or Commitments
  • No Process
  • No PM, BA or QA

Again, I don’t see the core agile literature advising these practices either. Alistair Cockburn, Jim Highsmith, Mike Cohn, Jeff Sutherland and Kent Beck all prescribe effective practices that support appropriate and progressively elaborated planning, documentation, commitment, and process. They all support the roles of project management, business analysis, and quality assurance when they aid in managing complex products. So the second part of my presentation addresses these misguided practices and presents finding a responsible and situation specific approach to delivering software that focuses on responding to change, enhancing flow and delivering value to the customer.

The Core Discussion

Glen’s response highlights an interesting challenge. My suggestion that current project management practices are value destroying brought out a strong response against agile. I have had the same response from the agile community when I suggest that agile beliefs result in value destroying behavior. Businesses need to be able to make informed business decisions – so we need predictability and planning (Check out Glen’s immutable principles). At the same time we need to manage the work in a way that protects and optimizes value. What is missing in many organization’s is a way to have the responsible discussion exploring underlying assumptions. Companies need to finding ways to make the situation specific changes necessary to balance predictive planning and agile execution.

Project Management, Product Management, and Agile

Posted on March 12th, 2009 by Dennis Stevens  |  3 Comments »

There is a lot of interesting conversation going on within the project management, product management, and agile software development communities. There is contention between (and within) the different communities regarding the value and benefit from the other domains. Sometimes one community is vying to prove their domain is superior to the others. Other times, a community is casting blame for limitations in their ability to perform to another domain. Much of the conversation is based on a limited understanding of what the other domains actually do. They also fall into the trap of generalizing a specific unpleasant experience to encompass the intent of the other community.

I believe this debate is counterproductive. At the end of the day, everyone’s interest should be to improve their organization’s ability to profitably create value for the customer. Each of these areas has something critical to contribute to this goal – but the benefits are only realized when the communities work together. I want to define a few terms, identify the overlap, and then suggest why this discussion is not just an academic exercise, but it an important part of the maturing of each domain.

First, some definitions:

Project Management

Let’s start with Project Management. The Project Management Institute has the following definitions of project, project management and project manager.

Project: A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a uique product, service or result.

Project Management: The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Project Manager: Person assigned by the performing organization to achieve the project objectives.

Project Management is not meant to be an obstacle to getting work done. In fact, the project manager is responsible for ensuring the project is successful.

Product Management

The Product Development and Management Association define product, product management and product manager.

Product: A term used to describe all goods, services, and knowledge sold. Products are bundles of attributes (features, functions, benefits, and uses) and can be either tangible, as in the case of physical goods, or intangible, as in the case of those associated with service benefits, or can be a combination of the two.

Product Management: Ensuring over time that a product or service profitably meets the needs of customers by continually monitoring and modifying the elements of the marketing mix, including: the product and its features, the communications strategy, distribution channels and price.

Product Manager: The person assigned responsibility for overseeing all of the various activities that concern a particular product.

So the Product has an ongoing aspect to it that the Project doesn’t. The Product Manager decides what needs to be built and also how the organization will sell it and support it.

A product has a life that lasts beyond any individual project.  The ongoing thing over at PMI is called a Program. Here is the PMI definition for Program and Program Management. Interestingly, PMI doesn’t define Program Manager in the Program Management standard.

Program: A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually, Programs may include elements of related work outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program.

Program Management: The centralized coordinated management of a program to achieve the program’s strategic objectives.

Project Management Isn’t Product Management

So project management isn’t product management. Neither is Program Management, However, there are projects to execute in the modifying of the product, so project management processes matter in product management.  Here is a Venn diagram that describes the relationship.


If you aren’t good at making changes to your product or the capabilities in your organization that relate to your product, you won’t be a successful company. So project management isn’t product management, but there is overlap in practices and both are important to your organization. Great ideas with no execution aren’t valuable.

Agile Software Development

Finally, let’s go with the Agile Manifesto as a definition of Agile.

Manifest for Agile Software Development

  • Individual and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Despite the perspective of many in the project management and product management communities, Agile is also not intended to be no planning, no documentation, irresponsible software development. According to :

 “The Agile movement is not anti-methodology; in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan, but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.”

Agile is not Product Management

Agile is specifically about software development. In fact, the Agile Manifesto is short for the proper title of Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Agile is an approach to software development that includes practices and principles that can result in dramatically faster and higher quality (therefore less expensive) development of software. But the product is not just software. If the right features, communications strategy, distribution channels and price are established being faster, cheaper, and better at software development doesn’t matter. Product Management is critical to getting value from Agile Software Development.

Agile is not Project Management

 In very few cases is the product that is being sold to an organization’s customers just software. We’ve discussed the relationship of Project and Product Management above.  You need to be good at Project Managing all aspects of change to the product and the capabilities in the organization that support and are affected in any way by the sale, delivery, billing, and support of the product to the customer. Also, Agile isn’t concerned with Procurement – but procurement is important to the profitability of the company. And while iterations are a Risk Mitigation tool, Agile does not have a specific Risk Mitigation aspect to it.

Why this discussion matters

The following Venn diagram depicts the interdependency between these three domains.  Value is not delivered by any one of these domains. It is through an effective coordination between these domains that value is delivered to the customer. Value is identified, shaped, and then communicated to the customer by Product Management. Much value is created by the Agile development team itself. Value is created through aligning the other capabilities within the organization and often actually delivering the product to the customer through Project Management.



Let me quote Jim Highsmith from again.

“In order to succeed in the new economy, to move aggressively into the era of e-business, e-commerce, and the web, companies have to rid themselves of their Dilbert manifestations of make-work and arcane policies. “

Most of the organization’s that I have been involved with that are failing to deliver software to the business or the business’ customers are failing to receive value because of deficiencies in one or all of the domains in this discussion. Often, the deficiencies are the result of conflict and lack of coordination with another domain. Becoming great at one area, while remaining poor in another, is not value to the customer, the business, or ultimately to the members of the organization. 

The discussion we need to be having is not about how each domain contributes to problems for the other domain.  This is an interdependent problem, not one that has its roots in any one domain. Bunkering down, defending incompatible practices, focusing on local optimization at the expense of the business is not going to work. We need to work together to answer this question. How do we align the product management and project management practices with the rapid, incremental delivery of working software to optimize benefits for our customers and profitability for our businesses?