Enterprise Agility-The Big Picture (9): The Agile Product Manager

Note: In the post Enterprise Agility: The Big Picture, we introduced an overview graphic intended to capture the essence of enterprise agility in a single slide. In prior posts, we’ve discussed Teams, Iterations , the Agile Product Owner, Backlog, User Stories and the Iteration Backlog the Release , Vision and Release Backlog and The Roadmap. In this post, we’ll discuss the Agile Product Manager, [callout 9] below.

Big Picture 9 - Agile Product Manager

Big Picture 9 - Agile Product Manager

I’ve blogged off and on the “agile product manager vs. agile product owner” roles over the last few months so this is not a new topic and I won’t repeat it all here. Many of these posts are categorized under the Product owner/Product Manager category on this blog. We have also touched on the Product Manager in the Big Picture post on the Agile Product Owner and the follow on post. In addition, I described some of the basic Product Manager responsibilities in this article a few years back.

Based on blog hits and search criteria, this topic is pretty relevant right now so it’s a good time to elaborate further on the responsibilities of this role within the context of the Big Picture.

Product Manager/Business Owner/Business Analyst?

Throughout this series, I’ve used the term “Product Manager” instead of Business Owner or Business Analyst, even though those terms may be more familiar in some enterprises. Regardless of organizational structure or title, an effective business owner must exist and they must drive the vision either directly, or through the product management/business analyst organization. An effective Business Owner/Product Manager should exist for each major domain of the solution or the agile teams will be filling in the gaps, possibly with mixed results, depending on their expertise in the various domains. For consistency, we’ll continue to use the term “Product Manager” from here forward, but the reader may wish to translate that into the terms of their enterprise.

Responsibilities of the Product Manager

Agile or not, the Product Manager must fulfill the following responsibilities:

  1. Stay abreast of the latest industry trends
  2. Understand the changing needs of the market and the customer base
  3. Maintain a solid understanding of the current solution

Using this data, the Product Manager’s primary responsibility is to then

  1. Articulate a clear direction for addressing gaps and opportunities

The Agile Product Manager

Like most every other role in the software enterprise, the Product Manager’s role evolves as the company transitions to agile development methods. The first decision is whether or not the Product Manager assumes the role of the agile Product Owner and thereby takes on the additional responsibilities for iteration planning, story elaboration and prioritization, demo and acceptance. As we’ve noted before, that is probably not practical within the enterprise (see Responsibilities of the Agile Product Owner vs. Enterprise Product Manager and Role of the Product manager ). The differing responsibilities for the two roles are then as highlighted in the following table.

Agile Product Manager and Agile Product Owner

Responsibilities: Agile Product Manager and Agile Product Owner

Agile Product Manager in the Big Picture

As can be seen in the table and as is implied in the Big Picture, we see that the Product Manager owns the Vision and Release (Feature) Backlog and as its implementation in the Release and the
Roadmap. The Product Owner is a charter member of the Agile Team, and owns the User Stories and Iteration (story) Backlog and the implementation via Iterations. Working together, the Product Manager and Product Owner steer the agile enterprise.

To fulfill these responsibilities, the Agile Product Manager:

Owns the Vision – in collaboration with the business owners and the Product Owners, the Product Manager sets the Vision and the prioritized feature set which further describe how the Vision may be fulfilled in the implementation.

Drives the Release Objectives and Priorities through Release Planning – The Product Manager plays a key role in the Release Planning process as well, whereby they have routine and periodic, face-to-face opportunities to communicate objectives directly to the agile teams.

Updates and Maintains the Roadmap – One result of this process is the Product Roadmap, which serves as the plan of record for coupling the Vision to Implementation Timelines. The Product Manager uses the Roadmap to communicate the Product Managers “big picture” to the stakeholders inside and outside the enterprise.

That’s it for the Agile Product Manager. In the next post in the Big Picture Series, we’ll get back to the execution model and describe the role that the Release Management Team plays in helping assure the successful implementation of all that Vision.

Note: A Special thanks to Mauricio Zamora of CSG systems, who contributed some content and insight for this post.


6 thoughts on “Enterprise Agility-The Big Picture (9): The Agile Product Manager

  1. Hi Dean,

    I’m very confused about your limited interpretation of the Product Owner role. In Scrum, the Product Owner is a person with a vision for the Product and ROI responsibilities. However, you seem to change the role to *something else* and re-introduce a product manager who is what basically a Product Owner ought to be.


  2. Bas,
    So much depends on context. My context is the agile enterprise and not the small teams around which Scrum was originally based. In my experience, within the enterprise, it is simply not practical for the Scrum Product Owner to also have responsibility for messaging, pricing and licensing, ROI and market prioritization and all the other product manager responsibilities, not to mention the time they must spend with the customer. Neither is it practical for the enterprise Product Manager to assume the activities required by agile/Scrum – elaborating stories, working with the team daily, planning and accepting the iterations, etc. etc. So BOTH roles usually (but not always) need to exist in the enterprise. For another view on this topic, check out http://www.enthiosys.com/insights-tools/pm-prod-owner/

  3. Dean,

    I’ve worked with very large products and they had one Product Owner. He does not need to work alone, since clarification of the requirements for 40 teams will not be possible for one person. Though, changing the PO to a more technical role (which is essentially what you are recommending) is inconsistent with the traditional role description of a PO. And you are adding more layers between the customer and the development team, which is inconsistent with what much of Scrum and other agile methods are trying to do (and with some of their roots).

    Neither do I agree with Luke’s description of the PO role. If I check standard CSM slides on the PO role then it says:

    – Should have a vision for the product.
    – Defines the features of the product, decides on release date and content.
    – Is responsible for the profitability of the product (ROI).
    – Prioritizes features according to market value.
    – Can change features and priority every sprint.

    In Luke’s description, this fits better to the Product Manager role than what he describes as the PO role.


  4. Bas,
    I know of one enterprise case where the existing PM organization assumed the roles of agile product owner as they had the capacity and aptitude to so. In all others I have been directly involved in, the roles of PM and PO were bifurcated as I have discussed and that seemed more effective in those organizations.

    However, the agile methods are lightweight and not overly prescriptive on this, or most any other topic, and in any case, there is room for more than one opinion.

  5. Bas,

    I agree with Dean that size is really the factor with regards to whether or not you need to consider a multiple role strategy for Product Owners and Product Managers.

    In a large organization that is built from a waterfall driven process, the PM organization is usually very small. In addition, they often play a much more sales based role. Instead, the A&D organization is more of the traditional PO type resource.

    As a result, you can’t really ask the Product Managers to be fully dedicated to the teams because they aren’t really around much and they are already stretched too thin. Furthermore, the A&D organization is expected and accustomed to playing the PO type role.

    I agree with you that it does add extra layers and that it is not ideal. However, it’s unfortunately an artifact of very large organizations and if it comes down to not doing agile at all or figuring out a way to leverage the A&D and PM organization appropriately, you are better of doing the later…

    My 2 cents…


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