Agile Product Manager in the Enterprise (2): A Contemporary Framework

Note: this is the second post in a series on the changing role of product management as the enterprise transitions to agile development methods. This series in turn, is a continuation of the series on the Role of Product Manager and Product Owner in the Agile Enterprise which can be found in the Product Manager/Product Owner series on this blog as well as a series in the Agile Journal. (See the resource page for a mapping to the Agile Journal Article Series).

In the first post, Role of the Product Manager in the Agile Enterprise (1): Phases of Disillusionment in Pre-Agile, Waterfall Development, I described some of the dysfunctional behaviors and mistrust that may be built into our system prior to the agile transition.  In this post, we’ll move to a more postive and enlightened view of the changing role of product management.


What’s Different about Product Management in Agile?

In prior posts, we’ve also described how the role needs to change in agile development. Much is different as the table below illustrates.

PM Responsibility Traditional


Understand customer need Up front and discontinuous Constant interaction
Document requirements Fully elaborated in MRD/PRD Coarsely documented in Vision. Constant verbal communication to team.
Scheduling Plan a one time delivery, way later Continuous near term roadmap
Prioritize requirements Not at all or one time only in PRD Reprioritize every release and iteration
Validate requirements Not applicable.  QA responsibility Involved with iterations and each release. Smaller, more frequent releases
Manage change Prohibit change – weekly CCB meetings Adjust at every release and iteration boundary

Adapting to all the behaviors in the right column is a substantial change for the newly-agile, enterprise Product Manager and that is the subject of this series of posts.

Functions of Product Management in the Agile Enterprise

In this series, we’ll be describing mostly what’s different with Product management in a pre-and post-agile environment. We won’t be attempting to describe all the behaviors which are common or providing guidance for what product managers do in the traditional software enterprise, Fortunately, many of the product management functions are the same in agile as they are in pre-agile development.

For example, the product managers are still primarily responsible for assessing market needs and creating product strategies (with input from the teams). However, the handoff to R&D highlighted in the last post is strongly mitigated, and the Product Managers take a far more active role throughout the development process.

For a  more contemporary view of the comprehensive nature of an effective product management organization, I refer you to the product management framework graphic provided by Zig Zag Marketing below (reproduced with permission, see for more details).


Framework for Product Management
Figure 1 – Framework for Product Management


It can be seen in Figure 1 that the early product development lifecycle functions (Assessing Markets, Creating a Product Strategy) remain largely the same, but the product management function continues with more direct involvement in R&D throughout the launch cycle. Of course, this framework is from the perspective of professionals in product management and our approach is more nuanced.

The Nuanced, Dual Roles of Agile Product Manager and Agile Product Owner

In various posts described above, I described why, at least in the larger software enterprise, the responsibilities of the agile Product Owner (as primarily defined by Scrum) is more typically a set of responsibilities that are  shared between a significant number of team-based, agile Product Owners and a smaller number of program-based, agile Product Managers. This dual role approach is also illustrated in the Big Picture Series and graphic as seen below:


The Big Picture of Enterprise Agility

Figure 2 - The Big Picture of Enterprise Agility

Within the context of that picture, the Product Manager operates primarily at the Program and Release level, as this Big Picture snippet indicates.

Product Manager in the Big Picture

Figure 3 - Product Manager in the Big Picture

In these various articles and posts, I‘ve highlighted the different responsibilities for these two roles, summarized as follows:

Agile Product Manager

Agile Product Owner

Market/customer facing Product/technology facing
Collocated & reports into marketing/business. Collocated & reports into development/ technology
Focuses on market segments, portfolio, ROI Focuses on product and implementation technology
Owns the Vision Owns the Implementation
Drives the Release Drives the Iteration

Mapping the Dual Roles onto the Framework

In the context of Zig Zag Marketing’s Product Management Framework, the roles fall fairly nicely into the  product lifecycle as can be seen in the  figure below.


Mapping the Dual Roles onto the Framework

Figure 4 - Mapping the Dual Roles onto the Framework



In many enterprises, adopting this dual-role model has been integral to an effective agile transition and has enhanced operational performance in both the business and technology. As John Bartleman, VP of Product management and TradeStation Technologies recently noted:

“This separation of labor and concerns (into Product Managers and Product Owners) has helped us bring additional focus to both the market and technical aspects of our solution”.

Product Manager/Business Owner/Business Analyst?

We’ll describe the agile-specific responsibilities of the Agile Product manager in the posts that follows. But first, however, we note that the name of the title of the person who plays this role may vary by industry segment as seen below.

Industry Segment Common Title for the Role
Information Systems/Information Technology (IS/IT) Business Owner,  Business Analyst, Project or Program Manager
Embedded Systems Product Manager, Project or Program Manager
Independent Software Vendor Product Manager

Table 1 – Titles for the Role Vary Across Business Segments

Responsibilities of the Agile Product Manager in the Enterprise

No matter the title (we’ll continue to use Product Manager throughout) or the reporting arrangement, when an agile transition is afoot the person playing that role must fulfill the following primary, agile-specific responsibilities:

1.     Own the Vision and Release Backlog

2.     Manage Release Content

3.     Maintain the Product Roadmap

4.     Build an Effective Product Manager/Product Owner Team

I’ll describe each of these responsibilities in individual posts that follow.



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